Maren— Pronounced like Karen

Hi everyone, I’m Maren Orchard (pronounced like Karen but with an M and Orchard like apples). I was born, raised, and educated in Muncie, Indiana, a small city known in the academic world for being home to Ball State University and the 1920s Middletown Studies. In popular culture, Muncie is perhaps more likely known for its mention on the television show Parks and Rec and famous alumni David Letterman who called Ball State University the “Harvard of Muncie” in conversation with the Clooneys. Despite this illustrious reputation, after twenty-two years in Muncie, I decided it was time for a new experience, which brought me to American University and my first year of the Public History M.A. program.

After years of thinking I would be a high school history teacher like my father, I quickly decided not to— also thanks to my father who is eagerly retiring this year. But I wasn’t sure where to turn with my love of history and education. Luckily, I had an amazing mentor who knew what I needed long before I did, to steer me towards the undergrad Public History program at BSU. Ever since my first class in public history my freshman year of undergrad, I’ve known that this field best encapsulates my interests—even while my career path remains uncertain. I take a particular interest in oral histories, the audiences public history engages, and community engagement practices. I’ve been thrilled to be the fellow working with the Humanities Truck this year. This position gives me the opportunity to see how the truck can be used as a tool to change the narrative around who the humanities’ audience is. We also focus on taking history out of the museum and into underserved communities. My personal research interests tend to be in women’s activist history, particularly reproductive justice.

After being involved in two humanities projects with major digital components, I have grown weary of sitting in meetings during which my colleagues endlessly discuss the merits and features of the mysterious tools wordpress, omeka, and islandora, among others. Having learned to never attend these meetings without my laptop so I could surreptitiously Google all  the words I didn’t understand, I have at last surrendered to the inevitable— it is time to learn what digital history has to offer and to confront my ignorance by enrolling in History and New Media. After doing the readings for the first week of class in preparation for my blog post, I’m more excited for this class.

While I struggle with digital tools and the language used in the field, I love the collaborative and project-based nature of digital history as well as the importance of the visual. I am excited to talk more about how doing digital history impacts history as a field and what that impact looks like. I’m hoping that these theoretical interests will hold me over while I slog through any technical bits that are more difficult for me. I hope that by taking this course and learning more about digital history, I will soon find myself able to participate in conversations about digital projects rather than letting my mind wander in meetings while waiting for the conversation to make sense to me again. To any of you who are also worried that you lack the basic digital literacy necessary to succeed in this class, know that you are not alone, and we will find our way together!

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