My name is Jessica Shainker, and I’m a first year Public History Masters student at American University. I was raised in Atlanta, Georgia, and I received my bachelor’s degree from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, where I studied history with a concentration in public history.
While at Rhodes, I had the opportunity to intern at the National Civil Rights Museum (NCRM) at the Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. At the NCRM, I worked as a collections intern creating a finding aid for the museum’s institutional archives. I also worked as a research assistant for the curatorial team.
My time at the NCRM is what prompted me to study public history and the history of the American South. This was in 2018, when Black Lives Matter protests were at their highest peak yet and the city of Memphis was steeped in the historical memory of 1968. Not only was Southern history all around me; it felt strikingly relevant and deeply urgent. The unjust deaths of black men and women at the hands of the state were (and continue to be) hyper visible. Outdated rhetoric that remembers American history as idyllic was making a comeback on the political stage, and partisans on both sides of the aisle – but conservatives in particular – were drawing on skewed images of the past to justify their political goals. The history of my region was being deliberately misinterpreted and weaponized by people who only half understood it.
I want to communicate the true history of the American South to people of all political leanings in ways that are accessible, without holding back the tough stuff that folks might not want to hear. History can be deeply uncomfortable, and I want to help find ways to convey history accurately despite that discomfort.
I’m interested in digital history, exhibit design, and the history of the American South, especially the history of capitalism in the South during the Antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction eras. In this class, I’m most looking forward to learning about computational history and mapping technology. In a post-COVID world, digital exhibits are the best way to reach a broad public, and digital maps are fantastic ways to visually show change over time. And as a citizen of the 21st century, I want to take advantage of computing algorithms and all the other new tools available to perform innovative kinds of historical analysis.
A few more notes about me: I go by Jessica or Jess. While I’ve lived in DC for the past few years, I recently moved into an apartment in Tenleytown with my boyfriend Ben. We like hiking, rock climbing, cooking, and playing video games with friends. I recently picked up knitting, which has filled my free time and made my fingers sore. My only regret is that I don’t get to live with the family dog, a ridiculous black lab named Oakley.
I’m looking forward to this semester and hope to learn all I can about digital history!