Get to Know Jane Seibert

When people hear that I’ve lived in five different states and another country, they may assume I’m part of the military or that my family is, but that was never the case for myself or my family. My father would tell me that it was because we had “wonderlust” in our veins– we could never stay put in one location for too long. After all, the world is vast and there is just so much to see and learn and do.

I begin with this part of my story because it has shaped who I am and has given me a vastly diverse background in my interests. From the highlands of Scotland to the deserts of New Mexico to Yellowstone National Park to the foundations of U.S. History in Jamestown, Virginia (and much more), I’ve had a taste of this “wonderlust” and it has lead me to Washington D.C. Throughout the various locations I’ve lived in, I became fascinated with the local history and how it transformed and reshaped how I had understood history. Because of this, my current obsessions lay in Native American Studies, Women’s Studies, twentieth-century history, art history, environmental history, and material culture.

As a first year Public History Master’s student at American University, I’ve sought to hone in on my background, be able to work on a variety of public history skills, and experiment with ideas and thoughts. I feel like a mad chemist at times with how wild my combinations are at times, but D.C. is my playground.

I have been fortunate enough to land internships and volunteer experiences in these places I’ve been and I have developed some digital skills because of these experiences. I’ve worked with social media for several organizations and helped create digital databases and archives, but that has been the extent of my digital skills. One of my biggest goals for this class is learn how to combine these skills into a historical space.

In this class, I want to focus on building on my digital history skills and learn how I can use them in the future in the public history field. I truly believe that in a post-pandemic world, the digital landscape will become a highly desired platform to tell stories, but even more so how we can combine them in the physical spaces of the public history world. There are just endless possibilities to how the digital world can intersect with the public history and I want to understand how I can combine the two successfully for my future endeavors. So, I’m approaching this class in a general form to build these skills.

Leah Marks Intro Post

Hi Everyone!

I’m Leah and I’m in my second year of the Public History MA program here at American. I was born and raised in Manhattan, New York City. Being from New York I spend much of my childhood roaming the halls of it’s many museums (i.e. the Met, Natural History, etc.) which help grow my passion for history and museums. I received my BA in history from Queens College. A lot of my undergraduate work focused on European and American Jewish history and I ended up doing my senior capstone project on Jews in the Italian Fascist party.

I’ve always been passionate about Jewish history and spend year volunteering for the Museum at Eldridge Street on New York’s Lower East Side. As a volunteer I gave tours and worked events at the museum. This experienced allowed me to experience how by sharing our diverse and unique histories we end up finding more in common then we expect. This has become my goal as public historian, to help Americans connect with our shared heritage by the learning about the diverse backgrounds of our fellow citizens.

I have thoroughly enjoyed by experience in AU’s Public History thus far. I hope the skills I have learned will help to create educational programing for all types of visitors to whatever museum or historic site I might be lucky enough to find a job with. In this course in particular I hope to learned more about about digital exhibition creation as I feel like, especially in light of the panini, digital content is becoming more important than ever. I look forward to working with everyone!

Practicum: Wikipedia

A generation of American schoolkids has grown up hearing the refrain, “Wikipedia is not a reliable source.” The Wikipedia of today, however, is a different beast than the Wikipedia of the early aughts. What was once a poorly-maintained, amateur website is now an encyclopedic juggernaut with strict editing rules and constantly updated articles.

While Wikipedia is no longer the unreliable source that our school librarians warned us about, viewers should still be careful to vet each article before trusting its information. There is a long history of hoax articles and vandalism on Wikipedia, and you should never trust its articles at face value. There are several ways to go about checking for accuracy and controversy, most notably the “Talk” page and the “View History” page.

The “Talk” and “View History” tabs on the Harriet Tubman Wikipedia page.

“Talk” Pages

As most students know, the first step when vetting a Wikipedia article is to scroll down to the References section, where you can often find links to historical monographs and primary sources. Lesser known, however, is the “Talk” page. Talk pages list Wikipedia’s ratings of each article’s importance and accuracy and serve as a forum for community members to discuss ways of improving the article.

The talk page for the article on Robert E. Lee, for example, describes it as a level-4 vital article, meaning Wikipedia editors voted on it being an “essential” topic worthy of an especially high-quality entry. It is also classified as a B-Class article, meaning that it could benefit from more editing and expert knowledge. The talk page for Harriet Tubman’s article, on the other hand, also identifies the page as a level-4 vital article, but rates it as a Featured Article (FA-Class). Whereas Wikipedia editors have identified both Robert E. Lee and Harriet Tubman as important, the quality of the Harriet Tubman article is within the top .1% of all articles on the English-language Wikipedia.  

You can also check the article’s rating by looking at the icons in the upper right hand corner of the article itself. The star shows that this article is FA-Class, while the padlock shows that this article is semi-protected from rogue edits. Its semi-protected status implies that, like many FA-Class pages, this article has previously been subject to vandalism.

On the other hand, the article on “Black Dispatches,” or Civil War espionage provided by Black Americans, is classified as a Start-Class article, only one step above the lowest accepted rating, “Stub.” This article is also ranked as “Low-importance” in a couple different categories, meaning that Wikipedia editors have determined that its information is not particularly vital to those topics. While future scholarship might highlight the importance of Black Dispatches, the current consensus is that they are incidental to the histories of the United States and espionage. For now, viewers interested in Black espionage during the Civil War will have to read up on individual spies like Harriet Tubman to get more complete information.

The header on the Black Dispatches talk page.

The quality of discussion on talk pages can vary wildly. On the Robert E. Lee talk page, for instance, one can see respectful debates on how to interpret his views on race and how soon to mention his culpability in defending the institution of slavery. On the Harriet Tubman page, however, some comments are less respectful.

Fortunately, users like “Plain English1” are the exception rather than the rule.

While the talk pages can contain inflammatory rhetoric, Wikipedia’s strict standards and constant revision generally stops this sort of bias from making it into the article itself. To view the edits that have actually made the cut, viewers can check the “View History” tab.

“View History” Pages

In the “View History” tab, viewers can see a log of all edits made to the article.

The edit history of the Robert E. Lee Wikipedia page.

Along with this log, one of the handiest tools is the “Page Statistics” external link. Here, viewers can see everything from page views to word counts to connections with other Wikipedia articles. Most importantly for scholars is information on authorship: tables and pie charts showing who contributed the most to each article.

Among other functions, Page Statistics show who contributed the most to an article.

The page statistics for Black Dispatches, for instance, shows that user Tfine80 contributed 82.4% of authorship. Examining Tfine80’s user page shows that they are an avid contributor to Wikipedia, often translating German-language articles to English. While there is little information about Tfine80’s credentials, user pages can give a general “vibe check” for viewers who want to know more about an article’s authors. One might trust Tfine80, for example, more than they trust ScottishFinnishRadish.

This radish has only two enemies on its “arc-enemies” list. That’s two more than I expected.

As an open source, freely accessible encyclopedia, Wikipedia is unmatched. It still, however, suffers from biased authorship as most contributors to English Wikipedia are white, Western men. As you can see from the inflammatory rhetoric on the Harriet Tubman talk page and the underdeveloped Black Dispatches article, the site is still plagued by both overt and subtle racial bias. Wikipedia itself has acknowledged that it has a problem with race as well as sex and gender . Tools like the Talk and View History pages can help you identify biases and better understand why Wikipedia looks the way it does.

I’m interested to know if anyone in this class has contributed to Wikipedia. If so, what was your experience like? Did you engage with other editors on the Talk pages? Let us know in the comments!

Introducing Myself: Jessica

Hello folks!

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. 

Selfie of Jessica Shainker wearing a tank top and a white bandana. In the background are trees and a scenic view of the bluffs overlooking the Buffalo River.
Hiking in the Ozarks!

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.

A black labrador sitting awkwardly on a couch. His back legs are splayed open and his tail is held between his front paws.
This is one of his standard sitting positions.

I’m looking forward to this semester and hope to learn all I can about digital history!

Introduction: John Hanton

Hello everyone, I am glad to see a number of familiar names from last semester’s Historian’s Craft class. This is my second semester of my first year as an AU graduate student working towards an MA in History. I know that last semester I was almost alone as a general history MA with most other people doing the public history track, maybe the distribution is different for this group. Anyway, I did my undergrad work at Lewis and Clark College in Portland where I was an International Affairs major with a minor in History. I picked the IA major mostly because it is a field that combines various other topics that I find interesting including history, politics, geography, sociology, and others. I took the history minor more as an afterthought but it did introduce me to some of the ideas about historical thinking as well as research methods and archive stuff that became more important as time went on. I talked to an advisor at my undergrad school who told me that if I wanted to get a graduate degree I should go into a different area than my undergrad degree.

After finishing my undergrad work I decided to get certified to teach ESL (English as a Second Language) and I spent some time living and working in St. Petersburg. This experience gave me a great deal of appreciation for teachers and the crap they put up with. Anyone who has had to deal with a classroom of seven year old’s will know what I’m talking about. This is not to say that I had a bad time as a teacher, my classes and students varied but I did enjoy some really awesome students and teaching experiences. Living in Russia also made me more interested in that part of the world and the complex level of geopolitics involved that we are now seeing in the news pretty much every day. I would love to go deeper into the historical field of Russia and Eastern Europe in the future although I know the language barrier would be a problem. I have spent time studying and learning Russian but my skills are still fairly rudimentary.

Concerning this class, I am coming in as basically a novice when it comes to all the digital computer stuff. My older brother is the computer engineer in my family so he’s the one with all the tech skills in the family. As for myself, I have never blogged before now, I don’t have a Facebook or Twitter account, and as far as I know my online footprint is pretty small. That being said, I understand that more and more of the world happens online including historical research and publishing. As the saying goes, ‘the internet is forever’ pretty much anything put online will never disappear and it simply becomes a matter of being able to sift through the web to find things. The area that I am most interested in is how these new areas of human interaction and information transmission affect world events in real time. Again, this is a topic very much in the news as people talk about the spread of disinformation on online forums and how that can change the political calculus for a whole range of problems. I hope to get a better working knowledge of these different tools and how to navigate online spaces with this course.