USS CONSTITUTION: Living History

While exhibits can travel, museums are, for the most part, stationary.  The internet is quickly changing this concept, allowing museums to educate people thousands of miles away by reaching them via their computers.  We’ve experienced this in HistoryWired; the National American History Museum’s website.  Social media like facebook, yelp, and twitter provide free advertising for these museums but also invite reviews, reactions, and even criticisms.  The power the internet holds for museums is no longer just advertising but educating.  An example of this is the USS Constitution Museum and ship, in Boston, Massachusetts.

USS CONSTITUTION has a long and storied history; named by George Washington and launched in 1797, the ship served in multiple battles.  The most famous battles took place during the War of 1812.  ‘Old Ironsides’ was decommissioned and recommissioned multiple times before she began service as a museum ship in 1907.  The ship is both a memorial and a national symbol of both the US Navy and the US Marine Corp who have served on the ship for almost 200 years.

The Naval History and Heritage Command is still in charge of everything to do with the USS Constitution Museum.   The museum’s mission statement can be found on their website.  It reads “The USS Constitution Museum ensures that the stories of USS CONSTITUTION and those who shaped her history are never forgotten, always remain relevant, and inspire as many people as possible.”  In order to accomplish this task, the museum uses social media like facebook, twitter, yelp, and their own website to promote their events and advertise their museum.

The Bicentennial Celebration of the War of 1812 is fast approaching.  Thanks to the important role USS CONSTITUTION played in the war, the USS Constitution Museum will front and center in the quest to engage people and educate them about the history of the war.  I propose to explore how the museum uses social media and their own website to entice people to the celebration and educate them in their own homes.  I would like to compare the ways USS CONSTITUTION portrays itself on the internet with the kinds of reviews it receives on sites like Yelp.

On the review and advice site, Yelp, USS CONSTITUTION has received many positive reviews from people who were touched by the way the museum has the power to make history come alive.  The ship seems to garner praise from civilians and military personnel of all ages.  These reviews are from people who have physically visited the ship and have felt the history around them.  I would like to compare these reviews with the activities USS CONSTITUTION’s twitter advertises and the ways in which the ship has the power to touch the lives of people who have not yet visited it.

USS CONSTITUTION is unique in the sense that it is truly living history.  It is still an operational ship, complete with a crew.  The ship will sail again during the Bicentennial Celebrations.  USS CONSTITUTION is still a place where international treaties can be officially signed.  It will be interesting to see how the USS Constitution Museum balances the past with current events that will soon be a part of their history through the different outlets provided by social media and the power of the web.

The primary sources for the print project will be the USS Constitution Museum’s twitter, yelp, facebook, and website.  The secondary sources will come from books and articles about the museum and ship, many available online through the Naval History and Heritage Command website.  Other secondary sources will come from class discussions and readings.

Project Proposal: Bringing the Webquest into Higher Education

Over the past 20 years secondary and primary education have made a number of forays into the digital world with webquests.  A webquest is a structured project designed to produce a term paper or major assignment using guides to help students conduct research independently.  As an adjunct instructor, and a teaching assistant, one of the problems I have consistently encountered is that despite being web savvy, students have no experience doing formal research, or sifting good data from bad.  Most have never read an academic article, or a book review.  Thus, I spend a great deal of time trying to find novel ways of teaching methodology as well as content.  By removing some of the structure from webquests, I believe they can be adapted for an undergraduate audience, and provide a teaching experience that not only fosters knowledge of content but research method as well.

Webquests are an increasingly popular tool in secondary and primary schools around the country, and increasingly adult education and ESL as well.  First and foremost, they are easy to share among faculty, and are excellent for collaborative projects in team teaching environments.  They allow students to use digital resources in constructive ways, and can be part of valuable lessons about determining bias and sifting through information on the web.  They also provide the teacher with accountability and transparency, since every step of the project is laid out for the students in a format that can be easily accessed.

The webquest, has unfortunately, not made much headway in higher education.  This is likely for several reasons.  Higher education does not foster team teaching where resources like this are shared.  Often it falls solely on the professor in question to develop their own coursework, and professors rarely receive training about resources available to them.  Professors tend to view highly structured assignments such as webquests as too simple for college students, or have never been introduced to the concept.  Webquests, however, are adaptable enough to service any grade level.

Webquests taught at the gradeschool level all follow a specific format.  They focus on a specific topic, such as McCarthyism, which is briefly explained in an introduction.  They then have a Process Page which lays out the project requirements in a level of detail appropriate to the grade the project is designed for.  The webquest then provides resources that students are required to examine.  These usually include specific books, articles and websites vetted by the teacher for the students to read and examine.  Finally the webquest generally contains an evaluation section with a rubric explaining how the papers should be submitted and graded.

My idea involves creating a webquest for a survey to 300 level class on Modern American History.  This assignment would be valuable for a three reasons.  First, it provides a guided method that can introduce students to serious independent research.  Second, it provides an easily accessible digital means of presenting a rubric based term paper.  Finally, its methodology appeals to the digital learning techniques already discussed in the class.

The specific webquest I would create would be called Political Violence in the 20th Century.  Its brief introduction would spell out the definition and include several examples: Sedition Laws, Japanese Internment, McCarthyism, etc.  Under the task system, I would define a research question, requiring students to answer it in 5-8 pages, with a double spaced original research paper using Chicago style citation.  Resource pages would include links to JSTOR, a select library reading list from the library placed in reserve, as well as a more extensive list of outside resources.  Finally, I would provide a rubric and a link to the Turn It In page on Blackboard.

Because this assignment would be a test of students research methods they would be required to submit project proposals with bibliographies earlier in the semester.  This would require an extra page, explaining how such a thing should be written.  Another advantage of the webquest is that scanned examples of proper bibliographies can be uploaded as a .pdf for students to view.  I would likely include several examples of movies, webpages, books, and articles cited so that students would get a feel for how Chicago works.

The question of how to integrate digital resources in higher education continues to be a quandary for faculty.  Hours are spent in conferences, and buckets of ink written in journals and periodicals.  I propose a simple suggestion, that we use the tools already developed for us.

Project idea: Video game blog

Video games are part of our culture now. Almost everyone has heard of or played a video game, with the big contenders being Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. Video games can even include such games Bejeweled or Farmville or anything on Kongregate. With such a vast variety of games, the community is changing  and so too have the face of games.

There is more to games than just playing them though. Go to a forum and search for the video games topic and there will be debates beyond belief, and not just about which system is better. People talk about overall themes in games, plot, continuity and real-world topics such as who is the better innovator  in the industry or who the current boogeyman in the community is (it used to be Jack Thompson).

Of course, others have tried to fill this gap in various ways. There are many notable video series about games including Zero Punctuation, Extra Punctuation, Game Overthinker, and Extra Credits. Now all of these are well in good in their own ways, but at least three of these divide community, mostly because all of them are opinion heavy. Extra Credits maintains a neutrality that the others don’t, but are more interested in the industry itself, and both the Punctuations and the Game Overthinker have been attacked for their opinions of things.

From Fallout 3
It's a big gaming world out there. Image from Google.

You’ll notice that none of these are really blogs though (Extra Punction being the closest) and I find it difficult to name any video game blogs off the top of my head. These series, for how good they all are, are not what I’m after. In my blog, not only would I like to explore some of the industry as they do, but I want to focus more on the intricacies of the games themselves. This will not be a review blog, but go in depth into some of the problems games propose that boggle the community-Is there a straightforward Zelda continuity, does the hero ever end up with the princess, do game franchises with multiple endings have a canon, is this symbolic, etc. Video games are more than an industry and more than just bad or good. And I want to explore that deeper.

Why we still have the Zelda continuity problem. Image from Google

project idea: Wandering the Wastes: Fallout and Imagery of Nuclear War

Video games, like movies serve as cultural measuring sticks.  Because they are primarily visual media they tend to be packed with culturally significant imagery.  During the past two decades, historians have begun unpacking and examining the images within film as a way of understanding the collective societal fears, pressures, and desires they draw upon.  Very little work, however, has been done on video games as a medium capable of transmitting the same ideas.  This is due largely to two reasons.  First, it is only in the very recent past that video games became sophisticated enough that such ideas could be transmitted.  Second, video games are not considered a mature enough medium.  Many mainstream voices consider them to be along the same lines as an electronic toy, rather than a place for artistic expression.

Recent games are both visually striking and artistically relevant.  The Fallout series, including its latest iteration Fallout 3 serves as a cultural measuring stick in much the same way as cinema of the past half century.  Because Fallout deals with nuclear war, and seeks to portray a post-nuclear landscape in which the player must survive, it is possible to unpack the imagery of Fallout and learn how Americans, especially American children learn about and experience the possibility of nuclear war.

Among the important ideas in Falllout’s portrayal of nuclear war is the wasteland concept.  A landscape of death in which green flora is almost non-existent and fauna is gigantic and hostile to humanity.  The idea of a death landscape is a relatively new concept in the history of nuclear war culture.  Prior iterations of a post-nuclear world such as On the Beach, Alas Babylon, and Canticle for Lebowitz written in the 1950s and 60s do not feature a dead landscape.  Rather, they feature a living world in which humanity is either entirely removed or greatly reduced in technology and numbers.  The  landscape of death, however, has become one of the most dominant tropes of nuclear war culture in the last twenty years, with more modern movies such as Terminator, The Book of Eli, and The Road relying heavily on this concept.  This is an idea that I would like to explore in more detail.

Giant creatures has been, conversely, a popular and longstanding idea within nuclear war imagery.  The idea that radiation creates monsters was the topic of a number of films from the 1950s and even late 1940s.  Films like Them!, The Beginning or the End, and The Amazing Colossal Man each personified the threat of radiation to humanity.  In Fallout, this tradition is preserved in its Radroaches, Radscorpions and Super mutants.

Another important facet of Fallout is the persistence of Civil Defense culture in the idea of nuclear war.  This takes two forms within the game, first in the dark irony of educational filmstrips such as “Bert the Turtle” and second in the Shelter Culture of the mid to late 1950s.  One of the key elements of the Fallout universe is the Vault, a government sponsored corporate enterprise to build gigantic self-sustaining fallout shelters in case of nuclear war.  These Vaults, and their sinister true purpose plays heavily in the game.  Yet while shelter culture was present in the 1950s, Fallout’s portrayal of it is far from its original form.  Shelter culture portrayed in Fallout and in fact the entirety of 50s culture in the game is not an accurate reflection of the time, but rather a 21st Century American interpretation of it.  Thus Fallout can be used as a measure of nostalgia, the attempt to recreate an idealized version of a past event.

In writing this paper I would draw on recent studies of science fiction cinema, as well as the historiography of Cold War culture.  The tools of cinema can be applied to video games with some modification.  Games are player driven experiences, which leaves the creators less control over the experience.  Thus Fallout 3 is a game peppered with references that not every player will experience equally.  Yet the overall appearance of Fallout’s wasteland, the creatures within it, and the dark humor that pervades the game have been universally commented on in reviews.  Understanding the cultural significance of Fallout is a way of measuring how the shadow of nuclear war continues to intrude on our culture a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

Preliminary Proposal: A Multimedia Project Gemini Portal

For decades, the work of NASA has captured the imagination of the American public and the world, sending humans to the moon and unmanned craft even farther.

NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

NASA’s work is documented rich in eye-catching images, videos, as well as lots of primary source documents that are freely available on the Internet — and are public domain.

That’s all great, but this documented history is strewn across NASA’s websites and elsewhere around the Web — hardly an easy way to explore the archive.

In this digital project, I hope to use WordPress or Drupal to create a multimedia portal for Project Gemini, which lasted from 1965 to 1966.

Gemini capsules accommodated two astronauts and the Titan II rocket was used (the Titan was actually developed as an intercontinental ballistic missile). A total of 10 manned flights were flown. Despite some flaws (including a capsule that spun out of control that Neil Armstrong commanded), the program was deemed successful and paved the way for Project Apollo, which sent astronauts to the moon.

NASA’s official website for Project Gemini is clearly stuck in the 1990s and, simply put, is garbage. Something must be done.

Using my Delicious site, I have curated a number of links to sources I would like to incorporate into this website. Additional content can be found on YouTube and other non-NASA.gov websites.

I plan to create a page for each of the 10 Gemini missions, and possibly an additional page to talk about the test flights. Each page will include links (or even embed) the relevant images, videos and primary source documents. The pages will all include a 1-2 paragraph introduction to the mission, and could possibly list the vital information (dates, crew, etc.). The homepage, I think, should be more of a splash design, with each mission’s patch displayed. Clicking on said patch would send the user to that mission’s page. A short introduction to the site will also be included on the homepage.

Gemini 7. (NASA, via Wikimedia Commons)

This project will make accessible historical information that is difficult to find over the vast sprawl of the Internet. NASA’s work interests many people, and I feel this site would do a service to the general public by making this information easier for the public to find. Perhaps it could even be used as a teaching tool in classes.

What do you think? Do you think this idea makes sense? Do you have any specific suggestions for me? Please share your thoughts in the comments. I look forward to hearing from the class.