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 Outdated rhetoric that remembers American history as idyllic was making a comeback on the political stage, and partisans on both sides of the aisle – but conservatives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: Sajel Swartz

Hi Everyone!

My name is Sajel, and I’m currently studying at American University as part of their Public History Master’s program.

Me with my mom! 🙂

A little about me:

I’ve been living in D.C. and working full time at the DAR for the last several years; during that time I’ve also worked at a great local wine bar called Tyber Creek Wine Bar & Kitchen; if you are in D.C. in the Spring come check them out when they reopen! I spent most of my childhood in Kentucky, and returned to attend Centre College in Danville, KY for my undergraduate degree in History.

While I always had an interest in pursuing a career in the field of History, Public History became a more recent interest as a result of my work in Public Relations, where it became increasingly apparent to me how important the work of Public Historians can be. Although I ultimately hope to earn my PhD in History, I look forward to the opportunity to fully immerse myself as a professional in the Public History field.

In that same vein, I have been looking forward to participating in the History and New Media course. Media and the web have become an intrinsic part of living in the 21st century, and as such it is important not only that historians learn to utilize the tools available online, but also learn how to study these virtual aspects of life as new primary source material for understanding the past and present.

I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone! Please always feel free to reach out 🙂

Introducing Isaac Makos

Introducing Isaac Makos

My name is Isaac Makos and I’ve traveled to the past every summer for the last five years.

Public history appeared on my radar when I worked for two summers as a living history intern at Fort Necessity National Battlefield. I dressed in the uniform of a Virginia militiaman, talking to visitors at the only French and Indian War battlefield in the National Park Service. My family was a frequent visitor to national parks and historic sites, but I hadn’t given much thought to the people who were giving the tours and answering the questions until I became one myself. That experience set me on a path that has led me to pursue a Master’s in Public History from American University. Working and interning in the public history field has also taken me around the country, from Farmington PA to Harpers Ferry WV to Ticonderoga NY to Mackinaw City MI. Along the way I learned skills from both past and present: I was trained to load and fire a black powder musket, and I also completed a digital history project during an Honors Term at my undergraduate college.

I decided to pursue a Masters in order to improve my understanding of public history from both the theoretical and practical sides. Earning that degree in Washington, D.C. gives me the chance to learn and practice public history in one of the richest concentrations of history in the United States.

In this History and New Media course specifically, I’m hoping to come out of the course with more knowledge of how to integrate physical and digital interpretation. I’ve seen historic sites experiment and try to find ways to use the centrality of smartphones and the Internet in daily life to their advantage, and enhance the educational potential of the site. After this class I hope to be able to contribute to those conversations in meaningful ways.

I’m fascinated by the relationship between the public and digital history. How does the “average person” use the various forms of new media in the context of history? What can historians, especially public historians, do to leverage existing digital relationships between people and history, or build new ones? I hope to emerge from this course with a better idea of what the answers to those questions might look like.

Photo Credit: My Parents