Over the last four weeks the first year fellows had the opportunity to work in the Education division of the RRCHNM. Since the start of our first year fellowship, working in the Education division was something that I was really looking forward to—especially since a lot of the projects they were completing were with National History Day. As an undergraduate and MA student at Southern Miss, National History Day in Mississippi was always one of my favorite times of the year. Having the opportunity to work with middle school and high school students on History Day projects and offering an outlet for students who were more gifted in the liberal arts has given me something to be proud of over the years and I was excited to do some work with the Education division on the national side of History Day.
Working in the Education division was more than just learning new aspects of something that I was already interested in, it was like coming back to my nice “cuddly blanket” of history that I was a little bit more familiar with. While I enjoyed working with Research immensely, after having my ups and downs with Python coding and reaching the mid-point of my first semester as a PhD student, the Education division made me feel like I was “coming home” and it reminded me that I was still useful and could learn new things at a faster pace.
The first assignment we were given was to locate photographs of the 100 leaders for the 100leaders.org website. While I initially thought this task would be simple, I quickly learned a lot about the overly complicated world of copyright laws. I had always assumed that famous paintings and photographs became famous because they were open access and freely used enough by the public to become recognizable and iconic—e.g. Washington Crossing the Delaware. Oh, how wrong I was. While I had a feeling it would be difficult to find open access photos of Walt Disney (because Disney is notoriously good at copyrighting everything), I was more than shocked to discover just how difficult it was to find an image of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, etc. These are some of the most famous and recognizable figures in American history and it is almost impossible to find a copyright free image of them for public use. Even other—not as well-known—leaders such as Ray Kroc, and Rachel Carson would exceedingly difficult to find images of due to copyright laws.
In order to show how important these leaders were without using their own images, Jordan, Alyssa, and I had to get a little creative with our searches. For instance, since Susan B. Anthony only has one or two open access pictures, I found free images of women protesting for their right to vote. For Ray Kroc, I found an image of a retro McDonald’s and so on. While it was frustrating at times trying to find new ways to represent the 100leaders, it was also an exciting challenge that reminded me of why I love history so much and chose it as a career. The hunt can be frustrating, but when you find that one image that brings everything together it makes you feel like Indiana Jones. There were definitely many “booyahs!” yelled out from my side of the fellow’s table.
Finding these images made up the majority of our work in Education and I learned so much from it. I’ve had the opportunity to teach History 101 (pre-history to 1500CE) twice at the university level and after working on the 100 leaders project I’m aiming to teach a world history course again this summer. Going through bios, finding pictures, and learning about figures that I’d never heard of before has made me want to revamp my lectures and inspired me to look at different ways of teaching. While I’m sure this wasn’t necessarily an intended lesson from Education, I’m so grateful it reminded me of how much I love history, research, and teaching.
In our time in the Education division we were also asked to do some testing on the 100leaders website before it goes lives in November. Sitting down at the Education table and giving Thomas Edison a constant rating of “1s” is what I call a pretty fantastic day. However, outside of my historical hate of Edison, I discovered that I’m interested in how these websites are created. Getting to give feedback on whether the “slider” was working properly or how many times the system would lock up depending on voting made me want to explore more of the technical side of Education. Even though we didn’t get to work with the design and construction of the website, I was constantly shocked by how many different components went into creating a simple slider and how many options there were for creating the pages for voting. I had the same curiosity when we were asked to create a manual for the 100leaders website once Education hands the website off to National History Day. I was in charge of creating a step-by-step guide for editing resources on the website. Writing this portion of the guide helped me to better understand the inner workings of a wordpress website and also let me see all the ways these sites can be manipulated. While we weren’t able to help create portions of the website, it definitely made me want to explore more with coding for future use.
I will definitely miss working in the Education division. I looked forward to going to work every day and working on topics and projects that I love. I’m excited by the possibility of working in the Education division again and will actively keep up with their projects throughout the rest of the semester.