Tuesday, November 27, 2018

A Few Notes on Museum School, Heritage Fair, and the Origins of “K-K-K-Katy”

As the semester is winding to a close, and final projects are consuming almost every waking moment, I thought this was the perfect time to take a step back and write about my work with the London Heritage Council.

It is hard to believe it has been already three months, time has flown by, but it has been a privilege being part of the Heritage Council. I have had the opportunity to be involved in numerous projects, starting with Doors Open in September, which I initially blogged about, and doing preliminary work for Heritage Fair coming up in February.

My main focus, however, has been helping to develop additional resources for the Museum School London program, which is coordinated by the London Heritage Council and facilitated at 10 different museum sites between London and Woodstock. As a teacher and museum educator, I was thrilled with this assignment.  

Museum School has so far taken me to Eldon House, Fanshawe Pioneer Village, the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, the Museum of Ontario Archaeology, and the London Children’s Museum. Next week, I’m heading to observe another lucky group of students at Museum London.

I have been part of hundreds of school programs in my career between Waterloo Region Museum, Joseph Schneider Haus, Wellington County Museum, and the Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery. There are some that are so ingrained, I am sure I still do them in my sleep. A typical school program usually lasts for two hours or a full day, morning and afternoon. The school kids fly in and out of the museum so fast that I have always wondered how much they retain from the visit.  With Museum School London, however, the students get a full week in the museum.  The museum becomes their classroom.

From my observations this fall, this unique experience is incredibly enriching for the students. Instructors at the museum can take their time working with the students, who often journal about their daily experiences. Topics can be reflected on and returned to throughout the week, and the learning experience is hands-on and engaging. For many of these students, visiting a museum is something they may not otherwise be able to do. I have had teachers tell me that students who normally do not enjoy class seem to come alive in this program. I can’t wait to continue working with this program in the New Year!

The other work I am doing with the London Heritage Council is preparation for Heritage Fair. This year, Heritage Fair is celebrating the Junos coming to London in March by focusing on London’s musical heritage and stories.  

During my preparatory work for Heritage Fair, I discovered something I think only another Katie would truly appreciate… the origins of the song, “K-K-K-Katy”. If you have the name Katie, you have probably heard this song or had an older relative in your family sing it to you. That is inevitable.

A man named Geoffrey O’Hara from Chatham Ontario wrote the song in 1917 and published it in 1918. He wrote hundreds of songs and patriotic hymns but K-K-K-Katy was his most popular, and it became a hit during the First World War era. His connection to London is that he originally trained to be a soldier with the local 1st Hussars Regiment. He had planned a military career but had to abandon this after the death of his father. The 1st Hussars Museum is located in downtown London at 1 Dundas Street. This will be one of many stories featured at Heritage Fair on February 16th, 2019, downtown at the Central Library.

Original cover by Leo Feist for "K-K-K-Katy" in 1918, with the tagline "The Sensational Stammering Song Success Sung by the Soldiers and Sailors." https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/K-K-K-Katy
My favourite version of the song is without a doubt the hilarious Mel Blanc adaptation from 1949 in the voice of stuttering Porky Pig. With all the stress of final projects, a laugh is necessary. The link is below, enjoy!:

To Blend or to Slide continued….

If you have been wandering around South Street the last couple weeks and seen a lone person taking photographs with her phone, that was probably me.  As I wrote in my blog from November 13th, I have been attempting to create “before and after” contrasts of built heritage in London's SoHo community, using modern photographs compared to their vintage counterparts. I have been focusing entirely on the Victoria Hospital, my focus for the Hear, Here Public History project, as there are truly endless numbers of archival photos and stories surrounding this space in the SoHo community.

An important part of this before and after project is to try, as closely as possible, to take photos similar to the original vintage photographs. This is not an easy task. This project reminds me of my undergraduate studio art courses, attempting but not quite succeeding to create two-point perspective drawings of buildings.

It was also a somewhat disheartening experience wandering the marshy lands where the hospital once stood and looking at the state of the boarded-up buildings still there. A man waiting at the bus stop saw me walking and taking photos, and oddly enough this inspired him to start taking photos of the old buildings as well. It was incredibly disappointing to see a group of children trying to break into the old Nurse's Residence, even though security regularly comes onto the property. The sunlight for photography was perfect, however, and I took many photos of the buildings that (I believed at the time) were in line with archival images.

The Colborne Street building from ca. 1899 is the last standing building from the original Victoria Hospital.
The next step was uploading these images into the software. The past few weeks, I have been learning about and experimenting with comparison slider programs and Processing 3, with mixed success. As I discussed previously, WordPress does have applications such as Image Comparison Slider, which is a Plugin that can be installed directly into your WordPress website or blog. HOWEVER, WordPress requires upgrading your account to ‘Business’  in order to install Plugins… which I discovered costs over $300 for the year, up front… and as a graduate student, this is not financially feasible.

Thankfully I had researched other options as backup! The website I have been experimenting with is called Juxtapose, and it does not require purchasing a Plugin to embed into a blog or website.
You can use Dropbox to insert your photos into Juxtapose. I opened my old Dropbox account, and from there was introduced to a photo editing program called PIXLR.  This program was fantastic, as I was able to edit the two before and after photographs prior to putting them into Juxtapose so they were able to line up successfully.  The “transparency” feature allowed me to layer one photo on top of the other so I could review how closely the two images matched.

Screenshot of Juxtapose, https://juxtapose.knightlab.com/#preview-embed
Screenshot of my edits for the War Memorial Children's Hospital on PIXLR, https://pixlr.com/x/
Unfortunately, as much as you edit the photos, if your camera angle was off from the beginning, the two images simply will not line up correctly. In the below before and after Juxtapose of the old Medical School building located at the corner of South and Waterloo Streets, I was initially thrilled when the photo I took was perfectly timed so that the van driving by matched up with the old car in the 1921 photograph. However, when I placed the photos into Juxtapose, even with editing in PIXLR, the perspective is off. I found it interesting that both photos show the building in a state of construction, but for very different reasons.

The before and after for the War Memorial Children’s Hospital was more successful. While the two images do not line up exactly, they are very close, and the contrast shows the building thriving in 1922 as it was first opening, versus how it appears today, empty with broken and boarded windows:

The bad news is that the majority of the photographs I have taken do not line up with the vintage photographs as well as I would like, which means I will have to go back to the hospital lands and try again. I have a superior camera to use this time compared to my terrible Motorola cellphone, thanks to a classmate (thanks Sean!). I will reattempt to get the perspective angles lined up as closely as possible.
Through all of this, I have also been experimenting with Processing 3 which has provided its own set of challenges. The blend feature has so much potential for this project. While Juxtapose works well comparing the buildings that are still intact, blend works better with the built heritage that is now demolished. The ghostly image of the Victoria Hospital appearing and disappearing within the now empty space I think is more effective than a the before and after contrast. I also think the blend feature would work well with photographs of people working and residing in these in these spaces to show the change in use and purpose of the buildings.
The North Wing of the Victoria Hospital on South Street ca. 1941
The empty grass lands where the Victoria Hospital on South Street once stood
Of course, there have been a few hurdles with Processing 3. I was able to use the coding from the "blend example" provided in the program, import my own images, and then insert the coding for these images into the Processing 3 Sketch. This was the first result:
Screenshot of my first attempt at "Blending" in Processing 3 Sketch of the War Memorial Children's Hospital
The image was far too large, and I could not figure out why this was the case. With the help of a classmate (thanks Hetty!), I reduced the size of the initial images, embedded them into the coding a second time, and the result was more successful: 

Screenshot of my resized second attempt at "Blending" in Processing 3 Sketch for the War Memorial Children's Hospital
Unfortunately, while I’ve managed to embed the html for the Juxtapose comparisons successfully into this blog post (although there were some sizing and picture quality issues), I do not know how to do this for a Processing Sketch, which is why these images are uploaded in this blog as screenshots. My end goal is to tell the before and after story of the hospital buildings with both Juxtapose and blending in Processing 3 on my own website. I have one more week to make this work!! 

From my research for the Hear, Here project, I have noticed that for many people, the loss of the hospital is reminiscent of losing a part of their own story. It makes sense that many people have a deep connection to the hospital through major life events, whether births, deaths, illnesses, or work. Interestingly, I discovered my own family connection with the Victoria Hospital on the weekend. As it turns out, my mother was born there, and she still has her unofficial, and very crumpled, birth certificate that was given to my grandmother at the hospital. Although I knew my mother was born in London, it never occurred to me that it was at the old Victoria Hospital in SoHo. London is becoming an increasingly smaller world.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

To Blend or to Slide? Creating a Digital Comparison of London’s Built Heritage Past and Present

Our final project for Digital Public History is upon us, and I’m torn between two directions, whether to blend or to slide?  

My goal for this project is to create a digital “before and after” comparison of London’s built heritage that is no longer in existence.  The current research I am doing on the old Victoria Hospital in London, as well as the walking tour “Paved Paradise” I discussed in my first blog post, have been the inspiration for this project.

Initially, I wondered about the possibility of an augmented reality experience. “Paved Paradise” was a fantastic tour, led by costumed actors who brought the stories of buildings long torn down and forgotten to life. But what if it was possible via an app on your phone to see what the building would have looked like in its original state, at its original location?  While I would still like to see this happen in London, especially in the locations where parking lots prevail, this will not be doable within my allotted time and means.

I am currently conducting research on the SOHO area of London for our Public History project Hear, Here. The old Victoria Hospital was a major part of this community since 1875. In 2013, demolition of the hospital buildings began. The following photo is an aerial view that shows the hospital in its entirety in January 2013, prior to the demolition: 

Aerial view of the Victoria Hospital. Photograph by Mike Henson, the London Free Press, January 23, 2018
An excellent source I have consulted during this process is the book So Long South Street by Ryan Craven with photographs by Matthew Trueman. The book features historical text and Trueman's photos of the hospital during the demolition process, and is a tribute to the essential role the hospital played within the SOHO community.

Photograph by Matthew Trueman. http://www.matthewtrueman.com/#/pier-1/
With the work of Craven and Trueman as inspiration, I am aiming to document stories of London's lost heritage in the SOHO area, like the Victoria Hospital, through an online digital, visually striking comparison of the before and after images. One possibility to do this is using Wordpress. You can install plugins such as ‘Image Comparison Slider’ in Wordpress to upload two before and after photographs. This feature allows you to take the two images, juxtapose them beside each other, and then using your mouse slide and compare them side by side.  The GIF below is an example of an effective before an after from Image Comparison Slider:

GIF from https://wordatom.com/add-image-comparison-wordpress-post/ 
Wordpress is not the only way to approach this, and below is a link to other before and after comparison sliders I've been exploring:


Recently, however, our Digital Public History class received training on the programming software Processing 3. This program was simultaneously complex and fascinating, with potentially limitless possibilities. Experimenting with the "Examples" feature, I noticed a “Blending” mode which allows you insert two different images, scroll over the image with your mouse, where they then ‘blend’ seamlessly from one to the other. This could be another possible method of comparison, as well as an interesting way to weave the before and after images together. The illusion and effect could be powerful, with the past image appearing and disappearing like a ghostly mirage. 
Screenshot of "Blending" feature from Processing 3
However, the stark juxtaposition and contrast created with 'Image Comparison Slider' may be the right direction for the purpose of this project. Regardless of blending or sliding, the key to success will be how well the two images line up with each other, in order to get the clearest representation of how the building appeared in its original state versus its modern reality. This stage in the process may prove very challenging, but I will be posting again about all the successes, difficulties, and (lets hope not...) failures of the process. To be continued!

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Marion “Peg-Leg” Brown and a Few Thoughts on Dark Tourism

Happy Halloween!! True to the spirit of the day, our Public History group completed our historical walking tour project of the infamous murder case of Marion “Peg-Leg” Brown. A well known case in London, Marion Brown, a one –legged vagrant from Texas, rode the rails to London in 1898, and after assaulting a worker at the Grand Trunk Rail Station, he then shot and killed Police Constable Michael Toohey at the corner of Ontario and Elias Street. Brown escaped, and the London newspapers reported in detail the long search for the one-legged “tramp”. After numerous others were falsely arrested for the crime, Marion Brown was finally captured, convicted, and hung in May 1899 at the Middlesex County Courthouse. Brown claimed innocence, and rumours of his ghost haunting the old courthouse still remain. The walking tour covers the case in key areas of London’s downtown core, including the old courthouse and the Via Rail station where the initial assault occurred.

Historical Walking Tour Brochure made by the Public History MA students at Western University, 2018. Photograph by Louisa Orford.
This project came together smoothly, and we all seemed to enjoy the research and topic, which has made me wonder about the allure of “dark tourism”. Halloween is a favourite time of year for many people, particularly those who enjoy the thrill of being scared. For many, there is also a morbid fascination with gruesome stories, and when the story is rooted in historical truth, it can be even more bone-chilling.  

Edmund Burke, an 18th Century philosopher, wrote about the concept of the “sublime”, arguing that a sublime experience is one that is terrifying, but can create awe and fascination for people if it is experienced from a safe distance from the actual terror. Watching a horror film, for example (or The Haunting of Hill House, which has become extremely popular on Netflix), is a safe distance. Our walking tour of Marion Brown, while a real murder case, even if experienced at night, it is still consumed at a far distance from the actual events.

Connor Prairie in Indiana, however, uses second-person interpretation to involve visitors in their re-enactments of what slavery was like in the 1800s. While the ethics of doing this particular interpretation of slavery for the public is a serious issue to consider, a large part of why people participating can become so uncomfortable is because it becomes too real.

Dark tourism it seems can be tricky to navigate, and I fear it can easily slip into ethical dilemmas or a commercialization of tragedy if not careful. However, public historians also have a role in not sugar coating the past just to make it palatable. As I blogged about last week, the Wellington County Museum and Archives now embraces the darker, sadder history of the building, when previously the “stigma” associated with it being the County’s Poorhouse prevented these stories from being told. While the building became a museum in 1975, “If These Walls Could Speak”, the first exhibit to truly document the stories about the people who lived and died at the Poorhouse, did not open until 2006. Where there was once shame and silence pervading the building, it has now become an educational centre for learning about the growth of social welfare systems in Ontario. It highlights the importance of recognizing the stories of people who were forgotten and considered the lowest members of society. The exhibit was the recipient of an Ontario Museum Association Award of Excellence in 2007.

As I wrote last week, the programming at WCMA embraces the “spookiness” of the Halloween season by telling stories from the Poorhouse through lantern-lit performances, and, whether you agree with the validity of “ghost hunting” or not, they have also been inviting paranormal investigators to explore the building and discuss their findings. While I don’t agree with turning museums into haunted houses, entertainment does have a role in education. Part of the success of dark tourism for museums is its ability to attract a potential new audience to the space. For some of the participants of Spirit Walks at WCMA, while their intention to come many have been the thrill of walking through a spooky “haunted” building at night, they accidentally find themselves learning.  More often than not, the people who came for the thrills wind up returning to the museum at a later date to learn more about the history of the Poorhouse, go through the exhibits, and actually view the building in the light of day.  

With dark tourism, I do think intention is important to success. Seeking only exploitation, commercialization, and entertainment, while disregarding ethical boundaries, is where dark tourism fails. When the goal is to educate and engage, to enlighten and think critically, to gain new perspectives and reach different audiences, I think it succeeds. There are many dark stories that need to be told, and not letting them become buried underneath stigma, shame, or silence is one of the roles of the public historian.

And for those taking our historical walking tour of “Peg-Leg” Brown, enjoy! J

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Spirit Walks at the Wellington County Museum and Archives: Taking Dramatic Liberties to Give Voice to the Past

It’s October, Halloween is quickly approaching, and for some historic sites and museums, that can mean one thing: an unbelievably busy month!

During my more than two years at the Wellington County Museum and Archives (WCMA) in Fergus, I worked as a Programming Assistant and had to adopt many different roles in that position. However, when I started there in August 2015, I had no idea acting would become part of my repertoire.

The WCMA fully embraces it’s rumoured “haunted past” every October to tell the stories of the people who lived, worked, and died when the building was originally the County’s House of Industry and Refuge. Better known as the “Poorhouse” in this time period, the House of Industry had approximately 1500 people pass through its doors between when it opened in 1877 until it became the County Home for the Aged in 1947. For the folks who died during their stay at the Poorhouse, if their bodies were not claimed by a relative, they were buried on site. There are 271 bodies still buried in the adjacent cemetery. For the people of Wellington County who were destitute, sick, blind, suffering from a mental illness or physical disability, abandoned or simply elderly with no one to help look after them, the Poorhouse was a place of refuge. It is because of these sad tales that many of the locals in Centre Wellington believe the house to be a haunted hot-spot in the community.

At Halloween, everyone loves a spooky ghost story. However, as a museum and educational site, how do you marry the popularity of haunted entertainment with true historical stories? The WCMA does this by offering an annual event titled “Spirit Walks”. Extensive archival research is conducted throughout the summer months by the museum programming team to learn as much as they can about a few true stories of individuals from the Poorhouse. These stories are then converted into monologues and delivered by costumed actors over four nights in October. To create the “spooky” effect, the guests are toured with a guide to visit each “character” at various locations in the museum, in the dark, with only lantern light. And the stories uncovered from the archival research are simply astounding. It is hard to believe these things actually happened; you truly can’t make this stuff up!

The Wellington County Museum and Archive's event "Spirit Walks" brings to life the stories of individuals who lived and died at the House of Industry and Refuge throughout the month of October.

Although living in London and thoroughly busy with my Public History projects and my Research Assistantship, I have returned for my fourth year as a costumed performer in Spirit Walks. And yes, that means driving two hours (that’s just one way) from London to Fergus four nights in October. This year, I play Christina Keleher, and help retell the true story of a married Irish couple from Arthur, Ontario, who found themselves in court in 1896.  The Kelehers were notorious in the community for their loud fights and filthy living conditions. One night, after a particularly loud argument, the neighbours informed the local Constable and Reeve Blair that something needed to be done. Daniel Keleher was out at the tavern when the Reeve and Constable showed up at the Keleher dwelling, and subsequently brought Mrs. Keleher to the Poorhouse for safe refuge. Daniel Keleher, believing his wife was kidnapped, attempted to sue the Reeve for trespassing and kidnapping, asking $2000.00 in damages. For Spirit Walks this year, we are retelling the story of the alleged kidnapping by recreating the court case. We have costumed actors playing Daniel Keleher, Reeve Blair, and the Court Justice Robertson. I am volunteering my amateur acting skills and testifying as Christina Keleher.

One problem however …Christina Keleher did not actually testify during the trial. Typically, women were represented by a male figure in court during this period, whether a husband, brother, or father. So how do we tell Christina’s side of the story to a modern audience, while recreating the court case in as historically accurate manner as possible? We take dramatic liberties. 

In my previous post, I talked about my interview podcast with War of 1812 re-enactor, Stephanie Vaillant, who discussed how re-enactors use historical inaccuracy as an educational tool. Stephanie is a modern woman in 2018 who, as a hobby, enjoys participating as a soldier in battlefield re-enactments. However, some viewers of the re-enactments critique this as being historically inaccurate. Of course, modern women should not be barred from enjoying and participating in this hobby, therefore Stephanie stated that “vignettes”, or short dramatic skits, are effective to explain inaccuracies and educate the public at these events. She argued that the vignette can be used to explain what would happen to women if caught pretending to be soldiers in the early 1800s, thereby offering education as well as allowing modern women to freely participate.

This still leaves the question, is it okay for historical re-enactments to take dramatic liberties in order to tell stories about the past? I argue the answer is yes, especially when the audience walks away aware of the liberties taken for educational purposes. The way Spirit Walks navigates around this issue is by having the tour leader explain that some artistic license was taken in order to retell the story in its entirety to a modern audience. After each character testifies in the recreated court case, the audience participants are given the opportunity to act as the jury and decide how the damages should be awarded. Upon hearing Mrs. Keleher's testimony, the audience members have so far primarily voted not to award Daniel Keleher any money, due to the evidence that it was clearly an abusive situation and Mrs. Keleher chose to leave the home for her own safety. The actual verdict from 1896 is then revealed to the audience. Although shocking to us today, Justice Robertson impressed on the jury, in a racially prejudiced manner, that because the couple was Irish, they may have actually enjoyed and preferred that wretched standard of living and fighting with each other. The real jury then awarded Daniel Keleher $110.00 in damages for the kidnapping of his wife and trespassing on his property.

The participants at Spirit Walks, upon learning that Mrs. Keleher didn’t actually testify, have the opportunity to ponder what the trial experience would have been like without her testimony, and if that would have changed their minds about the way they voted. In the reverse sense, would the inclusion or allowance of Mrs. Keleher’s testimony have changed the verdict in 1896?

The next Spirit Walks are coming up this Thursday and Friday, at 7:00pm and 8:30pm. For those who cannot make it to Fergus, there are similar experiences offered in London at historic sites such as Eldon House and Fanshawe Pioneer Village. 

Next week, in the spirit of Halloween, I’ll be blogging about our Public History group project, a historical walking tour in downtown London detailing the infamous 1898 murder case and criminal trial of Marion “Peg-Leg” Brown. Again, you can’t make this stuff up!

An update... our historical acting found it's way into the Erin Advocate newspaper:

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Adventures in Audacity – An Interview with Stratford Festival Archivist and War of 1812 Re-enactor, Stephanie Vaillant

When first confronted with the challenge of creating a podcast using the software program Audacity for my Digital Public History course, I immediately knew who I wanted to interview – my old friend and colleague from the Waterloo Region Museum in Kitchener, Stephanie Vaillant. If there is one person I know who can do anything within the realm of Public History, it would be Steph. She has traveled across the globe working in various archival and museum roles, including at the Juno Beach Centre in France and at the Puke Ariki Museum Libraries in New Zealand.  Now Stephanie, who also has an extensive background in theatre, has landed her dream position as the Cataloging and Digitization Archivist with the Stratford Festival Archives.  I like to joke with Steph that she doesn’t quite fit the mould of a stereotypical “quiet” archivist or librarian due to her love of theatre and performing.  On her spare time, Stephanie is also a War of 1812 re-enactor and singer, part of a duo specializing in historic music titled Historical Harmonies.

You can get a sense of her life re-enacting and singing on the battlefield in the short documentary, “Weekend Warriors”:

Stephanie’s introduction to public history, however, was the same as mine. We entered into this world working as costumed student interpreters in the living history village at Waterloo Region Museum. In fact, we recently made a hilarious discovery that an old photograph of us (which I have no memory of it ever being taken) working at the Peter Martin Mennonite farm house is currently being used for marketing on the Waterloo Region Museum’s website (Ah!): https://www.waterlooregionmuseum.ca/en/doon-heritage-village/building-stories-virtual-tour-app.aspx.

Some of my closest friends are people I met while working in museums, and I think part of that comes from having this unique, shared experience. The museum and public history world is one that inspires a lot of “shop talk”, even outside of that space. When we get together outside of work, inevitably we talk shop, as we all understand where we are coming from, including the joys, oddities, and challenges that come with this profession.

Having been friends with Steph for about 14 years, the first challenge I had in this podcasting process was trying to approach the interview as though I knew very little about her and deciding on a line of questioning. Considering we usually just have lengthy, casual conversations about these topics, the interview process felt very unnatural. While the final product appears conversational, this was achieved through many hours of editing. I made an editorial decision, however, NOT to cut out all the laughter and moments of subtle inside jokes, as this felt like it would take away from some of the joy and spontaneity of the podcast.  As most people can relate when talking with a friend, 15 minutes (the time criteria for our podcasts) was not nearly enough time.  In retrospect, I wish we had recorded our discussion AFTER the interview, the one that happened over tea and dessert. The recorded interview seemed like the tip of the iceberg in comparison.  When the microphone was off, so was the self-consciousness, allowing for a much more free-flowing talk!

The interview currently sits at 16 minutes and 14 seconds.  These 16 minutes and 14 seconds took a full evening, and at the very least 10 hours of trying to figure out Audacity and editing the numerous mistakes I made during the interview process.  

One of the biggest technical challenges during the interview was with the microphone. I borrowed this essential piece of equipment from a classmate in the MA Public History program (thanks Sean!), but evidently I did not fully understand how to use it. For some reason, I was not able to pause the recording and listen to what we had discussed with the microphone still plugged into my laptop. Therefore, I unplugged the microphone between questions. Of course, no surprise, I hit “Record” when returning to the discussion without plugging the mic back in… and my laptop microphone started recording instead. What a difference in quality, and I probably made this mistake a dozen times. Poor Stephanie, not only were we awkwardly trying to converse sitting beside each other on her basement couch with the mic stationed between us, but there were many times I had to ask her the same question repeatedly!

I also discovered that when the pressure is on, I am not always the most eloquent interviewer. Thankfully, Stephanie is a master, and her background in theatre certainly helped with her clear, concise answers to my questions (and unlike me, she never said “Stratfoul” instead of “Stratford”).  I was also clearly Audacity illiterate compared to Stephanie. My friend, aka the Martha Stewart of the public history world, had no problem with this program.  She uses it at her work in the archives, as well as in her spare time recording her music. To say the least, I am not sure I could have recorded the interview without her expertise!

While I do not think I will have a career in podcasting, at least Stephanie reassured me that even the professionals at the Stratford Festival mess up their dialogue now and then.  Here is a link she suggested to hilarious bloopers from the cast of the Stratford Festival’s current performance of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”:

For the full interview and podcast with Stephanie, visit the "Shared Authority" podcasts on SoundCloud created by Western’s MA in Public History class of 2018:

And, if you are interested in checking out Stephanie's singing duo, Historical Harmonies, here is the link to their Facebook page:

Enjoy! :)

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Teaching through the Stereoscope: Bringing Public History into the Classroom

As I discussed last week, this year for me involves wearing two hats simultaneously, as a public history student as well as public elementary school teacher. While attending graduate classes and working as a Research Assistant with the London Heritage Council, when I can spare a moment, I am also an Occasional Teacher with the Thames Valley District School Board. Now that teachers have had an opportunity to settle into their classes (and catch a few colds from their students), the phone is starting to ring!

The life of a supply teacher can be a sink or swim experience.  Finding a way to capture the students’ attention in the first fifteen minutes of class can mean the difference between a fantastic day, and a not so fantastic day...

Not surprising, to gain their attention, I bring public history and my museum training into the classroom…with a stereoscope. For anyone who is unaware, a stereoscope was the View-Master of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  These were commonly found in the parlours and sitting rooms of Ontario homes, as a leisure activity and early form of 3D technology.  Looking through the lens of the stereoscope at the stereograph card (which has two photographs of the same image side by side), the technology merges the images into one, making it appear further in the distance and three dimensional. Not unlike the popularity of the 3D movies today, the viewer could feel like they were transported to that location, scene or event without leaving their home. 
Aside from a few Grade 8 students who remember their school trips to museums like Eldon House, most students I show this to have never seen this object before.  The excitement for this odd looking device is usually instant. I approach it as an inquiry-based learning experience, where students, as a group, generate questions about the object and use their observational skills to gradually come to solutions about what the mysterious item could be. They recognize it has a lens for viewing, and often early guesses include that it is a type of binocular or microscope. Throughout the day, I return to the object with the students, and let them examine it more closely during their own time.  By the end of the day, they formulate their last questions and observations, and then I show them how it works with the stereograph card. When I have the students asking to look through the lens again, or staying after class to ask more questions about the item, I know I’ve succeeded! With virtual reality becoming more popular as well, the stereoscope is an item students can relate and compare to their modern technology and gaming. 
Stereograph images were often of famous landmarks and tourist sites like the Taj Mahal.
While bringing unique and interesting artifacts into the classroom is an essential part of my supply teacher survival kit, it therefore also raises questions for me about the different methods teachers are using to make teaching history more engaging for 21st century students.  My hope is that the days of students thinking “history is boring” are coming to an end, as teachers find new ways to educate beyond the textbook.  In recent years, digital methods and using video games to teach history is becoming more and more common.  For the technologically savvy history teacher, some are using simulations of famous battles to get students engaged in the material. One criticism of these methods is that simulations, as a form of augmented reality, may be teaching non-factual history to students. On the other hand, teachers are finding that these simulations result in students becoming more interested and invested in “what really happened” during that battle or war, and that the learning extends beyond the classroom with students still talking about it on their free time. 

Regardless of engaging with old technology or new, as a supply teacher, I am somewhat limited as to what I am able to teach on any given day and mostly at the mercy of the regular teacher’s lesson plans. Ultimately, as much as I try to bring the museum into the classroom, I recognize that there are some experiences that cannot be recreated. In the not-so-distant future, I will be blogging about the challenges and benefits of experiential learning, immersing students into the museum and public history setting.  During my placement with the London Heritage Council, I will have the opportunity to participate in the coordination of their Museum School London program, where students from both the London Catholic and Thames Valley School Boards adopt a local museum as their classroom for one week.  

In the meantime, check out this website for interactive history simulations, created by Iowa teacher, David Harms: