Curating place


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Curating Place
Given at NCHP, 2011.

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  • Contact Information: Mark Tebeau, Ph.D. Associate Professor Department of History Director, Center for Public History and Digital Humanities Cleveland State University Rhodes Tower 1860 East 22nd Street Cleveland, OH 44115 (216) 687-3937 (phone) (216) 687-5592 (fax) [email_address] <> <> <> <> Taipei Municipal University, June 4, 2010 Mark Tebeau, Making Place in a Digital Age
  • I founded and direct the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University. Cleveland State has about 16,000 students, almost evenly split between graduate and undergraduate students. My academic home is the History Department, we have about 200 graduate and undergraduate students at any time, with students training for a broad range of careers including those in public history and teaching. The mission of the center is to transform the city of Cleveland, Northern Ohio and the region around the Great Lakes, and Ohio into an interactive learning laboratory for students, teachers, schoolchildren, and communities. Our focus is especially on the history of landscape and people, seeking to better understand our region as a historical place. Initially, we focused on public history and oral history, but transformed the scope of our work to the digital humanities over the past couple years, recognizing that technology was rapidly changing the outlines of research, teaching, and public engagement with history. We have sought to embrace these changes through a number of projects that have evolved slowly and in a cumulative fashion. Our work began simply with audio stories for public radio, a website, then an ambitious oral history project, followed by history kiosks located on the streets, and then more digitally focused work that emphasizes building community and teaching history through exploring the boundaries of scholarship and theory in the digital humanities. Today, I will use my experience to speak with you about how we are seeking to remake place in Cleveland. How I, as an urban historian, am seeking to curate a city, to create a living museum. As we have developed an approach to curating cities digitally, we have considered a number of different traditions of understanding place: Writing, Art, photography, maps, artifacts, film, and oral history … in their own ways, each has influenced our approach to understanding place digitally. I will now consider them, very briefly, in order. Through our work, we are seeking to transform scholarly understandings of place, refine how digital humanists deploy digital tools in public projects, and remake Cleveland as a dynamic city, colored by its history as a distinctive place. Taipei Municipal University, June 4, 2010 Mark Tebeau, Making Place in a Digital Age
  • In what I believe to be one of the most important novels of the twentieth century, Invisible Cities , Italo Calvino reimagines landscape and place. He argues that place is embodied in the “ relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past: the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of the usurper’s swaying feet. . . the height of that railing and the leap of the adulterer who climbed over it at dawn. . . . The city . . . does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of streets, the gratings of windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.” Most fundamentally, Calvino views cities and places as being made by experience, by conversation, and interactions. One of the central tensions is being the Lares & Penates, the Roman Gods of landscape and of people. This tension between landscape and people can serve as a metaphor for place and frames this talk. Place is landscape: it is geography and the built environment, including the vernacular Place is human: it is people and their culture, society, and economic imprint Place is historic: it is the accumulation of layers of human interaction with landscape Place is not fixed; it is dynamic Of all historical concepts, place is perhaps the most complex to understand, and it is the one that I want to explore today. I want to ask whether the new era of digital scholarship extends our ability to understand, to experience, to interpret place. I will argue that digital humanists offer to us tools for making place and for making sense of place that help us to appreciate place in new, though not entirely different ways. Taipei Municipal University, June 4, 2010 Mark Tebeau, Making Place in a Digital Age
  • In recent years, historians have emphasized critical thinking skills, something that Sam Wineburg calls “Historical Thinking.” Historical thinking is a problem-based approach to learning history that trains students to think critically by using primary source materials. Historical thinking emphasizes reading and analyzing primary sources in light of the broader historical and social context that produced the materials. We believe that by getting students deeply involved in working with primary source materials in Teaching & Learning Cleveland, we are encouraging historical thinking. We ask students to make historical choices about primary source materials, to place them in archives, and to provide context for those materials as they describe them and develop metadata for them. Also, we ask students to build exhibitions that require them to interpret primary materials and to organize them in a bigger historical argument. As they build a collection and develop exhibitions, they acquire historical knowledge and critical thinking skills. Of equal importance, they make their knowledge visible and public, which contributes to the broader understanding of history. They also learn to use the internet critically, as producers of knowledge rather than as unthinking members of a social network or passive consumers of information. This is how we teach public history and how we train future teachers. June 3, 2010 Mark Tebeau, Making Place in a Digital Age Taipei Municipal University, June 4, 2010
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