Review of ‘Remembering Lincoln’ Project by Ford’s Theatre

Below is the assignment I was given for my graduate Digital History course, and my response to the assignment, as we have been asked to write it as though it were a blog post.

BLOG ASSIGNMENT: Write an evaluation (500-750 words) of one the following sites (each of you will sign up for one), using the Journal of American History evaluation guidelines. and, where relevant, drawing on the week’s reading. Note especially the questions in the key areas of content, form, audience/use, and new media. If you have a project site that you’d like to review but is not listed here, please let me know at least 5 days in advance of the assignment due date.

The project site that I chose to evaluate is “Remembering Lincoln.” I picked this site because I have always had a fascination with Abraham Lincoln. As a little back story, since this is written as a blog post, I actually was told in elementary school (a very small private school) that by third grade I had written too many reports on Abraham Lincoln and needed to write my next one on a female, especially because we would be dressing up as the subject of our next biography report. I was not a happy seven year old, and strongly protested this enough that they assigned me my biography subject, and called my parents. Eighteen years later, I still drag my family to Lincoln themed historic sites regularly, watch documentaries, read books, and clearly took John David Smith’s undergraduate course on Lincoln. I also regularly rant about Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln when given the chance, and sometimes even when I have to present myself with the opportunity just because I feel like talking about the Lincolns. So, long story short, ya girl is stoked to look at this site. Okay, that’s my unrelated, hopefully ungraded 🙂 rant, here we go.

 

The ‘Remembering Lincoln’ site is an Archive of responses to the Lincoln Assassination that is presented by Ford’s Theatre through various methods. The main tabs of the website are “Explore the Story,” “Browse Responses,” and “For Teachers.” Each of these tabs offers various other tabs within them once the visitor has gone into that tab. The purpose of the site is to trace the narrative of the reactions that citizens had to the shocking assassination of the President.

The Timeline features moves through photos and quick captions that range from one sentence to one paragraph. The timeline features the assassination, the chase and apprehension of John Wilkes Booth, the funeral trains, trial, and the executions of the conspirators in July.

The Map feature lets you click on different cities to see responses to the assassination. Diaries, memories, public statements, newspapers, letters, sermons, photographs, and speeches are all featured. There is also a browse feature for responses that has 39 pages of pieces submitted.

The Funeral Train tab goes to Google Arts and Culture that allows the user to click through photos and a virtual tour of the current sites that stand where Lincoln’s body was viewed by citizens on the funeral train stops.

The lesson plans tab has resources for grades 6-12 on various parts of the assassination.

Based on the Digital History Review Site, after generally browsing the site, I went back and looked for the categories that the DHR noted for reviews.

Content: The scholarship is sound in the fact that it features primary sources from around the country. This gives varying viewpoints, and the point of the site is to give reactions to the assassination at the time of the assassination. The project is current because it does have a section for teachers that features lesson plans that have been recently updated to align with national standards that are ever changing for both social studies and language arts educators. The flaw I saw in this category is the display of content communication to users. Three mains tabs are featured at the top of the site, but unless the visitors clicks in and explores, it is difficult to realize what all the site features (browse items, funeral train, explore the manhunt, meet the people, lesson plans, etc).

Design: As previously addressed, the design initially makes the site look much simpler than it is. However, if an user makes a simple click into one of the tabs it does feature what the site does have to offer, so it is not difficult to navigate. The only feature that did not function as expected was the “use History Pin” button for the interactive map of where photos and documents were submitted from, but the map was also featured on the project site, so I was unclear why an user needed to go onto a separate site to view the items to begin with. The site loads quickly, even with my affinity to have 50 tabs open at any given time, which I did while I was working on this assignment (yes, I know, my first period class yells at me daily, but it’s the way my mind works).

Audience: The project is presented by Ford’s Theatre, so theoretically it is someone who is interested in Lincoln’s assassination, assassinations in general, or is in an American History course. I was impressed of how well it addressed the goals of high school and middle school curriculum goals in addressing primary sources, then using analyzing, creation, comparison, writing skills, and comparison with those primary source items. If they intend for this to be used by educators, then they have done an excellent job and I would definitely use it in my classroom.

Digital Media: The project uses interactive mapping and Google Arts/Culture to interactively involve users in Lincoln’s assassination and the aftermath.

Creators: The site uses multiple contributors. Including teachers, digital strategists. They have a curator, website manager, interns, art directors, and digital public historians. They also have multiple advisors from various backgrounds including Dr. David Goldfield from UNCC, Jennifer Rosenfield from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, and the director of National History Day that we host at UNCC, Kim Fortney.

Why “thinking like a teacher” isn’t a bad thing.

Many of you know I’m currently in graduate school. I was over the moon when I got the acceptance letter that the school where I transferred to then completed my undergraduate education to become a TEACHER. I was accepted into their Public History graduate program, after being encouraged for years by a staff member that whenever I was ready, I would definitely succeed.

I felt ready. I felt like I was at a steady place in my career. I felt like I was mature enough to begin this next step. I felt like I had a passion for this area. I had just been honored to earn two scholarships as Miss Capital City through the Miss America Organization at both the Miss Capital City Scholarship Pageant, as well as receiving the Kate Peacock Teaching Fellow Scholarship at the Miss North Carolina Pageant. I had money to start funding the education I wanted to continue to pursue….and that scholarship had the word teaching in it, mind you.

I was so excited to begin my pursuit of my Masters in January. But, to my great disappointment, it hasn’t been what I expected. There have been a lot of issues. One of the biggest being that many times it has seemed that the right-hand does not know what the left is doing at this university. As someone who likes organization, that bothers me. But, I digress from the subject of this post.

The other issue that has stuck out to me is that more than one professor has told me to stop thinking like a teacher and to think like a historian.

I think I can be both. I think I am both. I fully believe that I am an academic, an explorer, a writer, and an educator, simultaneously. And you will not convince me otherwise. *Insert me singing “Defying Gravity” here*

I have been frustrated many times in my education by the things that my professors have told me. But this one has disillusioned me. It has made me question continuing my education.

If you have ever met me, you know that I believe wholeheartedly in who my Creator sculpted me to be. I believe in constructive criticism, sure. But I also don’t believe in changing the core of myself just because someone does not think or feel that way themselves.

So. At the risk of my professor or classmate thinking I’m cocky, let me tell you why you should let me be a teacher and a historian. It can be summed up in one sentence, I’m learning from them too and I can share that knowledge with the historian community, and it will help us grow, but below is also a breakdown,  

  • I can reach a wide audience. I know how to reshape a question, if necessary, to speak to more people and actively engage them in a conversation (my pageant experience is super helpful in this aspect, as well)
  • I know how to scaffold material. It’s part of my training. Again, wider reach. People are increasingly disengaging with history, folks. Why would you push them away because you are doing something they consider too hard?
  • If you can’t teach it to a seven-year-old, you don’t understand it yourself. I am a FIRM believer in this. And I may not be teaching elementary kids, but I know how to break down ideas, and no offense to any of you historians, but some of you do not. Let me help you with that. 
  • I can tell you what is SUPER BORING for them to read, some of your syllabus material, again, no offense, but IT SUCKS. Like, dude, I’m a reader, and I don’t even want to read it. They are not going to read that at any given point. Or show up to your lecture on it. Sorry, not sorry. Let me help you find RELEVANT material on that same subject. Again, I can help.
  • Learn to be the bigger person. Sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes so do you, sometimes so do they. If you treat them badly, correct it, apologize, move forward. Don’t be snooty. It isn’t cute. They can also smell fake from a mile away. I promise.
  • They are the future of America. Help them make it a good future.
  • If you aren’t willing to open up to them, they will not open up to you.
  • I know your future audience, college professor, museum runners, any public historian, or public figure. They are sitting in my classroom or they are friends of the kids in my classroom. Let me tell you about them and their interests and how to engage them. I learn from them every day just like they learn from me.
  • On this same note, do NOT assume because you have a higher degree that you are smarter than them on everything. You aren’t. Sorry.
  • Be willing to mix things up. Lecturing for your entire class every class is boring. Do something different. They all learn differently.
  • I care. This is my human nature. I have a story. So do you. So does everybody. Fill a bucket. Let somebody talk. Tell them you care. Love well. This matters. It’s what I do.

I believe, as much as it saddens me, without changing to value opinions of others, history will die. This is a higher level of disengagement and disinterest. I see it in the classroom. I see it at the college level. I see it at the graduate level- I see it in myself right now, that I want to disengage because of the rudeness of some college and some staff members.

If there isn’t care to make it accessible to all audiences, then it dies. You can disagree, but this is my opinion. And I hope that historians will open their hearts and minds to reach out to audiences they may not have intended to originally and engage wider audiences, but it does not start out by shutting down those who are trying to bring a different (and helpful) perspective. 

 

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Picture after winning Kate Peacock Teaching Fellow Scholarship at Miss North Carolina Scholarship Pageant, June 2017. I was excited to have my teaching excellence recognized, but also to be able to fund the beginning of my graduate education.