For Spring 2019, I’m teaching a broad survey of African history, and I wanted to invite students to think about African diasporas across the world. As we have discussed African societies and African leaders in the increasingly connected world of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, we read Linda Heywood’s study of Queen Njinga (c. 1583 – 1663) alongside another new work by Omar H. Ali on Malik Ambar (c. 1548 – 1626). These two books drew the students into the lives of African leaders who were instrumental in shaping the worlds of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Queen Njinga ruled Ndongo-Matamba, in what is now Angola, negotiating with and resisting Portuguese demands as Atlantic slave trading and civil war continued to fuel instability in West Central Africa. Malik Ambar, originally from Ethiopia and once enslaved himself, prevented Mughal dominance in the Deccan while in power. Skilled military leaders, tacticians, and diplomats, Njinga Mbande and Malik Ambar have inspired wide-ranging discussions among my students about gender, race, leadership, movement, and slavery. Likewise, Njinga of Angola: Africa’s Warrior Queen and Malik Ambar: Power and Slavery across the Indian Ocean are solid guides in the undergraduate classroom.
As a special opportunity, my class met via Skype with Omar H. Ali, PhD, Dean and Professor in the Lloyd International Honors College at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Students in an introductory survey read Malik Ambar: Power and Slavery across the Indian Ocean the week before and prepared questions ahead of time, with my guidance. I highly recommend this type of activity wherever possible! Not only did it bring new voices and spaces for discussion, it also brought out a renewed sense of initiative and confidence in the class. Students asked about methodology, sources, motivations, and purposes in the book. How did the author theorize Malik Ambar’s motivations? How does one write the history of a person who left few records behind, compared to some other world leaders? What kinds of legacies did Malik Ambar’s policies leave for future administrations in the Deccan? Dr. Ali’s answers were open and thoughtful, and I believe the students were able to get a better understanding of what it means to be a historian and a scholar. While Skype visits from authors are a rare privilege, they matter in particular for undergraduates at smaller institutions. I am very happy with how the lesson unfolded and with the investment of my students in an excellent conversation.
This semester the Georgian Court University History Club and chapter of Phi Alpha Theta have organized a community event to talk about the legacies of the Spanish arrival in, and subsequent attack upon, Tenochtitlan in the early sixteenth century. Five hundred years ago this month, the Cortés expedition left Cuba without official permission in search of new conquests. Eventually, this leader and thousands of Indigenous fighters brought about the collapse of the Aztec Empire. We will focus on 1519 and its consequences for people of Indigenous, African, and European ancestry in North America.
Our panel represents a collaboration across disciplines and groups within the university. Two officers from the History Club, William Donahue and Kiyomi Locker, will facilitate and pose questions. Kiyomi Locker, a History major interested in Mesoamerican art, will give a long-term view of the conquest focusing on what it meant for the Nahuas and other Indigenous peoples, and what it means to Native Americans today. I will ask the audience and panelists to consider the roles Black conquistadors took in the process of early colonization. Professor Jaime Rivera (World Languages and Literature) will discuss the symbolism of conquest in Mexican literature, attitudes, and popular culture. A nursing major and representative from Student Government and Latin American Students Organization, Cristian Mendoza, will share some experiences and thoughts about mestizo identity and what it means in Mexico and the U.S. Finally, we will leave plenty of time for open discussion and reflection upon this process and how we remember it today.
This interdisciplinary topics course brought together my training as a historian and my study as a musician. Though I am not an expert in music history, I found using works from this field very effective in engaging students from Latin American Studies, History, and History Education programs. The course explored how people have deployed, defined, or deemphasized race through music in Latin America. Examining processes of migration and exchange, we compared the influences of musics with roots in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe on present and past understandings of race in the region.
The format of the class prioritized a group experience of the music and an analysis of the readings and other primary sources. We started each class by listening to some of the assigned musics, like politically charged calypsos by Sparrow, Indian fiddle music published through the Smithsonian, or popular tracks by Tego Calderón, Ivy Queen, and Calle 13. The books for the course included Bryan McCann’s Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil and Zoila Mendoza’s Creating Our Own: Folklore, Performance, and Identity in Cuzco, Peru, along with titles from Temple’s Studies in Latin American and Caribbean Music, edited by Peter Manuel. Some of the other works I used proved overly theoretical, but most were accessible and pushed our discussion in interesting directions. Short documentaries (around 30 minutes) worked well in the classroom, among them Chutney in Yuh Soca: A Multicultural Mix and Waila! Making the People Happy: Contemporary Dance Music of the Southern Arizona Indian Tribes (available on Kanopy).
The assignments resulted in some very cool projects by undergraduates. They produced reviews of archives and library collections, podcasts, and an online exhibit. The online project was especially useful in promoting students’ analyses of the nonverbal and musical texts. The students posed their own questions for podcasts and web sites: Do distinct genres of “Latino rap” or “Chicano rap” exist, and how have Latinx musicians influenced rap? What are the purposes of obscenity in the baile funk music scene? How are gendered roles and expectations in reggaetón and rap changing? Students used the flexibility in the assignment to make challenging and insightful presentations. I am happy to share some of the work (with permission) on race and ethnicity in rap music,Latina rappers and women in rap, and the politics of Rio de Janeiro’s funk scene. Below you can see screenshots from some of the web pages created for the course.
One of my ongoing teaching and research questions concerns situating the Atlantic and Atlantic slavery in world history. To bring these topics to the attention of undergraduates, I have designed and implemented assignments that allow students to directly address comparative questions related to legal personality, indenture, slave trading, and transculturation. For a final assessment in an undergraduate seminar on comparative slavery, students created individual online exhibits to complete a project involving two case studies. The goals were a) to contextualize digital sources in historical ways b) to distill information for an online reader and c) to integrate and discuss two cases of slavery to form a coherent argument. The sites had to contain a minimum of three pages or sections incorporating images, text, and other media.
The basic requirements for the project included comparative analysis with supporting multimedia items; use of appropriate secondary sources from class or other academic texts; complete captions for all media; and a minimum of 2,000 words in the three combined pages. I graded the project on a rubric for its historiographical engagement, original arguments, comparative analyses, item captions, primary source use, and design.
Students in my capstone course on “Religion in Iberian Empires” used assigned monographs and published primary sources in translation to create an individual digital project or write a final essay. I offered the digital option specifically for students interested in public history, digital humanities, and secondary education. History Education students expressed an interest in building electronic portfolios with lesson plans and public web sites. These projects would then be useful to them in student teaching and as examples for potential employers. While I did not evaluate the lesson plans for middle and high school students, I graded the websites themselves for content, writing, citations, and design using a rubric. Most students built their projects in Wix, Weebly, or Google Sites. Many of these projects worked well as teaching tools when the students later formally presented them to the rest of the class. I recommend an assignment like this for undergraduates pursuing a career in teaching.
Students covered a range of topics using digital projects intended for their teaching portfolios, but one of the best focused on theater in colonial Mexico. This particular student project (referenced here with permission) draws heavily on Aztecs on Stage: Religious Theater in Colonial Mexico, the recent work of Louise M. Burkhart, Barry D. Sell, and Stafford Poole. In addition to being seamlessly translated and edited, these plays are great entertainment. They work well in an undergraduate course as a primary source to be read and discussed in class. (My students really enjoyed reading aloud the advice of a doctor who instructs others to “take [a sick man] up to the top of the bell tower” and have him “spurt his diarrhea.” This intriguing episode can be found on page 174 of the text.) Other aspects of the plays and editorial guidance from Burkhart, Sell, and Poole allowed students to examine gendered concepts and identities among spectators, writers, and performers (below).
This example of a student site provides broad cultural and historical contexts for the plays using primary and secondary sources. Connecting the past and the present, the student addresses processes of colonial transculturation and some of its legacies using different media.
The site also includes some good examples of the student’s teaching toolkit. A scavenger hunt provided helps teachers evaluate student comprehension and interpretation of the basic concepts in the site. The student also offers links to other teaching tools online and in print.
In an introductory survey of colonial Latin American history, I tried out a mapping project using a simple, free, online program. Objectives included thinking about the persistence and use of colonial spaces in the national period; analyzing changes and continuities to names of historical places, especially with regard to language; and locating sites of historical memory and national meaning. These broad goals seemed suited to Google My Maps, which is straightforward and requires only a little explanation and training. This tool allowed students to insert their analyses as descriptions to marked places, as well as create categories to distinguish time periods. Using information from the textbook and lecture notes to describe the colonial places, students then combined their knowledge with current news sources. Students were required to note the significance of the places they chose and describe relationships between places on their maps.
Students chose the themes of their maps, many of which explored the legacies of Atlantic trade routes. These examples show one project that reflected on slavery and forced migration (above), and another that took a more general view of the maritime and overland connections between West Africa, the Americas, and Iberia (below).
This assignment was easy to complete, in terms of the digital skill set needed, while promoting student learning and critical thinking in a key area of colonial Latin American history. The memory of colonial places and their continued use are important take-away points in my teaching. The same aim could be accomplished without using a mapping program, but I also believe that using relatively simple digital tools in an introductory class helps students visualize the impact of colonial places. Furthermore, digital assignments build confidence with technology alongside critical thinking, and possible collaborative projects.
On Thursday, my Mexican history class visited Cline Library’s Special Collections to learn about “Los Recuerdos del Barrio en Flagstaff,” an online repository of oral histories from what the exhibit describes as “Flagstaff’s Basque, Spanish, Mexican, and Mexican American families.” Interviews include transcription, translation (where applicable), and video or audio recordings of the discussion. (Much of the text is searchable!) Over the course of more than a decade, Special Collections librarian Delia Ceballos Muñoz has been collecting memories and images that preserve the experiences of Flagstaff residents who lived through historical events such as the Mexican Revolution or the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. The site includes potential lesson plans for secondary education in Arizona, as well as a bibliography of local histories.
During the class period, researcher and librarian Delia Ceballos Muñoz talked to the students about how she conducted this project, its importance, and its scope. After the presentation, students had a chance to ask her questions about the meanings of oral history. Then, I created a group activity in which students laid out a hypothetical interview with a survivor of the Mexican Revolution, taking into account the importance of interviewer and narrator identities. This visit to Special Collections allowed students to learn more about Flagstaff’s communities while considering the practices of oral history. I hope this repository will play a role in final projects for my undergraduate classes.
Catalog Description: “BIOGRAPHICAL HISTORY: Lillian Martha Ortiz Mayorga Chavez was born in Flagstaff on April 23, 1943. She and her brother were orphaned as young children and then adopted by Benito and Maria Mayorga. Benito worked at the Saginaw sawmill and Maria worked at home, taking care of the family. Lillian’s upbringing was greatly influenced by her parent’s values, her Mexican heritage and the Catholic faith.”
A colleague from the College of Education at NAU recently suggested I try Poll Everywhere to evaluate the main points students are taking away from my lectures and assigned readings. I recommend it to new lecturers or anyone who wants to keep tabs on how well students are absorbing information.
With five minutes left in a 75-minute introductory survey, I put up a question for text message live polling. Students had the benefits of anonymity and immediate evaluation of their responses. (The question below regards legislation from the mid-sixteenth century.) I’ll be trying out Poll Everywhere with easier and harder questions as the semester progresses. It is certainly helpful to get a range of answers to a question, in this case to see if students are following the reading. The downside is that not all students participated, but I hope more will get used to the exercise as the semester progresses. The goals of using the tool are to keep students on track with the readings and to ensure my own clarity with lecture.
As a tool for “crowdsourcing interpretation,” as its creators describe it, Prism is visually and functionally interesting for college students. This semester I used Prism to teach two texts in Latin American history, but one stood out as a good length and style for classroom use. Below, I’ve pasted a screen shot of how the class marked up an excerpt from Maria Eugenia Echenique’s essay “The Emancipation of Women” (1876). (This text was published for educational purposes by Harcourt Brace Custom Books and translated by Francisco Manzo Robledo.) I uploaded text and had my class sign up for Prism in small groups. They then read part of the essay and highlighted portions of the texts using three facets. Below, you can see how they understood the theme of legal culture working in this text. The other facets were “Gender Roles” and “Progress.” Three facets seems like a limited number, but I think adding more would not make the exercise as compelling or easy for students to conduct in groups.
My class found the Font Size Visualization feature appealing, though Winning Facet I think would be interesting in a larger class. The Font Size is easier to understand on impact and encouraged students to think about their ideas in relation to those of others. We were able to discuss where we strongly agreed and where some groups had different ideas. The Winning Facet Visualization takes some clicking to understand. Black text indicates places where facets were equally popular. For example, the author argues that Argentine women, “can manage the interests of our children, these rights being the basis for emancipation.” My students believed that managing children’s interests was equally applicable to gender roles and legal culture in nineteenth-century Argentina. Therefore, this portion of text had no winning facet. When we examined this phrase using the Font Size feature, we found that fewer groups had highlighted this section anyway. The combination of the two visualizations is really neat and helps students communicate their ideas with their peers. This exercise allows the class to quickly evaluate multiple opinions–where they overlap and where they diverge.
Like many educators, I have found Prism valuable. Thanks again to all the graduate students, librarians, and faculty at University of Virginia who support the Praxis Program, and the Scholars’ Lab in general. I am a huge fan!
A wonderful resource for grad students interested in learning more about DH is the site for The Praxis Program, a project from the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia Library. Do not miss the “Tutorials” or “Scratchpad” tabs if you (like me) don’t know everything yet. I am still trying to decide which of these tools is best suited to my teaching and research, but Prism is intriguing. As a tool for “crowdsourcing interpretation,” this looks like a great way to encourage collaboration among students and between scholars. I plan to try it out on my introductory class and will post successes and challenges in my lesson. Thanks to the contributors who made this public and available!
As a scholar of Africana and Latin American Studies, I am on the look out for digital humanities projects that address my regional and thematic interests. The UVA Library Scholars’ Lab is undertaking exciting projects in African-American and Latin American history, such as the Falmouth Project. I am following with interest the scholarship of Tamika Richeson, Cecilia Márquez, and Alex Gil, among others. And there is also “Mapping an Asian American Indie Rock Digital Diaspora,” which technically is not my field of remote knowledge or expertise. But I had to link to it because it’s an excellent presentation of scholarship. I will end this post by lamenting the fact that I could not attend a recent GIS workshop at UVA that promised the “pursuit of mappiness.”