Internship post 7: time for a change

This spring I have changed internship hosts from the Smithsonian Office of the Undersecretary for Education to a World History Commons project hosted by George Mason University, with a goal to finish the internship with some experience closer to my interest in applying digital skills to teaching. I was very grateful that GMU and the Smithsonian could accommodate my request.

I had the goal at the Smithsonian to learn how it uses social media to offer its resources through educational outreach to students, teachers, and scholars. I spent much of my internship at the Smithsonian reviewing Smithsonian websites and other educational institutions’ websites for features I found interesting and attractive. It was not clear to me what exactly Smithsonian was looking for or for what purpose my research was to be used. However, the Smithsonian does seem like it is refocusing its commitment to K-12 education – the “diffusion” of knowledge as much as knowledge’s “increase,” to paraphrase the words of found James Smithson’s charge – so perhaps the impressions I shared ultimately can help that process.

The WHC project is “a free and open educational resource of high quality, peer-reviewed content for world and global history teachers, scholars, and students,” and is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. As an initial task, I asked to write an electronic lesson utilizing a small series of Europeans’ world maps created in the early modern era. The lesson required finding digitized maps in the public domain, and writing annotations and teaching approaches to using them. I learned of a platform called Juxtapose that facilitates comparison of two digital images, which would be pertinent to comparative study of historical maps. My entry on this topic is online.

I am now in process of developing a second entry for the WHC platform that compares images of historical statues in the United States, Europe, and possibly Latin America, which in the 2010s became assailed as symbols of racism and were subjected to destruction and/or removal. The exemplary statues in the lesson were those of Confederate soldiers in the United States (currently, a statue of “Stonewall” Jackson in Richmond, Virginia) and European colonizers in Europe and possibly Latin America (currently, possibly, a statue of Belgian King Leopold II in Ghent, Belgium and of Christopher Columbus in Buenos Aires, Argentina).

A challenge I have encountered in this second lesson has been locating photographs showing statues’ destruction or removal that are in the public domain or licensable for fair use. Wikipedia and Flickr are the most conspicuous media for legally usable images of recent events, but few suitable images seem to exist there at the moment. I found a photograph of the removal of a statue of Leopold on Reddit, but reviewing that platform’s copyright rules showed Reddit’s assertion of its rights to display and disseminate images users upload to it, and not assertion of any rights among users, like me, of images that Reddit displays. So it is something of a learning experience to try to practice or abide by rules of copyright discussed in one of the certificate program’s courses last year.

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