By Shelley Rose
For a couple years now, department colleagues have encouraged me to find a space where my research in protest movements and gender intersected with my interests in digital humanities and pedagogy. The product of those conversations is a course I offered in Fall 2017, “The Politics of Peace and Gender.” Excited by the possibility of sharing my passion for these fields with my students, I had three main goals:
- Focus the course on the interdisciplinary work of geographers, political scientists, sociologists, historians, anthropologists, musicologists, and activists;
- Emphasize the transferable skills our department and the AHA argue are an essential part of history education;
- Pilot this course as a methods course for a future certificate or minor program in digital humanities at CSU.
Here is the description from the syllabus:
This course investigates perceptions of peace and gender in politics, drawing on insights from international relations and human rights history to study gendered conceptualizations of peace as “feminine” and assumptions that militarism and war are historically “masculine.” The chronology of the course begins with Bertha von Suttner’s pacifist novel Lay Down your Arms! (1889) and ends in the present day. Through primary and secondary research, students will evaluate the importance of gender analysis in the study of war and its opponents. In particular, this course emphasizes the various roles of men and women participating in protest events and the spaces they choose occupy. The course fosters a transnational perspective, highlighting different historical and geographical contexts such as 19th– century nationalism in Europe, the experience and aftermath of World War I, international debates around disarmament including nuclear disarmament, gendered violence during the dirty wars in Latin America, and more recent mass transnational protest events such as the Women’s March on Washington and the Occupy Movement.
“Politics of Peace and Gender” enrolled 13 undergraduates, 2 graduate students, and 3 “Project 60” students. This was one of the most academically diverse groups of students I have ever taught in an upper-level history course. Not only did students range in technical ability, they came to the course from various majors and programs including Asian Studies, Black Studies, Education, English, Gender and Women’s Studies, History, Political Science, Psychology, and Social Studies. Early in the semester, I adopted the strategy of pulling key terms from our daily readings and posting them on the course chat (in this case we used university-supported Microsoft Teams). I also wrote the term list on the whiteboard in the classroom before each discussion. While I took attendance, students could walk to the board and put a checkmark next to the term(s) they wanted to be sure we reviewed during our session. This turned out to be a valuable exercise due to the interdisciplinary nature of both the materials and students. For instance, a term like “thick description” is familiar to history and anthropology students, but often unfamiliar to psychologists and others in the room.
In order to emphasize transferable skills, I approached this course as a digital methods course where students created an Omeka exhibit on a protest event of their choice as a final project. I drew heavily on my experience with project-based learning (PBL) and used the student-created exhibits from the Colored Conventions Project as a model to design a series of weekly skill-based labs that provided a foundation for the final project. I thought carefully about the branding for this course, and ultimately decided to use the word “lab” for work sessions. While the idea of a laboratory is borrowed from STEM fields, I use it to emphasize that these sessions are a time to experiment with digital methods. I made a conscious effort to convey to my students that it was ok to stumble, or even fail, when creating digital content – just like many scientists.
I love that digital humanities methods and projects challenge the assumption among academics and students that all assignments must represent a “finished” product. I stress to my students that it is fine to have work in progress. After all, academics present their own work at conferences before polishing ideas into an article or book. This is the reason why I grade labs separately from the final project (which deviates slightly from the traditional PBL model). My goal is to provide students with space to grow and, I hope, to be more courageous in their final project. Students were able to use network diagrams, maps, and other elements from their labs, but they were not required to use all of them in order to preserve the element of choice that is considered key to PBL.
Project-based learning calls for a public product for the final projects. The “Politics of Peace and Gender,” student exhibits are posted on a public Omeka site. All students were required to present their exhibit at the DigitalCSU working group research showcase in our library at the end of the semester. At the time, I hosted the site as a subdomain on my own website. I am now in the process of working with the CSU library to archive this site on their servers to ensure sustainability and to link it more clearly to the university’s Bepress site, EngagedScholarship @ CSU. Students were evaluated according to this rubric.
As a special topics course “Politics of Peace and Gender” was cross-listed for both undergraduate and M.A. students. Each M.A. student completed the Omeka exhibit and also wrote an academic blog post. You can read Katherine Behnke’s post on Bernadette Devlin here on the Peace & Change blog. It’s a great example of how her research for the digital exhibit revealed a significant gap in the historiography of a well-known protest event.
Shelley E. Rose is Associate Professor of History and Director of Social Studies at Cleveland State University. Follow her on Twitter @shelleyerose