Saturday, June 13, 2009
"Seeing layers of the past writ large in the present." E. Bischof
While layers of the past surround us every day, that does not mean that we see them easily, nor even see them at all. All of us walk across landscapes that bear traces of the past without even noticing them. At some point in our lives, however, like cartoon humans we have one of those "lightbulb moments" where we suddenly see a building, a wharf, a tree, or a grave with new eyes. I think Rose Morasco captures the sense of discovering these traces in her photograph at right, composed in honor of the Maine Women Writers Collection's 50th Anniversary Symposium "Women in the Archives: Using Archival Collections in Research and Teaching on U.S. Women."
For three days, the Maine Women Writers Collection at the University of New England's Portland campus hosted and celebrated the anniversary of its founding. The Collections' staff showcased presentations by a series of curators and scholars working in women's history. Two of the most powerful presentations came from Maine-based scholars - Elizabeth Bischof and Eve Allegra Raimon of the University of Southern Maine, both of whom spoke on the panel "Pedagogy and the Archive."
I found kinship with Bischof's commitment to curricula that empower students to engage with local history and primary sources. Bischof sees her role as helping students learn how to look at the "tangible history" around them. This tangible history occupies the same spaces in which we live but is not always visible to us, at least initially. Monuments, historical sites, cemeteries, and so on are places that we take for granted and yet they shape our lives in ways that we do not realize. I concur with Bischof, that one of today's challenges is getting students to "unplug" from all of their electronic devices and really look at the world around them in new ways. The reward can be "plugging back in" and sharing this, with blogs, for example. She shared one of the products of her student's work: From Away: A Newcomer Experiences Maine's History, a nice model for how students can creatively narrate their process of discovering "the layers of the past write large in the present."
Thursday, June 11, 2009
"Photography n. from the Greek phos and graphos; literally, "to write with light"
Phantasms, stereopticons, and darkrooms - oh my! The Peaks Island Elementary School third grade embarked upon a Writing With Light unit this semester designed by the Fifth Maine Regiment Museum. This unit of three lessons integrated history (history of photography and local history) with Science and Technology (the nature of light and photochemical processes), and Language Arts (reading informational texts and writing observations and narrative).
In our Magic Lantern lesson, students explored the invention of photography and the evolution of camera technology, through the Fifth Maine's Classroom Gallery format (below). I'm not sure which was the favorite - looking through the stereopticon or seeing the artist's conception of phantasmagoria, an 18th c., Magic Lantern version of our horror movie.
On a bitter, winter day, the students gamely hit the streets for our second lesson, In Plain Sight: Then and Now. Armed with primary sources - historic photographs of key points in their neighborhood - they assumed the role of photojournalists and examined and documented changes that have taken place over the past century. In her journal, next to the historic photo below, one student wrote: "The last place we went was across the street from the Inn, by the parking lot. Tolford's store was where the parking lot is today. It was there about one hundred years ago. I feel it would be nice if that store was still here because I've never heard of a post card having your picture on it for one thing. I think if that store was still there, we'd all enjoy it."
I think she's right. The island could use a modern version of the "Post Cards Art Studio."
Finally, today, in much fairer temperatures, they put their scientist caps on once again, taking their understanding of the properties of light to a new level with The Pinhole Camera lesson. An intrepid group of parent volunteers had fashioned a slew of pinhole camera from - you guessed it - Quaker oatmeal boxes. The single most challenging aspect of this assignment was holding still for several seconds while their photographic film was exposed to light. The second most challenging? Keeping their hands off of the light switch in the darkroom! As one student wrote, below: "People in the old days had to work hard just for one picture. Now a days it takes 1 click, and bam, you got yourself a nice color photo. I can't believe how much we take for granted. It was a little bit harder than a push of a button back then."