As learning technologist working on the Manufacturing Pasts project, I have the interesting and puzzling task of coming up with ways of presenting historical artefacts such as photos, maps, diagrams and interview sound files in a way that is engaging for both experts and nonexperts, but also not very prescriptive. I am new to working with historians, and I am getting the impression that historians (not uniquely) are careful to not dictate the conclusions which should be drawn from the examination of historical sources.
But then does this mean that all we can do is present the photographs and other items and that’s all? Surely, expert and nonexpert alike would benefit from some sort of context. Just a series of photographs will be a gold mine to a researcher of very particular topics, but might just look like a set of boring old snaps to a nonexpert —unless there is context. With context, there is a story. Once a person gets involved in the story, s/he can visualise, imagine, process ideas, and draw conclusions. The challenge to educators, academics, and librarians is how to take ‘information,’ ‘data,’ ‘research,’ and make it meaningful– and present it engagingly — without dictating interpretation.
Taking this one step further, younger learners need more guidance to process the facts and learn to draw conclusions. Perhaps a good approach might be to create, for example, a video based on a series of photos and an appropriate sound track, but do it in two versions. Version A would be pretty much just the photos, with identification of what is in the photo, when taken, and by whom. Version B would be the same but with the addition of ‘thinking points,’ or ‘questions to ponder.’ For example, alongside the photo of the St Margaret statue, formerly attached to the Corah knitting and clothing factory of Leicester, there could be questions encouraging the viewer to delve into why a saint was chosen as the company’s symbol, what ideals might have been suggested by that particular choice, what other information can be found regarding the company’s motto or founding principles. Such questions, while not appropriate for a researcher working on a PhD, could enliven discussion in a History A Level class.
Come back to this site often and see how we resolve this. Better yet, write a comment with your thoughts and suggestions.
Terese Bird, Learning Technologist, University of Leicester