Dr. Martin Kalb is Assistant Professor of History at Bridgewater College in Virginia. For the past year, Dr. Kalb has been a strong project supporter. This post is the first of a three-part series, in which Dr. Kalb and his students recount the impact History Unfolded has had on them.
Here’s Dr. Kalb:
Making New Connections
A visit with a colleague to the National Council on Public History conference in Baltimore in spring 2016 first introduced me to History Unfolded. I had worked on numerous projects tied to Holocaust education at my previous institution, most notably a traveling exhibit tied to the Bedzin Ghetto in Poland; plus, I had spent some time at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) myself. Yet I had recently taken a new position, at Bridgewater College, after teaching for several years at Northern Arizona University. As a result, connections to the museum, plus ways to involve students, had to be re-imaged and created anew, now as part of my departments public and digital history concentration. After meeting Eric Schmalz in Baltimore, and hearing about History Unfolded, it became clear that this project checked many boxes: it aimed to involve the public and was a feasible project for a small liberal arts institution like Bridgewater College.
An Internship Project
Our institution has been involved with History Unfolded since Fall 2016. Then, undergraduate history major Emily Thomas began looking through the local newspaper, the Harrisonburg Daily News-Record, as part of a one-semester internship. These setups are generally used to give students hands-on experiences within their discipline, and we gladly made use of them to formalize her undergraduate research experience: Emily had to complete 120 hours, made up of going through newspapers, submitting her findings on the USHMM platform, and posting a weekly journal for me; we also began having conversations about future careers tied to such doings.
Emily first used a seemingly ancient microfilm reader in the basement of our Alexander Mack Library – which eventually broke. While we waited for its replacement, Emily worked with digital collections – and thus got some additional exposure when it comes to doing research online. In the end, the microfilm reader was replaced rather quickly, and we now have a brand-new machine, currently in use by undergraduate history major Samantha (Sam) Savage, who has been working on the project since January.
Rewards for Educators
As their faculty mentor my role has been rewarding in many ways.
- First, I get to expose students to doing history. I am an advocate for this approach, and strongly belief that involving students within a professional environment is something we, as academics, need to do much more. At my previous institution, I had helped put together a travelling exhibit and accompanying online platform: that project was grounded in student work. I was thus interested in creating opportunities for students here at Bridgewater College, and happy that History Unfolded fit this setup.
- Secondly, exposing students to think about history as a profession helps them envision themselves in certain environments after they graduate. Many of our majors become teachers. However, some do not see themselves in the classroom, and exposure to other options is thus vital. For instance, Emily enjoyed the solitude of the basement space, and the idea of doing research in such an environment. For her, doing research became a possible career path. To have these conversations with students has thus been a rewarding element of my role here at Bridgewater College.
Additionally, the actual research tied to the collection of articles is simply fascinating. Whenever I found myself talking to Emily and Sam about their research I am simply intrigued by their findings. Their submissions capture the rise of Nazism, some discomfort with that movement, but also some early dismissal of its potential as a powerful force.
Plus, there is seemingly some fatigue within the reporting, as it becomes arguably normalized. Sam has submitted an array of articles more recently that paint a detailed picture of the Nazi Olympics, for instance. Since both students must submit weekly journals they have a chance to think about their findings in writing, which makes the conversation even more meaningful.
Finally, this project has influenced my teaching directly. I strongly believe that research and teaching constitute a symbiotic relationship, and this certainly applies to History Unfolded. I increasingly find myself sharing specifics about this region and the Holocaust, thus making the vital connection between the local and the global – especially in my World History survey courses.
Preparing Citizens in a Democracy
For Emily and Sam, the project concluded, in a way, with a roundtable at Bridgewater College’s annual ASPIRE conference. Both truly owned this experience, and benefited greatly from such hands-on learning. Emily can now go into the professional world, given that she graduated in May; Samantha noted that she might continue to research on her own time. Bridgewater College will continue with History Unfolded: we are fortunate to have another student intern for the fall semester. Like Emily and Sam, that student will continue to look through the Daily News-Record, day by day. Even bigger questions will emerge then, I believe, given that we are moving much more into World War II.