Alison Hight recently completed a master’s degree in history with a certificate in public history at Virginia Tech. Since then, she has spent two years teaching undergraduate courses in European history at Tech. Alison’s research focuses on the construction of cultural memory, heritage, and nationalism in modern Britain.
I was extremely happy to be part of the first iteration of the Teaching Hidden History course. I saw many values and benefits from both an academic and a broader professional perspective.
Academically, I may have been in a unique position when I began the class, as I had already finished a terminal master’s and had been teaching undergraduate classes for a year. Though most of the students in the class were in the midst of big projects in their respective programs, I had already gone through the entire research process and had completed a master’s thesis. For me, though, this is what ended up giving the class so much value as I was able to build on my MA research and consolidate the sources and ideas that go along with that. In developing my module, I then was able to focus fully on the actual presentation of my research and how to effectively develop a succinct, yet engaging narrative. Constructing that narrative around objects made the process that much more challenging. So for me, this class really helped me process and consolidate my research and then essentially convert it into an accessible story. While I realize the class is geared around teaching history, I found it to be an exercise in public history more broadly, as the project seemed to blur the lines between classroom and exhibit.
Even more broadly, I found the collaborative nature of the class especially fascinating. So often in the academic world (and I suspect, even beyond), we become pigeonholed in our respective departments and universities, and become used to the particular people and ideas within them. The collaborative aspect of this course meant that those perspectives were automatically broadened. I really enjoyed interacting with students and faculty at another institution, and becoming exposed to the different ways they approached research and teaching. Plus, the topics of the projects the students at Mason did were vastly different from those of my VT colleagues, so it was great being the intellectual beneficiary of topics I didn’t otherwise have a lot of exposure to. Moreover, I personally benefitted from the virtual collaboration because I happened to be in DC for one of the class weeks and was able to go to the Mason meeting and not miss anything, which was convenient.
Overall, I really enjoyed the course, and hope it continues to be offered, perhaps collaborating with even more schools. The benefits it had for my research, public history skills, and broader professional networking made it an exciting and innovative opportunity.