These materials were prepared for Professor Cohen’s Introduction to American Studies course at UC Berkeley. The course, subtitled "Culture Wars" is a survey of post-Civil War US history centering on how culture serves as a critical site of conflict, power and dissent. Throughout the semester, students are asked to write papers in which they perform close readings of cultural documents they find in the past (photographs, poems, essays, films, short stories, paintings, songs, performances), asking how such documents are waging the culture war and whose side they seem to be on.
About our Educational Project:
As part of our effort to capture many voices and new perspectives, we asked students to take their own photographs, use Flickr, and participate in the uploading of history. The digital humanities is about access and participation, and our assignment asks students to participate in documenting the present moment.
Our work on Historian’s Eye is not simply archival, but was designed and compiled with an educational mission in mind. We not only wish to provide a body of images and voices that give a specific historical context to the current economic crisis and Occupy movement here in California, but to use these texts to teach students how to interpret and make historical meaning out of the culture and politics that surrounds them. We collectively wrote and presented a lecture in front of Professor Cohen’s Intro to American Studies course and wrote an assignment drawing from the site’s resources and inspiration.
Our assignment uses the historical techniques of reading for context, interrogating meanings, and discerning cultural form used in the previous assignments, while bringing the digital humanities into the classroom. Our course work asks students to realize how vivid and alive the vernacular, unrepresented, and seemingly mundane world can be. History surrounds us in the built environment, in our embedded assumptions about power, value and knowledge, and in the ceaseless change that all of us are caught up in each and every day; not just on those dates future history students will be asked to memorize.
Men and women create their own history, but not according to conditions of their own choosing: this basic premise of historical materialism remains the animating notion of this course, our project, Cultural Studies in general, and these websites, and by developing upon these approaches to the digital humanities, we believe that we have all come to a deeper understanding of what it means to look at the present with the Historian’s Eye.
Assignment: Historianʼs Eye on the Present
What does it mean to document the current moment? How do we do a Cultural Studies of the Present? The Historianʼs Eye website, built by Yale American Studies Professor Matthew Jacobson, takes on these questions through a collection of photographs and oral histories beginning with Obamaʼs election in 2008 and the ongoing financial crisis. Together, these texts ask us to think about the current moment as historical.
Write a 3 page paper choosing ONE of the options below:
Take a photo that documents some aspect of the economic crisis and consider the photograph in space and time.
Where did you take your picture? Why did you take this photo? Now back up and treat the photograph as a cultural document and read your own photo as a representation of the present moment. How does it represent contemporary issues in American Studies?
Upload your photo to Flickr.com. To Upload to Flickr:
|• Go to www.flickr.com and sign in or sign up for a new account
• Click on the Upload tab and upload your photo to your own Flickr account.
• Once your photo is uploaded, go to our AS10 Historianʼs Eye Flickr Group website at: http://www.flickr.com/groups/as10historianseye/
• Add your photo to the “Group Pool” on our AS10 Historianʼs Eye Flickr Group. Enter a description of the photo with your name.
Find a photo on the Historianʼs Eye website that speaks to you and discuss how and why the photo is emblematic of the economic crisis.
In developing your argument, consider some of the following questions:
Why did you choose this photo? What is being represented in the photo, and how is it being represented? What connections are being made in this photo across geographical lines? (Egypt, Oakland, New York). Are there any historical connections being made? Whatʼs at stake in making those spatial and historical connections?
Listen to a lecture by the UC Berkeley Historian's Eye Education Team about Historian's Eye and how to use the site to think historically and critically about the present.
Here are a few exemplary essays written for this assignment by UC Berkeley students.