Monthly Archives: April 2013

A week in New Mexico: Reflections and Ideas from the Bridging Ages Conference

DSCN1624I returned home late Wednesday night from a really fun and engaging conference in New Mexico. It was the annual conference for the Bridging Ages International Organization of Historic Environment Education and Time Travel. The conference included a diverse group of people from 9 countries and 12 different U.S. states. Although my schedule didn’t allow me to stay for the whole week of activities the, conversations, presentations, and people I got to engage with gave me a lot to chew on.

It all started at the Welcome event Monday night. A friend of mine from my MA program, who is now an assistant professor and Director of the Public History program at New Mexico State, introduced me to one of his colleagues, Phil Lewis. Lewis is also a professor at NMSU and serves as the director of their Creative Media Institute. Lately Phil and my buddy, Peter, have been working together on a few projects that combine documentary style videos with history and a person’s “sense of place.” They pioneered and this week launched the first of their creations (which they’ve called place based cinema). The goal of their projects is to take movies/documentaries out of the theater, and history out of the textbooks/museum and into the places where they happened. The movies they create are generally documentary based with reenactments and depictions based on solid historical research. It’s a pretty simple idea that incorporates GPS, podcasts, videos, and other media to help people understand and learn about the places they’re currently in. It’s not too dissimilar from other DH projects and apps being created right now, such as Next Exit History, except they add a video component. (For a better explanation and more info visit their blog)

I really liked the idea and hope to contribute and use it in some of my own work. Phil is a creative guy. He is always experimenting and thinking up new ideas, and even trying to pull seemingly disparate projects and ideas together. This happened during one of our conversations that night. He was telling me about Place Based Media as well as another project he has been working on. It is an interactive ethics training video for the State of New Mexico (as well as 5 other states). In the videos viewers are presented with different situations and able to chose which scene comes next as they work through the video. This reminded me a little bit of video games and virtual reality that I’ve been reading about in a few of my digital humanities and technology classes. Anyhow, over the course of our discussion we got to thinking about what a documentary/movie would like it if it could combine the historical, place-based elements with multiple possibilities. I offered the idea of contingent history as a sort of unifier – that is, the idea that there’s no predetermined outcome and that it is valuable to go back to historical debates and imagine alternate paths/outcomes. So in a contingent place based movie you would be able to explore historical debates and events that offer multiple perspectives. (It goes without saying that all of this is based on strong historical research into the views/voices of different historical actors). Through the process of watching it, you learn about a specific historical moment in a specific historical place that helps you understand how and why this place is the way it is but you also get hints about other ways it could have been.

I really love the idea and really enjoyed talking with Phil. Throughout our conversation I kept thinking of some of the design issues and problems of video games. In a sense, these movies combine a lot of the elements of play and games to movies and history. It was almost like an “ah ha” moment where I was able to flesh out a degree of applicability to so many of my course readings on design, technology, games, and digital humanities.  Indeed, the conference in general sort of took this approach, although not necessarily in obvious ways.

DSCN1696The conference was for the Bridging Ages International Organization of Historic Environmental Education and Time Travel. The event was held at the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum. The Museum had a lot of neat stuff, but perhaps my favorite was the “parade of cattle.” The parade consisted of a museum curator showing us a variety of cattle breeds and telling us about them. They were presented in chronological order based on when they were introduced to New Mexico. I thought it was a novel idea and a good use of livestock as “artifacts” that could be interpreted to help tell the history of New Mexico.

The conference was populated by a bunch of folks from around the world who study and participate in living history and explore ways to get children and classes involved so that they can “time travel” and experience the past. Many of them are museum professionals and public historians. There were sessions that reflected on past “time travels” as well as other which offered tips and suggestions for those creating their own. Panels addressed things such as teaching in historic environment and creating authentic food and costumes.  Although I did not partake in any of the of reenactments or living history exercises, I enjoyed seeing people come together and discuss the best practices of creating and conducting living histories. Although I was somewhat skeptical of the time travel component at first, I started to see them as instances of identity transformation and perhaps even play. Time travel has the potential to help students decenter themselves and view the world from another perspective. This is because students are able to immerse themselves in new environments and play new roles as they “time travel” to explore history. I’m a firm believer in learning-by-doing and see the value in some immersive experiences, but I still don’t know where I stand on the whole time travel thing. I definitely see some cross over and similarities with other pedagogical strategies I‘ve learned, but I don’t know if I’m convinced of its effectiveness quite yet. I would like to have seen some presentations offering a critical pedagogical analysis of this time travel as a distinct teaching style. Even without being convinced, however, it has given me a lot to think about as producer and consumer of history, a public historian, as well as a teacher.

Beyond the conference I got to spend several days with one of my closest academic friends. Because of our closeness and familiarity with each other’s work, our conversations are incisive but encouraging. We talked about his latest research projects, mine, and our mutual interest in public history and the digital humanities. I lamented how I’ve lost touch with some of public history roots while being absorbed in PhD course work. Although my digital humanities field has kept me busy, I feel like I haven’t been reading as many public history books as I should to stay up-to-date. He encouraged me and gave me list of some of the top books to read. I came home motivated and refreshed after only a few days in the New Mexico sun. I have a renewed confidence in myself and my work. I’m also thrilled and excited that his hard is paying off. I love his project and can’t wait until his book comes out (probably not until Spring 2015). As for me, I need to keep on being productive and keep looking for more ways to get more hands on public history and digital humanities.

Research Project Musings: the History of College Boxing at Purdue

Although I have settled on a dissertation topic relating to college football, this semester I am working on a research paper about intercollegiate boxing. It’s a topic that my advisor has encouraged me to pursue as a part of a larger independent study on race and boxing. Although the topic isn’t as sexy as the big name professional boxers that I’ve been reading about, college boxing is fascinating. It flies under most people’s radar. When I went to the University Archives I got a weird look when I mentioned to topic. They had no idea the NCAA ever sponsored the sport.

Before this semester I already knew quite a bit about the topic. I think in some ways that, along with his own curiosity, this is why my advisor asked me to write about it. During my MA I wrote a paper about military, college, and Native American boarding school boxing. After several revisions that cut out most of the college and military aspects, I published that paper last year in a collection on Native American and sports.

In this new project I am committed to remaining focused on the college aspect, but am not quite sure how to frame it. I’ve found some interesting leads but haven’t found a solid source base yet (and yes, it is pretty late in the semester to still be grasping for sources). There are two main sources or at least events/ideas that I want to work the paper around. The first is a boxer named Gus Boughan that placed 2nd in his weight division at the 1942 NCAA boxing tournament in New Orleans, LA. Bougham was a student at Purdue University and lost to a Wisconsin boxer. Wisconsin had a boxing dynasty during the relatively brief time period that the NCAA sponsored the sport. Indeed, the Wisconsin program has been the focus on a couple of scholarly studies. In fact, Lords of the Ring by Doug Moe traces outlines the program’s entire history. The only other major work on college boxing is The Six-Minute Fraternity by E.C. Wallenfeldt. This book is apparently difficult to find, but I was fortunate enough to have that my library purchased a copy for me.

Anyhow, a quick look in the index for Purdue brings you to a short passage about Boughan and the 1942 NCAA championship bout. I chose Purdue with the hope that we’d have information about him or at least Purdue boxing in our University Archives. Unfortunately this hasn’t been the case so far. But this brings up all sort of new questions about intercollegiate boxing at Purdue. First, how/why did someone compete in the 1942 NCAA Championships if the school did not have a team? Second, since Boughan was representing Purdue, I became curious about what sort of boxing infrastructure the school had. I have read a bit about the various military programs at Purdue in other books, such as the V-5 and V-12 Navy officer training programs. As I learned in my previous work on college boxing, the sport has a close connection with the military.

Beyond these questions, I found another interesting anecdote while searching for “Purdue boxing” in my favorite database, Newspaper Archive. In an article in the February 5, 1945 issue of the Wisconsin State Journal, Purdue Athletic Director Guy “Red” Mackey outlined his desires and apprehensions about potentially starting an intercollegiate boxing team. Mackey felt like intercollegiate boxing was an up and coming sport, but remained nervous about the influence of the professional sport. Indeed, according to Wallenfeldt, this question of professional influence remained a constant concern of everyone involved with college boxing throughout its existence.

In some ways, I think the paper could go one of two ways based on these two events. I could try to find more information surrounding the debates about starting an intercollegiate team and discuss why they eventually decided against it. Or, I could look in the opposite direction and explore the institutional boxing culture at Purdue that pushed Mackey to consider the sport. I’m confident that I can tie both options to a larger cultural view of boxing during this period but maybe not with peer institution examples. Although both options sound quite similar, the difference is largely the type of sources. The athletic department papers are not a part of the Purdue’s University Archives collection. Instead, the athletic department has maintained possession of them without a clear policy on access.

So far I have taken the second approach and looked at the university and local newspapers. I’ve also done some digging in the university annuals. In the annuals, they list information about the intramural programs including the number of participants. My plan is to take a long-range view (15-20 years) and look at the development of boxing in both among both military and regular students. Ideally, I’ll be able to find the beginning of the boxing intramural and trace it through the 1945 Wisconsin State Journal article. This will probably involve mostly mining numbers from the university annuals and seeing what kind of coverage the school newspaper gives it.

Mixed with the intramural culture, I’ve found a couple of articles in the university newspaper about exhibition cards held on campus, called “smokers.” They were popular events. A 1945 article indicates that they featured students from V-12 programs as well as in academic majors pitted against each other in different weight classes. As I continue to dig into the “smokers” it looks as if there were a couple held during 1945 and possibly 1944 too. I haven’t had a chance to look at 1946. It remains to be seen if these were the result of the military’s influence and World War II, or if they continued after the war. I’m also unsure on their connection to the intramural program.

Drawing distinct connections will be difficult, but I think I’ll have enough to paint the picture of an active amateur boxing culture at Purdue that piqued the interest of administrators. It seems rather clear that concerns over professionalism kept it from becoming big time. The key to the success of this paper will be connecting Purdue, and its boxing culture, to other universities. While it’s clear that they did not follow the Wisconsin route, I’m curious if other schools teetered on the verge of going intercollegiate while sponsoring extensive amateur boxing intramurals and exhibition cards. One logical place to look is nearby Notre Dame University. Tentative Google searches have indicated that they did sponsor charity boxing-cards consisting of student combatants as early as the 1920s. The “Bengal Bouts” as they became known, continue to this day and remain a very active part of Notre Dame recreational and student life.

So that’s a glimpse of what I am up to this semester and some of the issues and ideas I am working with. Most of my questions can probably be answered with more time spent reading microfilm and combing the university annuals, but I’m worried that I wont find a smoking gun. I’m resigned to the fact that I probably wont get access to the athletic department papers. The next best option is to see what, if anything, exists regarding the V-12 program and boxing. As I conclude this post I feel like I have a better understanding of what I am doing and where I am going, but I still feel like I lack solid sources. To write this brief overview is one thing, but I want/need to be able to provide more thick-description of the events and the culture. It’s hard to get that from a few newspaper articles and some numbers reported in the university annuals. I guess that’s where the real creativity and writing begins.


As a part of my semester long exploration of everything DH, I have signed up for THATcampKY. I’ve been trying to get some of my friends and colleagues to come with me, but so far haven’t had much success. It’s being held June 1-2, 2013 at the University of Kentucky. For those of you who are unfamiliar THAT stands for The Humanities and Technology. It is an “unconference” aimed at exploring all sort of humanities and technology issues with its panels and workshops are shaped by the participants. I’ve never attended at THATcamp but have heard rave reviews from several of folks who have. From what I hear, they’re very hands on and are open to people of all skill levels. 

I’ve really enjoyed my time exploring digital humanities issues and literature this semester. My digital history exhibit project was a part of this exploration. Later this summer I hope to offer some more detailed blogs that include some of my reading lists and thoughts about the DH field and my vision/definition/approach to it. I’m still working through a lot of these ideas and haven’t been able to fully articulate them (though I have tried and sounded like an idiot). I think taking the time to think through DH and coming to a unified articulation of my interactions with it will be a worthwhile exercise and I look forward to it and your feedback when I get there.