Category Archives: reflection

Visting Lambeau Field: Reflections on Experiencing History at and in Stadiums

Yesterday I went on a pilgrimage to Lambeau Field to watch the Chiefs and Packers play on Monday Night Football. Lambeau Field is probably the only true NFL mecca (unlike MLB which has a handful). It was a fun trip, even if Kansas City lost. The atmosphere was interesting — it felt more like a college game though with a decidedly older crowd. The stadium itself, while large, felt less intimidating than newer ones, probably because of its large lower bowl, while makes it less steep and towering.

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Throughout the trip, I found it difficult to divorce myself from viewing things with a critical perspective. The violence of the game on the field — there were a couple of big hits — and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Super Bowl I with several of the former player in attendance, forced me to consider the impact on individual players. I wondered what today’s champions would look like in 50 years. How many will be alive? Their size combined with the speed and the trauma of the game today will undoubtedly make aging more difficult for them, even if they have more modern technology.

IMG_0990The Hall of Fame also was an interesting look into both the past and how it is presented to fans (most of whom are extreme partisans). I was impressed with the amount of ‘stuff’ they had on display. Too many halls of fame rely on videos, text panels, and photos, rather than tactile and 3-dimensional artifacts. To be sure, this requires smart collecting and preservation, but, man, does it make a difference for showing the reality of change over time. I would have loved to see them take it one step further and use these items to show connections to the present, perhaps using different type of football equipment to show the advancement of technology and safety alongside the increased size and speed of players. Combined, these narratives could offer commentary on how football has become more safe and yet more dangerous using material culture.

IMG_0992Making a trip like this also requires reflecting on the purpose. Some of the folks I went with are die-hard Packers fans. To them visiting Lambeau is ritual, it’s game day. Others, myself included, saw it as a place to be experienced for its history and significance. It’s something on their bucket list. The game is and was important (I wouldn’t have gone if they weren’t playing Kansas City), but one of the guys went regardless of teams just to experience it. The history of the stadium, the mystique of Monday Night, and the atmosphere of an NFL game. Here you see a blending of sports and cultural heritage tourism. You see ideas about quintessential American experiences as sports fans that are tied to larger notions of a participatory involvement in American culture. Everyone of us viewed ourselves as a stakeholder in the cultural experience — we’re all football fans, we’re all americans, and we could all afford the experience. Some of us were more closely tied to the team(s) but regardless, we viewed Lambeau and Green Bay as culturally significant. We wanted to learn and experience its history and join in the creation of more.

The Packers signify this perhaps more than other clubs, because of the collective nature of its ownership structure, but even beyond that, these pilgrimages, or bucket list trips, hint at our obsession with authentic and democratic cultural experiences. Sports add a further dimension to this, I think, because we are visiting a historic sites and learning history at the same time as we are coming together to witness history. This is precisely what makes historic stadiums such powerful experiences. They tie the past and present, interweaving personal and collective narratives, and offering the possibility that you might witness the extraordinary. The opportunity for you to be present for not just for the making of new history but the next culturally reverberating moment. Traditional museums and historic offer connections to the past and present, but can’t always guarantee the living history experience, where you become a part of that place’s history. For many, this opportunity, this promise, and this excitement to be a witness to ‘new’ history unfolding before them, is what makes them feel alive.

WIMG_1038ithin this critical frame of mind, I kept coming back to my own work and recent conversations I’ve been having surrounding ongoing projects. I’ve been pondering ideas about sports history, public history, heritage, and teaching. Thinking about and asking question such as: what kind of narratives resonate, what kind of techniques work, what are students as well as the general public’s motivating factors for learning and experiencing these stories. Visiting Green Bay with a group of folks — two of them I met for the first time — helped me see some of these things in action.

Thinking forward, and about old stadiums I will never experience and games I’ll never see, I wonder how or if we can salvage, rescue, or reproduce this type of engagement. A few years ago when I visited New Mexico, I had some interesting conversations about the concept of place-based history. It mixed location (GPS points), with videos and images, enabling people to see places as they once were. I think some of this could work for sports. The prevalence of old footage could make it easy to link old games with their former locations. Blending these with a few more tactile features could extend the experience further. Imagine a small historic site near the old the location of old Tiger Stadium in Detroit or Ebbets Field in Brooklyn that pinpoints the location of some seats. In that location reproduction (or even better yet, salvaged seats from the destroyed stadium) were placed in small groups (like park benches), and there, on your cell phone, you could call up historic footage. You could sit in the seats, in the exact place, watching history.

These ideas aren’t too far off. Apps like Next Exit History and a few small projects like those going on at New Mexico State, hint at these possibilities. Maybe some day it will be a reality. It will take a team of collaborators with the resources to build apps, purchase and place tactile features in historic locations, and buy rights to historic footage. I’d love to see a world with this exact type of digital public sport place based history.

Reviewing 2014; Previewing 2015

It’s that time of year when we reflect on all that we’ve accomplished and look forward to a productive year ahead. Sometimes I feel unproductive and discouraged about my work, but the exercise of compiling a list of everything I accomplished helps put things in perspective and motivate me for the year to come. It also helps me think through my goals and how I plan to approach and achieve them. It’s probably an old throwback to my running days. I wan an obsessive logger of my miles and times, etc. (I still use running-log.com on occasion) Looking at all of my personal data helped me better understand my body and discover what worked and didn’t work in my training and racing. This fall I struggled quite a bit with anxiety and insomnia. One of the recommendations I got to help manage that was to log my sleep and its quality. I’m hoping that by doing a similar type of reflection on my academic work I’ll be able to see the bigger picture and refocus my energies on the goals ahead. I apologize if any of this reads like bragging or self-congratulating. Self-reflection has always been a big part of my personal routine and is something that I really value.

  • In February I was interviewed by TSN 1260 in Edmonton, Canada. They had me share the story of Billy Mills on their segment “The Greatest Stories Ever Told.” It was my first radio interview, but a lot of fun.
  • Also in February I was gifted my current dissertation topic. After passing my exams I was playing around with a project on college football during the Great Depression. It wasn’t really going anywhere, when finally my advisor and his former student, Johnny Smith, stepped in. The new topic reinvigorated my research but it took me a while to get up to speed and find my footing. I spent a lot of time reading books on Oklahoma football, reading finding aids for archival collections, and searching for angle that was different than what had already been written. I tend to make things a bit more complicated than they have to be, but I finally stumbled into a narrative and an argument that blended the topic and my interests.
  • I submitted two book reviews to the Journal of American Culture which should be published soon. I also completed a couple of entries for American National Biography, as I wrote earlier this year, my entry on Harold Connolly appeared in April 2014, and I submitted another piece on Bud Wilkinson this fall that should be out in April 2015.
  • On May 1, 2014 I launched the Sport in American History group blog. I wrote 5 posts for the blog through the year. The site itself now has over a dozen contributors and has attracted over 12,000 views. Over 400 people follow the blog and receive email updates. Following the Annual NASSH Convention it was featured on their website. The success of the blog wouldn’t be possible without all of the hard work of the contributors, my co-editor Andy Linden, and everyone who reads it.
  • I won a Graduate School Summer Research Grant and a Harold Woodman Graduate Research Award from Purdue University and the Department of History that allowed me to spend the month of July in Oklahoma doing research. I completed the vast majority of my dissertation research on this trip. I came home with over 5,000 photos, 17 years of scanned newspaper microfilm, and more. I also came home with a much, much better understanding of my topic and the direction of my dissertation.
  • After the trip I was able to spend a week in Kansas City visiting friends as well as my grandparents. I played some disc golf, and ate lots of barbecue. I even tried a few new place in KC as well as one in Memphis. I also visited the original KFC in Corbin, Kentucky.
  • I experienced the most magical baseball season of my life. It started with a Cubs-Reds game at Wrigley Field while I was at the PCA/ACA in April. Then in May a group of grad school friends and I went to Cincinnati to check off another ballpark on the list and catch a Reds-Brewers game. At the end of July I made my pilgrimage to Kauffman Stadium to witness a solid Royals win. I attended my last game of the season back at Wrigley Field in August as the Cubs took on the Giants. Sadly, it ended up being a rainout. The Royals kept the winning ways going into October. They swept their way from the Wildcard to the American League Pennant. They fell 90 feet short from a World Championship in Game 7 of the World Series. It was an incredible ride, the first like in my lifetime.
  • This fall I taught my first solo college class. It was the second half of the U.S. History survey; U.S. since 1877. The class went great and my evaluations were solid. Despite being sleep deprived and seemingly always behind on work, I thoroughly enjoyed the semester. I felt like teaching really forced me to learn history again. It’s one thing to read the historiography of events and eras, but translating that into lectures for teaching is a whole another process. Teaching made me think about history differently. It also forced me to be productive by writing new lectures three times a week, though I was unable to do much work on my dissertation. I’m so glad to have the experience and the course prepped for the future.
  • In September football scholar Michael Oriard visisted Purdue. I was fortunate to spend some time chatting with him about college football, history, academia, and, of course, my dissertation. I was thrilled to meet him and chat with him. I’m a big fan of his work and own several of his books.
  • In November, Billy and Patricia Mills came to Purdue. It was so great to see them again. Billy and Patricia are such amazing and encouraging people. They have a real positive energy about them and  genuinely interested in others.  I was able to have lunch with them and spend some time chatting about life and various ideas. He asked me about the Native American mascot controversy. He told me he was curious about my perspective as someone who studies sports history and who grew up a Kansas City Chiefs fan. I felt even more honored to learn that Billy has been mentioning/recommending my thesis to others. Billy also shared a story with me about meeting Bud Wilkinson on his recruiting visit to Oklahoma.

Research and teaching took up the bulk of 2014. I regret wasting a lot of time in the Spring of 2014 meandering through different ideas and books. Looking back I could have made better use of that time and my local resources. I felt handicapped by the knowledge that I wouldn’t really know what I was doing until I got into the archive. I guess it was a rookie mistake. You can’t make up for lost time. However, I’m hoping this foundation of research and all of the time I spent working through different ideas allows me to spend the bulk of 2015 writing. I have a book review for Sport in History due in February (which I plan to finish before the end of the break) and then a few grants early applications to work on early in the year. My guaranteed funding runs out in May, so I really need to win a grant to keep things going. Other than those things, the dissertation is my sole focus for 2015. During the fall semester and over the break I’ve been working to organize my notes and photographs to better facilitate drafting chapters. While I may need or two small research trips to pick up a few extra sources during the writing phase, I don’t anticipate anything major.

It’s scary looking ahead. Earning funding for the next academic year is crucial. So too is making serious progress on my dissertation. They go hand-in-hand. Now is the time to cut out excuses and distance myself from distractions. This probably means less conferences, book reviews, and articles. I may need to cut back on blogging too, unless I can find a way to make it a useful part of my productivity. For example, this fall I used a series of blog posts to help me draft a large part of the last chapter of my dissertation. It’s not perfect, but it gave me deadlines and feedback. It worked.

I need to set a productive tone early in 2015. I needed the same thing in 2011 when I was writing my master’s thesis. It was slow to get started. I interviewed Billy Mills in January capping off the last of my research. After organizing myself, once I got stared and into the flow of writing it went by pretty quickly. I wrote 4 chapters and revised each of them 4 times between February and my defense on June 30. If I can find a similar pace of writing I’ll be in good shape in 2015.

History is Personal: The Final Lecture of My Course

One of the professors that I’ve TA’d for at Purdue does a very powerful and moving “Meaning of Life” lecture to end all of his courses. In the presentation he takes the kids through his personal history emphasizing important lessons he’s learned on how to be successful and happy. It’s incredibly well-done and always leaves students moved.

Though I don’t have the same life-lessons and experiences yet, I tried to do something similar at the end of my course this fall. I called it “History is Personal” and delivered it on the last day of class. I was unable to do my “The Recent Past” lecture, where we talk about things like 9/11 and the election of Barack Obama, because I was ill, so I tried to build off of those historically significant moments where my students have personal memories to start a larger conversation about our personal interaction with history. While this is a theme I tried to carry throughout the semester via the book on Swimming Pools, I viewed this final presentation as a more explicit discussion of personal history.

I divided the lecture into four different angles to look at history — all of which my students can personally relate back to themselves. The angles were: 1) historical events you lived through, 2) historic sites and places, 3), personal history, 4) digital history. Then I concluded with some final thoughts and takeaways from the lecture and the course overall.

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The “History You’ve Lived Through” section was more questions driven. I wanted my students to think about major historical events that took place during their lives and think about what they remember about it, how if affected their lives, and consider how their experiences are different than other people who lived through the same things. At the heart of these questions are notions of perspective and context highlighting the complexity of history and sources. They also shed light on questions of significance and how time and distance can affect our views of the past.

Most of my students were 5 or 6 when 9/11 happened, they remember it much differently than I do. Likewise, some were in different parts of the country. Timezones can make a difference when major events happen. Regardless, they all had some sort of memory and something to share. These memories are important. Some recognized that they’ve been shaped by subsequent news coverage and anniversaries. What was fun was to see their minds working though their memories. Especially when I told them that these are stories they’ll probably be telling to their kids or grandkids someday. My Mom told me a story about where she was when JFK was shot, and they’ll have something similar. History is something we all witness and all have different views and perspectives on. It’s a real thing, and sometimes these multiple memories and perspectives get lost in lectures and textbooks.

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Next, I asked my students to think about how they connect with historic places and sites. At a fundamental level these things attempt to anchor history to place. The idea of what happened here, or as my good friend Peter asks, what grows here (since he is an environmental and agricultural historian), are fundamentally personal questions about a community and a place that invite us to learn more. They’re telling of a place and its history. It’s the connection between sense of place and sense of history. These connections can be very powerful and help not just historians, but visitors and community members better understand their world.

I asked my student to think back to when we talked about the 1920s and 1930s — I told them about Ross-Ade Stadium and Elliott Hall of Music at Purdue and their connections to national trends. I reminded them that there are probably similar stories about their hometowns. A famous person, a famous building, perhaps a courthouse or a school, maybe a park and a bandstand. Maybe it’s an old stadium. These histories are their history because they shape who they are by defining where they’re from. They introduced them to the world around them and what their community values.

Of course, historic sites aren’t personal for everyone. If you go somewhere new, you might not see the significance in things. An old house or an old tree might seem lame. But if you take a step back, you can see how different things in history are important to different folks, different communities. This goes beyond places. People in the South view the Civil War and its leaders much differently than those of us in the North. People out west have different views of Native Americans. Likewise, a historic site in a different country might not mean the same thing to you.

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For me, however, personal history is directly connected to public history. I got into history because I grew up having really close and personal relationships with my Great Grandmothers. I continued cultivating my interest in history by studying the places around me. Much of my undergraduate research was on local history and university history. I did my senior thesis on the history of my college track team. Later, my master’s thesis focused on Billy Mills, one of my running heroes growing up. For me, history has always required a personal connection for it to come alive. Learning family history and local history helped me discover who I am, where I came from, and how I fit into the larger story of American history. I hope that by sharing my story and the story of my family, it helped my students to think about their story and how they connect their personal and family history to the history they learned all semester.

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On my way back from my research to trip to Oklahoma last summer I drove through Kansas. I grew up in Kansas and while I was cruising through the majestic Flint Hills I passed familiar places from my youth. I was overcome by nostalgia seeing the familiar sites and reading the town names. It’s been probably 15 years or more since I’d seen the old family farm and the houses where my Great Grandmothers lived and I spent so much time as a kid. I decided to stop, stretch my legs, and take a few photos.

As my biography page explains, I was lucky as a child. I grew up with two Great Grandmothers that lived into their 90s. Both of them died when I was in high school. They lived less than an hour from me so I spent a lot of time with them at their houses. They told me stories about our family history as well as some local history. One of them got me into collecting coins which I think also contributed to my love of history. In a lot of ways, because of their age and experiences, it was like growing up and having close relationships with two amazing primary sources. Below are a few of their stories (I have more that I didn’t share here).

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McGregor Farmhouse, July 2014

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My Grandma Edith and Grandpa Dean (who I never met) moved to Saffordville, KS in the late 1930s. They moved into a large 5-bedroom farmhouse on the edge of town, across the street from the Toledo Township High School. The house was built in 1916, my Grandma loved to remind me. When they bought it, the trees were overgrown and I get the sense that it was vacant for some time. I remember one story she used to tell about when they first moved in. A black snake was inside the house, slithering on the wall across the archway between the living room and dining room. The rooms were divided by wooden pocket doors. The snake must have nested inside the pockets and become spooked by the new residents. Grandpa Dean was unfazed, Grandma explained. He grabbed the snake by the tail and snapped its head against the ground quickly killing it.

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Grandpa Dean and Grandma Edith at the 50th Anniversary, June 1978

Edith was the daughter of Welsh immigrants. Her father, Evan Ellis, came to the U.S. in 1883, when he was 12 years old. In 1905, he settled in Lebo, KS and began farming. Grandma Edith was born in Kansas City just before they moved. Though she had 5 younger siblings, she outlived them all. I never met my Great Grandfather McGregor. He died before I was born from complications following a stroke. Grandpa Dean worked for the railroad. They lived in Newton, KS prior to moving to Saffordville.

Saffordville was a small town located along the railroad and U.S. Route 50 between Cottonwood Falls, Strong City, and Emporia. The Cottonwood River ran just south of town providing fertile soil and irrigation to the farming community located on the eastern edge of the Flint Hills. Farming and ranching were the primary occupations of most resident of Chase County, Kansas. Though Grandpa Dean worked for the railroad, he owned land too. He rented some, but not all of it, to other nearby farmers.

I don’t know the complete history of Saffordville, but the story of its end is all too familiar. The 1951 ravished the area. The Cottonwood River didn’t just jump its banks, it engulfed the nearby plains. The water kept rising and rising. It crested just below the top of Grandma Edith’s dining room table. While most residents evacuated and moved, she stayed. Grandpa Dean took a row-boat to Emporia for work and the rest of the family — my Grandfather Gary and his sister Janet — moved to the second floor of the house.

Grandpa Gary was 16 at the time and quickly grew restless. According to William Least Heat-Moon’s book Prairie Earth (which is a history of Chase County, KS), he passed the time by climbing on to the roof to shoot trash floating by in the muddy water. Heat-Moon’s account comes directly from my Grandma Edith, who he interviewed while writing the book.

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Toledo Township High School, July 2014

Saffordville never recovered from the flood. Most residents picked up and moved to higher ground or other towns not in the Cottonwood’s flood-plain. The only remnants of the town are three houses and the old Toledo Township High School. As a kid we joked that we doubled the town’s population whenever we visited. 

I’m not sure when the high school closed. Both my Grandpa Gary and my Grandma Donna graduated from the school in the mid-1950s. The interior wasn’t in bad shape when I explored the old building in the late-1990s. We walked through the gymnasium and I remember being amused by its small size and lack of a 3-point line. This was before I learned it wasn’t added to the sport until the mid-1980s.

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Saffordville United Methodist Church, July 2014

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Following the flood the Saffordville United Methodist Church moved to higher ground. As I recall the church building was moved on a truck and placed on a new foundation north of U.S. Route 50, roughly 3 miles from the old town. Both of my Great Grandmothers were members of the church. Their funerals were held there, and I believe my Dad’s parents, my Grandpa Gary and Grandma Donna, were married there. It was the social center of so many of my visits to Saffordville. Throughout my childhood I attended church there on my visits and went to their Vacation Bible School during the summers.

Because my Great Grandmothers both lived into their 90s and spent all of their adult lives there, the entire congregation felt like family (and a lot of it was). My Granny Buffon lived closer to the new church site. She was born and raised in Chase County. Her father, Walter Erickson, came to the U.S. when he was 12 too (which would have been 1895). He was tenant farmer most of his life. I actually own his old truck now, a 1952 Chevy.

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Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse

My Granny Buffon taught school while my Grandpa Buffon farmed. Granny Buffon started teaching right after she graduated from 8th grade. She got a special teaching license and taught at the Lower Fox Creek one room schoolhouse. There was only about 3 families in the area, so she didn’t have too many students. Her younger sisters were actually among those students. The school is now a part of Tallgrass National Prairie Reserve. My Granny was the last teacher at the school, and according to the National Park Service, she made $80 per month in 1929 (she would have been 18 years old). She later went to Kansas State Teachers College  (now Emporia State University) and got her full teaching license.

She continued to teach while my Great Grandpa farmed. They mostly just had animals, cattle, sheep, and chickens. My mother tells a story about the first time she met my Great Grandpa. They were in his truck and he reached over to the glove box and pulled out a bunch of sheep’s tails and waved them in her face to see what she would do. He always a bit of a jokester. My Grandma Donna once told me a story about having to clean chickens for dinner. Granny Buffon would chop the head off with an ax, turning away not to watch the impact. My Grandma Edith, on the other hand, would just wring their necks with her bare hands. Then, my Grandma and her sister would have to clean the bird — pluck the feathers, bleed it out, etc. — before they could cook it. It’s so fascinating to me that only 2 to 3 generations ago that’s how people lived.

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Buffon Farmhouse, July 2014

When I was a kid they still had an old wooden outhouse not too far from their house. According to my Dad, my Great Great Grandpa Walt, who lived until he was 98, refused to use the indoor plumbing. He was a weird guy. He also used the same coffee grounds all week long. A throwback to simpler times when you had to be frugal.

One thing I’ll never forget from my Granny Buffon’s house was the time we went for a picnic in her “crick” — not creek — and the soda we brought started to float away. It was one of those 6-packs with rings that connected all of the cans. We put it in the water to stay cool and anchored it down on a stick. The stick came loose in the current and it started to go down stream. Granny B ran to the house, strapped on her waders, and then went marching after it. I don’t remember if she found it. I think she did.

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This early history, this family history, taught me about who I am, it taught me about the place I was from. Although I didn’t know much about what was going in American history at the time, it gave me a baseline of personal knowledge to connect with major historic events I learned in my classes. Things like the urban rural-divide. The Great Depression, immigration, etc. Of course, I also learned a thing or two I’ve never was taught in school. My Granny Buffon taught me the origins of the phrase “hicks” as in someone who is backwoods and uncivilized. As an old one room schoolhouse teacher, she claims that the term comes from rural and unorthodox teachers who disciplined their students with hickory sticks. People who disagreed with their methods called them “hicks.” I’ve told that story to several other historians, and no one has heard anything similar before, but it seems to be accurate.

My students may not have had the same vast experience that I had with my Grandparents and Great Grandparents, but hopefully they’ve had some. I think its useful for them to think about where and what their grandparents were doing during many of the events we talked about. Personal places and personal history can serve as a way to anchor major events we talked about in class into tangible realities.

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The final angle I explored was digital history. I’m very interested in the digital humanities and mixing history and digital technology. One of the things I do is kook at ways to present history to the public in innovative ways. During the course of the class and as I moved into the 1980s and 1990s, I began to wonder, how do we tell the history of the digital age? What are the important events? And how has digital technology complicated the process of history — remembering things, saving and preserving documents, images, etc.?

My students are what scholars refer to as “digital natives.” They grew up with computers, smart phones, digital cameras, USB drives and easy storage, etc. They also grew up with social networks and blogs. I remember in college waiting a full year after my friends at KU got Facebook until my college was added to the network. In the early days only college students could sign up (you had to have a .edu email) and only certain colleges were recognized. It was a slow process of expanding. I got mine in May 2005.

Now, today so much of our own personal information is spread across the web. Our photos are spread across websites and apps like Instagram and Facebook. All of our phone numbers are all in our phones. Everyone’s had that experience when they lost or broke their phone and everything is gone. You have to start over. No one lists their number in phonebooks anymore. It’s almost impossible to get someone’s number that you don’t know. Phonebooks are basically obsoletely.

We’ve probably all also had the experience of a hard drive going bad and losing our saved files, you know, before the cloud. Bye bye photos and videos. Bye bye saved term papers. How do these things affect history? And how are these things a part of history? Research is affected, obviously. Digital data is tricky to preserve. You have to update software or find machines that can use old software, old storage disks, etc. You also have to figure out what to save and how to best preserve it for future access.

When I went to the archives this summer I searched through a lot of old correspondence. People sent letter to each other, but they also kept a “onionskin” copy. So you can see both sides of the conversation in the archive, you can see the paper trail. Email saves that stuff too, but how do you archive email? How do official organizations saves those records? Technology has made life so much better and easier but it complicates things, too. These are among the issues we have to consider as historians in the digital age, but also as everyday people trying to preserve our own memories.

Digital history is personal for a lot of us. We have our own history of social networks and email addresses, of old messages and photos, old blogs posts, etc. We also have our history of websites. Can you think back to websites that you used to love but have changed or don’t really exist? Do you  remember Homestar Runner? It was big when I was in high school. Did you know there are a few projects building a history of the internet? Have you heard of the Wayback Machine?  They have over 400 billion archived websites. You can go in and visit a popular website on a specific date in the past to see what it looked like. The Internet seems to be a place in constant flux. We might not notice little updates, but over time websites and things have radically changed. The Wayback Machine is one way for us to go back and see change over time.

So what’s the point here? I wanted my students to think about the next phase in history. I wanted them to think about how they interact with history and make history, make documents, every day. The Library of Congress is archiving every public Tweet. Which can be really cool for historian 50 years from now, but also kind of scary for college students Tweeting about their lives. The Library of Congress also put together a Personal Digital Archiving Kit a few years ago. It offers resources on personal digital archiving for the general public. It’s mostly a collection of important tips and strategies for preserving digital files, photos, videos, emails and social media accounts. They encourage people to host parties and workshops to help spread the word about personal digital archiving you are raising awareness to these ever changing formats, technologies and techniques. Preservation is important and requires an active role by all of us, especially in the digital age. I joked that even if we fail to preserve everything, the NSA seems to be doing a good job of collecting our data. Perhaps their massive public spying program can double as a new National Archives of personal digital data.

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So we looked at history from four angels: 1) Historical Events they lived through, 2) Historic sites and places, 3) Personal History, and 4) Digital History. What’s the takeaway?

Obviously we study history to be good citizens. To learn about our government and how we got to where we are. To see how things have changed over time. We learn history to honor our past — national figures, veterans, and even relatives. We learn history to win bar bets and know fun-facts, too. But I think a lot of this all comes back to knowing who we are and where we’re from.

Learning history also helps us think about the world around you in different ways. One of the reasons I assigned the Contest Waters book on the history of swimming pools was because I wanted my students to understand that everything has a history, and everything is affected by history. The book did a wonderful job of illustrating this and my student’s essays really bare that out. As this class ends, that’s one of the main things I hope they take away.

I also want them take away the idea that it’s about them. History is theirs. I recall repeating the phrase “History is yours” several times in the last lecture. It’s something that they’ve inherited it and they’re going to contribute to it. It’s important to know what they’re inheriting. There is a lot of promise in American history, a lot of success, but there’s also some problems, disagreements, and unfortunate stains. But this is our history; it’s theirs and mine, its ours. I encouraged my students to take ownership of history.

We’ll all contribute to it in various ways — voting, running for office, having children, donating money, or just being a part of community. Being a friend and sharing your life with someone can be very significant, too. We all have those friends, teachers, neighbors, whoever, that we remember fondly. As the inheritors and writers of this history, we can use our knowledge of the past to help make changes. History is ours to shape.

During the course I had them write questions for the exams, part of this is because I’m lazy, part of it is because it’s a good way to help them study, but it’s also a way to make history theirs. To give them a say on what they think it important and significant. By writing the questions, they were telling me what they value.

* * *

In the end, this exploration of history from four different angles was a reflection on what history means to me and why I think it’s important. It’s also a reflection on what history looks like outside of the classroom. I wanted my students to understand that history is real, it’s all around them, it’s a part of who they are and they will be and are a part of it, too. Each angle helps illustrate those ideas. They three major takeaways of my class were 1) history is real, 2) everything has a history, and everything is affected by history, and 3) history is theirs (history is yours). As a 100-level, general education, survey class I felt like it was my responsibility to show them how and why history is important. Since this might be the only history class many of them take, I also wanted to give them a few ways that they can use the class to look at the world differently. I think this last mediation on how “History is Personal” really accomplished that and hit home for a lot of them.

This last lecture was one of my favorites to give. It was deeply personal for me not only because I shared my family history but also because I bared my soul and passion for history. I explained who I am and why I’m a historian. It paid off. They responded really well and a few started clapping at the end. I enjoyed the back and forth of sharing experiences and ideas with my students. Seeing them nod their heads as they made connections and soaked in the personal components of history. These reactions validated the semester of hard work and stress, and confirmed that I made the right decision to pursue a career in teaching and research.

Remembering my Track Coach

My college track coach passed away suddenly last night. He was only 35. I was on the committee that hired him in 2007, and later served as one of his assistant coaches before going to graduate school. Though there were some growing pains at the beginning, he took the program to new heights. He was a great leader and role model, praying before every team meal, making us remove hats and turning off our phones when we ate, and encouraging us to pursue our dreams. I’m grateful for all of the opportunities and second chances he gave me.

I was a senior during his first year and the transition to a new coach was tough. I was still figuring out my life then and which direction I wanted to go. He knew I had a passion for working with people and the ability to explain complex ideas. He saw something in me and hired me as graduate assistant. We had our differences — mostly philosophical — but worked together to improve the team and recruit talented athletes. Five of the cross country runners I recruited became the centerpiece of the programs ascendancy to the top of the conference standings (we finished last my senior year). We spent a lot of time together those few years. Coaching every day, traveling to cross country, indoor, and outdoor meets. I attended two national meets with him, too.

Beyond coaching, the opportunity and flexibility he gave me to coach with him, earn my Master’s of Liberal Arts, and work part time in the archives was integral in helping me figure out what I wanted to do with my life. That was probably one of the most difficult times of my life and I’m grateful for all of the support he gave me. I only coached a year before leaving for Reno to earn my MA, but that year was so pivotal for the trajectory of my life and career. Had I not had that year to figure things out, I don’t know what I’d be doing now.

My coaching tenure didn’t end on the best terms, but we later made amends. I shared with him my MA thesis on my running-hero Billy Mills, which he enjoyed. We also would occasionally exchange text messages — mostly me congratulating him on his the team’s success. We also talked about what I was up to in school. He was genuinely interested in my life and excited about the path I was on. After I became a certified USATF official, he gave me an open invitation to come back and help out with home track meets. Sadly, I never got a chance to.

It’s tragic that he died so young. He influenced so many talented athletes and students at Baker University. He was a tremendous athlete and coach. During his competitive days he won a National Championship in the javelin, but he never really talked about it. That didn’t define him. He was mostly family man and a man of faith. He leaves behind a wife and three young children. RIP Zach Kindler. You were a great coach and an even greater man.

Saying Goodbye to the Track at KU’s Memorial Stadium

kutrackThe University of Kansas removed the track from their Memorial Stadium this week. They were the last BCS conference school to do so. It’s bittersweet to see the track torn out. I have a lot of personal connections to that facility — from both my academic and athletic careers.

Growing up in Kansas running cross country and track, KU was held in high esteem. The University hosted annual cross country and track meets for the region’s best high schoolers each fall and spring. The fall cross country meet predated the state meet and served as a de facto championship for several years. Those early meets were held on the hills surrounding the stadium (now it’s held at Rim Rock Farm, a beautiful cross country course north of Lawrence). But the track meet — the Kansas Relays — was the granddaddy of them all. It lasted three-days and hosted athletes competing at the high school, college, and professional levels. It was a major event that attracted thousands of spectators. As recently as 2006 I remember their being as many as 30,000 spectators — enough to fill half of the stadium.

The meet has been held annually for over 80 years. It’s been an important meet in the history of the sport, too. During track and field’s heyday Relay Carnivals became common and extremely popular. Nationally there are four major relay meets: the Penn Relays, Texas Relays, the Drake Relays, and the Kansas Relays. The Kansas Relays are continuing on, of course. Track and Field has long been one of KU’s marquee programs and they built a brand-new, state-of-the art facility, which the program badly needed.

My sadness in seeing the track go is strictly nostalgic. By most accounts the Memorial Stadium track wasn’t great. It was one of the few facilities that I ran on still measured in yards instead of meters (because, as the rumor goes, they didn’t have the room to expand it). I always remember it being a little hard, uneven and patchy. But the surface didn’t matter to me and thousands of other athletes. It was an honor to be running at KU, dwarfed by the towering walls of the stadium under the bright lights, with a rowdy crowd cheering you on. The atmosphere of it all was great.

Of course, beyond that atmosphere was the history. The Kansas Relays and the University of Kansas track and field program has an illustrious past (and present). KU has won a handful of NCAA team championships in the sport (including the women’s last year). They team has also developed several Olympians and world record holders. As a distance runner I was well versed in this history growing up. Glenn Cunningham held the mile record in the 1930s, Wes Santee held it while chasing the 4-minute barrier in the 1950s, and Wichita East high school phenom Jim Ryun set his mark before matriculating to KU in the 1960s. Billy Mills won the 1964 Olympic 10,000m after graduating from KU and later held the 6-mile world record. Al Oerter, another KU alum, won four Olympic gold medals in the discus. They all competed and practiced on that track. Basketball great Wilt Chamberlain even competed for the Jayhawk track team.

When I was in college I competed in the 4-x-mile relay at the Kansas Relays. I recorded my career fastest mile time as a split in one of those races. I don’t know if it was the lights (the race was after dark), the crowd, the adrenaline, or just the history, but I’ll never forget that race. I was a pretty mediocre runner throughout my career but I always felt world-class at the Kansas Relays because I knew I was running on the same stretches as my heroes, my feet landing in the same places as theirs.

Saying goodbye to a track with that much history is hard, but the decision is the right one. Almost all major track and field programs now have their own track specific facilities that feature pristine running surfaces, jumping pits, and throwing rings. The nostalgia of Memorial Stadium held KU back in improving these areas. The new improvements will help KU attract top athletes and maintain a high level of success that matches the program’s history.

The sport of track and field has already experienced its decline in popularity. This has been a half-century long process. My own theory blames an increasing move away from team-centered programs towards. It’s rare to find a team that is strong in all facets of the sport — sprinting, jumping, hurdling, throwing, and distance running. Likewise, the sport has increasingly focused on individual marks. As an a former athlete and coach, I admit that these developments have been great for improving performances and developing talent, but as spectator, they make it harder to follow the sport.

In track and field’s heyday the sport centered on weekday duals and weekend meets. Duals required that both team put 2 or 3 individuals in each event. The dual was then scored giving points to each team based on where they placed. Every race mattered. At the end of the dual you had a clear winner and a tidy box-score (like baseball) of the performances for the newspaper. On the weekends, meets operated similarly but with more teams. Winning a meet was a major accomplishment and the goal of many coaches. Fans could follow these results — both in the stands and through newspapers — to measure how well a team was doing.

As I said earlier, the sport has evolved past this. Today some programs focus on training only a handful of event groups. Dual meets rarely exist and team scores aren’t standard at lots of meets. Coaches and athletes are focused on getting certain performances standards to qualify for regional and national meets, not winning team titles. This evolution has been really good for the athletes and has greatly enhanced the quality of the sport. A lot of coaches believe that the old system encouraged over-racing that complicated training schedules making it difficult to achieve peak performances. For example, Wes Santee once remarked that he may have broken the four-minute barrier first, but he was always running 3 or 4 events in meets and never really fresh.

Track and field is a different sport now. And, in a lot of ways, it’s a better sport now, too. The removal of the track from Memorial Stadium at the University of Kansas is a part of the sport’s evolution. It’s actually fairly remarkable that KU kept its track inside of stadium this long. But those of us versed in its history know why they did. That’s why the news this week tugs at the hearts of those of us who are nostalgic for the large crowds of yesteryear, but also excites us as we see KU moving forward to build on its tradition in the new world of track and field.

Preparing to Teach: Thinking Through My First Survey Course

Now that I have passed my exams and am hard at work on my dissertation prospectus, teaching my own course is not too far on the horizon. In fact, one of the reasons why I chose to Purdue is that nearly every PhD student is given the opportunity to teach their own course once they’re ABD. I was recently informed that I am teaching this fall.

I’ve been assigned a section of HIST 152 – U.S. since 1877 – the second half of the U.S. history survey. It’ll be my first time teaching my own class. I’m excited about the opportunity for a variety of reasons. First, teaching and interacting with students is one of the big reasons why I got in this business. I spent 3 years in the education school during my undergrad days, and always knew that teaching was something I wanted to do. I spent over 80 hours in junior high and high school classrooms teaching lessons and tutoring students; I feel comfortable with them. I’ve been a TA for the past four years working closely with professors on tests, quizzes, Powerpoint presentations, and of course holding office hours and grading. During this time I published a companion teacher’s manual for a sports history textbook. I also coached track and field at the high school and college level for three years. There are so many overlaps between coaching and teaching and I feel that having done both will really shape my approach to this course. And I can’t forget all the conversations I’ve had about pedagogy and technology with the MOOCMOOC crowd two years ago. All of these experiences have prepared me to teach. But at the end of the days, this is still my first time. I’m still nervous.

Though it’s a little ways off, my textbook orders are due March 21st, so I’ve been forced to start thinking through how I want to teach the course. I think it’s probably a good thing for me to take time to conceptualize what I want to do this far out. One of the first questions I’ve had to ask myself is what book(s) do I assign? Do I use a standard textbook? What about a primary source reader? Should I use a monograph or novel too? As I think through these questions, I’m also forced to consider what type of assignments I want to give and what I envision my tests looking like.

There are also questions about technology. The class is capped at 50 students. That’s large enough where discussions can be tricky. Should I attempt to use Blackboard to facilitate out-of-class discussion, or maybe Twitter? Maybe doing flipped-classroom Fridays would better facilitate student engagement. I’m a cultural historian and so much of the twentieth century can be paired with great media clips and images, so I need to think about the best way to incorporate those into my class too. I could collect them into YouTube playlists, embed them into Powerpoints, or design a special WordPress or Tumblr site to serve as the central repository for these things. Because of my digital humanities field I’m excited about the opportunities to play around with technology and teaching, I just don’t want to use too much and have it become a crutch.

I feel fairly confident in the content, after all that’s what I’ve been working to master throughout my grad school career. Most of my concerns and questions as a first time teacher revolved around how innovative to be. I’m aware of debates about technology, textbooks, primary source readings, online history labs, etc., but how do I know what will work best for me? I guess the answer is you never really know until you try something and play around with it. My gut is telling me to be more traditional the first time around. I’ll probably assign a traditional textbook and maybe reader. I know for sure that I’m going to do at least one monograph, but then I think I want to pair that with some sort of multimedia review (most likely film). There will be the fairly standard three tests, plus the short writing assignments on the book and film. And maybe a handful of quizzes.

I’m not married to any of these ideas just yet. I still need to decide on my books and construct a course outline. But I think asking these questions will help me shape the contours of the class. I feel really lucky to have had all the experience I outlined in the second paragraph above to draw from. I’ve TA’d for some really amazing professors with distinct teaching styles and pedagogical techniques. I’ve been waiting a long time for my chance to teach and implement my own ideas. Now that it’s here, I just hope that I can make them proud this fall and live up to the high standard of educational excellence that my students deserve.

If you have any thoughts, tips, suggestions, or general advice for me as I prepare my class, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments or over email.

An Ode to Librarians: Wizards of Research in the 21st Century

Now that I’ve passed my prelims and moved on to prospectus and dissertation writing, I’m hoping to post more here on the blog. Today I want to talk about research and often over looked resources. At just about every university I’ve been at, we’ve had a subject area specialist for history. Usually they’re shared with another department or two, but they’re always willing to chat and help with research questions. Over the last two years I’ve developed a pretty good relationship with mine.

When I first got to Purdue, I met with him to get a feel for the lay of the land. I wanted to know how ILL worked here, what special privileges we had as a Big 10 and CIC university, and other question about our various holdings and database access. It was really enlightening and helped me transition to Purdue from my previous institution.

Since then, I’ve tried to meet with him at least once whenever I am doing a new research project. Sure, by now I should have a strong command of how to research and what resources are out there. But I still go and meet with our history librarian because he knows more. It’s his job to stay up-to-date on our new databases, to know about some of the new books, etc. He’s helped me find where they Readers Guide to Periodical Literature has been hidden, and to know the difference between the historical one and the current one. He’s also helped me learn the best ways to do ILL requests to keep the folks in that department happy. I really think history librarians are underutilized resources by graduate students. Over the past few semesters I’ve shared the names and instructions on how to use several different databases with colleagues that our librarian taught me.

Part of the reason why I think it’s important to meet with librarians when doing research is because of the rapidly changing nature of academic libraries. Our university has had at least two different catalogs and user interfaces since I’ve been here, and they’re always reorganizing and adding different databases. Talking with my librarian has helped me discover the best ways to search for things at my own library as well as to discover new databases. He’s also ordered books for me that our library doesn’t have but should. Just today he told me about a new book written by Samuel J. Redman about how to do historical research in the archives. I’ve done archival research before, but Redman’s book (more of a pamphlet) introduces new ideas about as photographing and scanning sources and discusses the best practices. It’s nice to know such a resources is out there and that my librarian is both acquiring them and sharing the news about them.

Another hidden resource that I didn’t discover until talking with the history librarian is the subject guides created by the librarians often in conjunction with professors. At my library the subject guidelines can be difficult to find because they are buried deep within our ever-changing library website. But once you find them you uncover dozens of guides that are tailored to certain topics and types of research. For example, we have specific subject guides on American Indian legal research, Presidential Libraries and Records, as well as ten history course specific guides. These guides are great starting places and often provide links to the most useful books and databases related to those topics.

On the surface this all seems like basic information that we all know and have been taught (or should have been taught) in various methodology courses, but as new sources and resources emerge is nice to have a someone who can help you navigate them. It’s nice to be reminded of databases you’ve forgotten and to be taught wizard-like search techniques that capitalize on the categorization of metadata what we’re not always familiar with. So the next time you’re starting a research project or looking for more sources and new ways to find them, it’s definitely worth giving your library subject specialist a visit. This is especially true if you do legal research.