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Practising Public History: Blogging

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In order to diversity assessment in the final-year History module ‘Foreign Bodies, Contagious Communities’, Professor Roberta Bivins offered students the option of producing a podcast or videocast, curating an online exhibition or writing a blog for their applied assignment comprising 40% of their grade. Students who opted to write a blog for their applied assignment were expected to write a 1,500-2,000 word blog for a well-defined, non-academic audience to introduce their readers to a theme related to the module and establish some of the key debates, while employing appropriate language for their intended audience. Students also submitted a bibliography and an 'audience statement' describing the blog's intended audience and what it hoped to convey to them, as part of the assessment.

The blogging assessment encouraged students to think about how to communicate to different audiences outside of academia, and this entailed employing different skills to those needed to write a traditional essay. Students were encouraged to research their audiences and were assessed according to how well they communicated to their chosen readership. Including blogging as an option in the applied assignment also meant that students without the necessary technology for the online exhibition or podcast, or who may have felt anxious about using more advanced digital tools, were still able to complete the assignment and achieve top grades. Some of the students even went on to turn their assignments into pieces of public journalism.

Lesson plan

  1. In order to create the assessment criteria and instructions for the students, Professor Bivins first completed the assignment herself, noting down everything she did and what resources she needed. She used this to create a set of instructions for students that matched the assessment criteria.
  2. Students were encouraged to build on a short essay that they had previously submitted, which explored what ‘public history’ looks like, by thinking about how they might personally choose to convey similar ideas, and which tools and sources they might employ.
  3. Students chose their intended readership and researched their audience further. They used this to complete 150-250 word audience statements, which they submitted alongside their blogs.
  4. Students were provided with examples of public history blogs on the module page.
  5. Students produced blogs, which were expected to be fully illustrated with links to relevant, online resources.
  6. Students submitted their blogs along with a brief bibliography and audience statement to Tabula.
  7. Professor Bivins provided feedback using the same categories laid out in the assessment criteria.

Tutor's observations

What I find is that the students get really excited about this idea that they are making their history work, and the idea that what they say could actually have a public impact. One of the things I’m most proud of is that several of my students have taken their applied projects and turned them into public journalism or published online blogs that have attracted attention from the audience that they were using…they’re really finding this a useful assignment even in its most conservative format.

Using the public history applied assignment as an assessment tool required more back-and-forth with the students and necessitated more time to work with students, answer questions and address their concerns.

Examples of Student Work

Phoebe Gunton, 'Australia's Stolen Generations'

WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following exhibition may contain images and words of deceased persons. Imagine being pulled out of bed at 2 o’clock in the morning and being forced to scrub concrete dressed in nothing but a flimsy night-dress, or being ‘beaten, flogged and molested’ and locked in a storeroom for 3 days with nothing but bread and water. Sounds slightly inconceivable, doesn’t it? We might not be able to imagine it, but these were every-day experiences for thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Australia, some as young as 3, who had been taken from their families and placed in state-run institutions. Learn more in this blog.

John Abiona, 'Migration in the Media: Minorities, Milestones and Misconceptions: Timelines for Tumultuous Times'

Britain has endured a difficult relationship with newcomers. Its history of migration over the past 50 years has championed those who have helped contribute to the economy, but simultaneously vilified new arrivals for ‘taking all the jobs’. This struggle for Britain, in adapting to the growing presence of minorities, has had lasting social and political implications. One of the most interesting ways to locate these changing attitudes overtime is through the mainstream media, and by this, British national newspapers. In this blog, a media timeline explores change and continuity in the media's response to migration.

1_Practising Public History: Blogging
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HI3H7: Foreign Bodies, Contagious Communities: Migration in the Modern World