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Practising Public History: Online Exhibitions


In order to diversity assessment in the final-year History module ‘Foreign Bodies, Contagious Communities’, Professor Roberta Bivins offered students the option of writing a blog, producing a podcast or videocast or curating an online exhibition for their applied assignment comprising 40% of their grade. Students who opted to curate an online exhibition were expected to create an online gallery, PowerPoint or Prezi presentation with at least 8 ‘objects’. This could include images, works of art, video or audio clips, or any other digitised item. Students also submitted a bibliography and an 'audience statement' describing the exhibition’s intended audience and what it hoped to convey to them, as part of the assessment.

Using online exhibitions as assessment tools encouraged students to think about how to communicate historical narratives through both images and texts to a wide range of audiences, while still engaging with the best and most recent academic scholarship. Providing training and allowing students to choose which digital tools they used to create the online exhibition, such as Sitebuilder, PowerPoint, Prezi or any other tool of their choosing, meant that students were able to achieve top grades regardless of available technology or digital proficiency.

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. Professor Bivins provided students with a range of examples using a range of different technologies from PowerPoint presentations to more advanced examples of professionally-designed websites. Students were also provided with examples of current museum exhibitions, virtual or otherwise.
  3. Students chose their intended audience and researched their audience further. They used this to complete 150-250 word audience statements, which they submitted alongside their exhibitions.
  4. Professor Bivins provided a training session in which she created a webpage using Sitebuilder with her students so that the students could observe the process and ask questions. She also showed the students how they might produce an exhibition using PowerPoint and provided them with examples at all grade levels.
  5. Students curated their online exhibitions using their chosen digital tool. They were expected to include a textual introduction to their exhibition establishing its historical context, as well as identify and contextualise each object.
  6. As students were able to use any digital tool of their choosing, Professor Bivins ensured that Tabula was configured to accept a range of file formats and file sizes.
  7. Following submission, Professor Bivins provided feedback using the same categories laid out in the assessment criteria.

Tutor's observations

I feel it’s necessary for the technical to be subservient to the content and a student who doesn’t have a good digital connection, doesn’t have a fancy computer or a fast computer needs to be able to get a first just as well as the student who has the latest tech and is very confident using it.

It was important to ensure that there would always a be a way for the students to complete the applied assignment using digital technology they were already familiar with, such as recording on their phones or using PowerPoint.

Examples of Student Work

Shannon Heaney, 'Indian or Chinese? Diversity in your Friday Night Takeaway'

It’s the end of the working week. You sit down on the sofa and ask the all-important question: “What are we ordering?” According to Channel 5’s 2019 documentary Britain’s Favourite Takeaway, your likely answer will be ‘Chinese’ or ‘Indian’. It’s hard to imagine, then, that within living memory, there was a time when the majority of British people had not tried - let alone were regularly eating - what are now the nation’s ‘favourites’. How then, did we get here? The answer: migration. ... And so we have to ask ourselves: how diverse is my Friday night takeaway?

Sukh Bains, 'A Sari's Journey Through Time: British Perceptions of the Indian Woman'

In today’s diverse and multicultural society, the sari is a commonly accepted as a mode of cultural attire for South Asian women in Britain. But what can the sari's journey through time tell us about how women wearing saris have been perceived in the UK?

Suzanna Jones, 'Introducing the Braceros: A Virtual Exhibition'

Meeting demands for labour is not just a modern-day issue; it was a problem the US government addressed during wartime shortages of labour with a guest worker initiative program. The Bracero Program (bracero meaning manual labourer, one who works with his arms) allowed short-term contract labourers from Mexico to work temporarily on US agriculture farms and railroads.The program has been portrayed as a bitter-sweet, providing both opportunity but also displaying exploitation. This exhibition guides you through the central aspects of the program with introductory explanations and accompanying illustrations.

Mya Sharma, 'The Story of Princess Sophie Dulpeep Singh: An Indian Suffragette Living in Victorian Britain'

The contributions made by Indians within the British Suffragette movement are often overlooked today. Most of us are not even aware that Indians lived in Britain during the Victorian Era! Sophia Duleep Singh was one of the most prominent non-white campaigners in the suffragette movement, who fought tirelessly for the rights of women to vote. Sophia was also royalty -- and goddaughter to Queen Victoria. This exhibition uses both photographs and artwork to demonstrate the contributions that Sophia made to the Suffragette movement.

1_Practising Public History: Online Exhibitions
2_first_Professor Roberta Bivins
5_second_Professor Roberta Bivins
HI3H7: Foreign Bodies, Contagious Communities: Migration in the Modern World