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Closing out Summer II...Opening Day of Fall23'

Updated: Jan 9

Image Credit: Media from Wix

Today is the first day of the fall semester and I'm wrapping up grading papers from my survey course in African American History II.

This summer I tested a new primary source assignment. My goal was to have students think critically about contemporary sources and archives. Where will researchers of the future get data to understand what life was like for us in the early twenty first century? How will they filter through landmines of misinformation or deepfake data? I wanted them to think about conditions of preserving ephemera and digital archives in the future study of African American history.

I also kept the reflective essay as a final. It continues to be one of the most rewarding and intriguing assignments.

Here's a couple gems from the pile.


Think about the types of sources used in your previous Primary Source Labs and Post Response to the following question:

Imagine that the year is 2075. What kind of sources do you think historians should use to best understand what family life was like for African Americans during the late twentieth and early twenty first century? Why? Feel free to make comparisons to the other types of sources you have examined throughout the history of the course. Write your response by using no more than 500 words.

"After having been exposed to such a diverse set of varying types of primary sources, I am beginning to recognize there is not one kind of source that would best demonstrate what family life was like for African Americans in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. To begin, it seems that secondary and tertiary sources absolutely have their purpose and value, even as compared to primary sources: Our textbook, while of course written retroactively, has been a phenomenal resource to comprehensively compile facts, statistics, anecdotes, and primary sources. That being said, the immediacy of a primary source is absolutely an unbeatable way to understand the mentality of a time period.

I think what it comes down to is the information that one hopes to achieve. A sort of meta-analysis of trends, statistics, commonalities, and differences seems to only be possible in a secondary source. That being said, the primacy of the alternative promotes a less object/factual telling of history and tells a more human side that promotes empathy and emotion.

I do also think it is notable that the advent of technology like the smart phone, the commonality of computers, and the prevalence of social media have all made the primary source an entirely different ball game. For a contrast, at the beginning of our textbook, there were few Black people in America who were even literate; however, widespread education and technological development have made a society in which many more Black people have access to means of cultural production like the media. Now, instead of having Black newspapers as before, all people with a cellphone are (in theory) capable of communicating thought to a large audience. As such, the primary source may be devalued in its supply; however, the honesty and candor of the source may have increased greatly. To that end, a secondary or tertiary source that compiles and synthesizes a series of primary source--as with our textbook--becomes infinitely more valuable, too."


Write a reflective essay that considers your time in the course.

Read through the list of reflection questions below and select three you want to answer. Provide ample evidence from the course to support your response. Make sure your Final Reflective Essay on the course covers no more than 1000 words.

  1. What did I notice?

  2. How did I feel about this?

  3. Why did it make me feel this way?

  4. How was my experience of this unique to me? How did others who were there experience it differently? Why?

  5. How has this changed me?

  6. What might I have done differently?

  7. What is the meaning of this event in my life?

  8. How is this similar to something else that I've experienced?

  9. How can I use this to help someone else?

  10. How does this event relate to the rest of my life?

  11. How is this typical in my life?

  12. Was this a good or a bad thing for me?

  13. How did this experience foretell things that would happen later?

  14. Was my experience the same as someone else's or different?

  15. What skills did I learn?

  16. How can I apply what I learned to my life?

  17. How can I apply this experience to my studies?

  18. How can this help me in my career?

  19. What about this experience challenged me socially?

  20. In what way did this expand my understanding of my own culture? or a different culture?

  21. How was this emotionally important? or emotionally difficult?

  22. How did this experience relate to my understanding of theology, God, or religion?

  23. What questions did this experience make me have?

  24. How has this changed the way I think?

  25. How has this made me realize someone else was right?

  26. How was this unexpected? Or how did this fulfill my expectations?

  27. Would I want to repeat this experience?

  28. Would this experience be the same if I did it again?

  29. How did this affect me and why?

  30. Why did I have the reaction I did to this?

"How was my experience of this unique to me? How did others who were there experience it differently? Why?

Something that I have really come to love about virtual classes is that they feel like incredibly personal experiences. I have notice that, at least for myself, when I am in the “virtual classroom”, I have a tendency to treat material much more delicately; it is as though the learning no longer feels curricular and it is simply something I am volunteering to do. As such, when I am in a “distance learning” class, I really slow down my engagement with lessons: I read every word multiple times, I rewatch videos, I plan out and outline my responses to prompts. Really slowing down and paying careful attention really allows me to fully internalize the material in a way that I just do not think is entirely possible in the high-speed environment of a traditional in-person classroom.

What is so unique to me about this experience is that it can inherently not be repeated. I will never get to engage with this material for the first time again. Each time I now pursue further education about the history of African Americans, I will be accompanied by the notion that I already have some baseline, introductory knowledge of it. What I appreciated about this class was the ability to learn about the history of Black people in America since America’s founding, meaning that there was no barrier to entry. I am not sure that I will ever get to experience that again, and I have really appreciated the opportunity!

How does this event relate to the rest of my life?

I love this question because I think it gets at the heart of why this course was such a beautiful experience for me. I do not know that this course ties largely to my life; however, its applicability to those who surround me is exactly why I needed to take it. There are absolutely aspects of this course that relate to my life specifically (i.e. the parts concerning LGBTQIA+ history and intersectionality, like in the In the Life documentary). More generally, though, the reason I was so interested in this class was that I felt like I had a sizable gap in my knowledge about the Black experience and Black history in America, and I felt like this was a pretty dangerous blind-spot not to address.

While I, myself, am not Black, I think that learning Black history absolutely relates to my life in important ways. Firstly, I am an art history major, and learning about African American history is integral to having a complete (if introductory) understanding of the world, in which the art I study was situated. Further, with a story of so much subjugation and oppression, it is absolutely necessary that I learn as much as possible to avoid recreating history and to recognize my own privilege. Also, as a member of the Queer community, I owe so many of the freedoms that I take advantage of to African American history and Black activists; as such, it is further paramount that I know to whom I owe my Queer experience.

What about this experience challenged me socially?

I think what has changed about me socially is that I have learned to be more unapologetically critical of the world around me. We read so many incredible stories of incredible people who fought for justice. Our entire textbook was full of people recognizing a fundamental flaw in our society, thinking critically on how best to achieve change, and then acting to bring about that change. I have always known a few of these stories, but the way that we teach students about Black activism is flawed: There is so much minimization. Rosa Parks would not stand up. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech. And then there follows the narrative that after minimal action, America came together for an all-encompassing change for the better. The reality, of course, involves so much more work, effort, bravery, perseverance, and–frankly–disappointment. One of the key challenges of this course was to my social perception of America’s history with racism and toward my own notion of how change is enacted.

I think that this course’s biggest challenge is that imparts a sense of realism that is inappropriately avoided in our society. There is a certain amount of finality that is communicated about the experience of marginalized people. Abraham Lincoln ended racism in America. Homophobia was ended at Stonewall, or by Obergefell v Hodges. The Twentieth Amendment got rid of all misogyny. What I appreciate about this class is that it stands in direct opposition to this narrative and communicates that nominal or legal change does not bring about social change. Social change is something that must be continually worked for."


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