For four years Drew Dyrli Hermeling has been the heart and soul of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. We are saddened that he has decided to step away from his work here, but excited that he will have more time to devote to his history students at The Stone Independent School, a college-prep school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Drew joins us for one final episode to reminisce with John about their work together on this project.
I am really enjoying my Pennsylvania History course this semester. As part of the last unit of the course we have been studying Harrisburg’s Old 8th Ward. The ward is referred to as “old” because it no longer exists. The largely working class (white immigrant and African American) neighborhood was demolished in the first two decades of the twentieth century to make way for the building of the state capitol complex. The destruction of the Old 8th Ward was the brainchild of the middle and upper-class reformers who brought the City Beautiful movement to Harrisburg.
Much of the narrative of the Old 8th Ward has been shaped by these reformers. As you might imagine, this narrative is not very flattering. City Beautiful reformers painted a picture of a broken-down community of run-down homes, crime and licentiousness, gambling, drunkenness, racial and ethnic otherness, and sexual promiscuity. But as the scholars and students at the Digital Harrisburg Project at Messiah College have shown, the Old 8th was also a vibrant community of men and women who deserve to be taken seriously in their own right. The work of the Digital Harrisburg Project has restored agency to this vanished community by telling the story of its members.
Recently, the Digital Harrisburg Project received a grant to place historical markers in the Capitol Complex at places of importance in the Old 8th Ward–houses of worship, homes of African-American leaders, and even the ward’s red light district. The organizers are calling it the “Look Up and Look Out” project.
On Saturday, I took some of the students in my class to the Capitol Complex to learn more about the people of the Old 8th Ward. We have been reading about the City Beautiful Movement, the African-American community of the ward, and the butchers, barbers, confectioners, and bakers in the ward, so it was fun to walk the ground where this energetic community was located.
Our tour guide for the morning was Drew Dyrli Hermeling. Some of you know Drew as the producer of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, but he also works part-time as the director of the Digital Harrisburg Project. Drew not only helped us imagine what the Old 8th Ward would have been like before its destruction, but he also gave us valuable insight into the work of Messiah College public history students and Digital Harrisburg as they seek to retell this important and under-interpreted part of Harrisburg history.
I am happy to have Matt Lakemacher writing for us this weekend from the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Chicago. Matt is one of the most engaged middle school teachers I know. He teaches at Woodland Middle School in Gurnee, Illinois and is a veteran of numerous summer history seminars and institutes. Here is his first dispatch:
Can podcasting help to stem the tide of declining enrollment in history departments? For the panelists and audience members in an opening American Historical Association roundtable today on “History Podcasting as Graduate Students,” the answer was a resounding, if qualified, yes. Producers and hosts from two historical podcasts, Sexing History and The Way of Improvement Leads Home, gave brief remarks on their experiences with history podcasting and then opened it up for audience members to share the ways that they’ve used podcasts in the classroom and with students. In the end, it became clear that while podcasting (as well as blogging) might not be the silver bullet that saves history education, it can be another tool in the history teacher’s arsenal to make the subject relevant, keep students’ interest, and in jargon that all K-12 educators know their administrators want to hear: promote 21st century skills.
Two dual themes emerged from the panel: podcasting is good for history and history is good for podcasting. Each panelist related in one way or another how working on a podcast actually improved their work as grad students and as historians. According to Saniya Lee Ghanoui, podcasting with Sexing History taught her the importance of story-telling and has greatly improved her dissertation writing. In a similar vein, Devin McGeehan Muchmore shared how blogging for Notches and working on Sexing History got him to think about ways of narrating the past outside of the traditional historical monograph or journal article. And Drew Dyrli Hermeling credited his work on The Way of Improvement Leads Home with getting a job at the Digital Harrisburg Project. As a whole, the panel embraced the role that podcasting can play in public history – bringing the past to those outside of the academy (although it was conceded that podcasting is still very much a niche medium and can be somewhat of an echo chamber). Ghanoui offered some advice to her fellow grad students: “It does take away time from your dissertation . . . but it’s a welcome distraction.” She added, “I love how collaborative it is . . . it is worth it.”
Hermeling set the table for the audience discussion that followed and the pivot to history being good for podcasting, by sharing how he had students in his J-Term class on indigenous culture at Messiah College create a podcast as one option for a project assignment. He, as well as the audience, made clear that audio quality and production values should not be heavily weighted on any rubric used for grading such an assignment. But Hermeling was surprised by the quality of the research and sources that students used in their podcast. “It’s a good way of tricking them into using a lot of citations.” One audience member admitted that compared to other assignments, grading student podcasts was a pleasure. Another said that Wisconsin Public Radio was looking to possibly use some of his students’ short pieces on the air. And everyone who shared during the session had positive experiences doing a podcasting assignment in class, thought the students were engaged, and plan on doing them again.
So, can podcasting turn around sagging interest in history as a K-12 subject and as a major? Perhaps the jury is still out. But if it provides another way of getting students to apply historical thinking skills to a (relatively) new technology and opens another venue for bringing historical literacy to the public at large, then it’s an effort well worth pursuing. As the roundtable’s chair and host of Sexing History Lauren Gutterman stated, “graduate students are at the forefront of history podcasting,” and for that this history teacher and fellow grad student is grateful. Of course, as Hermeling put it in one final word of advice for potential history podcasters, “At the risk of being flippant, I’d go the Sexing History route.”
AHA Session 14
Thursday, January 3, 2019: 1:30 PM-3:00 PM
Williford B (Hilton Chicago, Third Floor)
Lauren Gutterman, University of Texas at Austin
Saniya Lee Ghanoui, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Andrew Dyrli Hermeling, Lehigh University
Devin McGeehan Muchmore, Harvard University
There has been a proliferation of history podcasts that are helping historians to engage in new conversations about the past. Graduate students play a vital role in these podcasts, even as they grapple with speedup in graduate education, precarious job prospects, and uneven professional recognition for their public history work. Yet with an acceptance of the discipline’s movement towards digital history, graduate students are at the forefront of this trend as they create, write, and produce podcasts and public history. Coming from the producers of Sexing History and The Way of Improvement Leads Home, we explore both the practical issues encountered with history podcasting and the academic/theoretical ones, as well. Presenters will discuss the practical concerns of conducting public history work through podcasting while, at the same time, balancing dissertation writing and course work; examine the benefits of becoming involved in public history projects as graduate students; and look at how podcasting can benefit broader career preparation. Furthermore, we will discuss the use of podcasts in the classrooms and how they have aided us in new forms of teaching history. We encourage audience members to participate in the discussion and share their own experiences with history podcasts.
If you listened to Episode 42 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast you may recall producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling talking about his experience serving as a “chaplain” to Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
According to the website of the Episcopal Church, a chaplain is “appointed to serve monarchs, bishops, and the nobility. Some modern bishops, especially primates, have chaplains. Some bishops use a ‘bishop’s chaplain’ to assist with ceremonies at episcopal services.”
Here is Drew in action:
You will need to listen to the episode for context.
The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast co-host and producer Drew Hermeling is in Cambridge, Massachusetts this weekend. He is doing a presentation on the podcast at Sound Education: A Conference for Educational Podcasts and Listeners. Harvard University is hosting the event.
Here is a description of his session:
Seeing Early America Everywhere: Connecting Eighteenth-Century History to Unexpected Places with Andrew Hermeling (The Way of Improvement Leads Home)
@ Divinity Hall, Room 106
Colonial Puritans and Colin Kaepernick. Mount Vernon and Mar-a-Lago. Eighteenth-century midwifery and Obamacare. These may seem like odd connections, but in their efforts to prove that #everythinghasahistory, early American historians and podcasters John Fea and Drew Dyrli Hermeling regularly demonstrate that today’s hot-button issues have eighteenth-century antecedents. If you look close enough, you can see early America everywhere.
There are some great podcasters at Harvard this weekend. Here are a few that caught my attention:
Ed O’Donnell of In the Past Lane
Blair Hodges of the Maxwell Institute Podcast
Marshal Poe of New Books Network
Dan Carlin of Hardcore History
We will try to get Drew to write a report of the conference and post it here. Stay tuned.
Back in December 2016, NPR ran a story on this popular sign. Perhaps you have one in your neighborhood. Or maybe you have one on your lawn.
The words first appeared on a black and white sign outside the Immanuel Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It looked like this:
Pastor Matthew Bucher was definitely not setting out to start a nationwide phenomenon. His sign went up last year after he was “pretty disappointed” with the rhetoric of the primary debates, especially as directed toward people who weren’t born in the U.S.
“The church is located in the northeast part of Harrisonburg, which has a long tradition of being the African-American part of the city,” he says. “But in the past 20 years it’s also become home to a lot of people from Central America, the Middle East and around the world.”
“That’s why we did it in three languages — English, Arabic and Spanish,” he explains. “Because those are the three most common languages spoken in our neighborhood.”
Spanish-speaking church members wrote one translation. Bucher wrote the other with the help of friends in Egypt, where he spent time working with the Mennonite Central Committee. A member of the congregation painted their sign by hand. “It was a collaborative effort,” Bucher says.
A few months later, a group of local Mennonite pastors was trying to find a way to “say something positive,” says Nick Meyer, a pastor at Early Church in Harrisonburg.
So they decided to take the sign’s message and spread it more broadly. A friend of Meyer’s, Alex Gore, turned the trilingual message into a simple, colorful yard sign, and they printed up 200. The pastors distributed them, encouraging church members to pair the sign with concrete acts of outreach to their neighbors.
Read the rest here.
I should also add that Pastor Matt Bucher is a 2006 graduate of Messiah College. And to make this story even better, he was a HISTORY MAJOR. I remember Matt well and we have stayed in touch over the years, although I had no idea he had created this sign until one of his classmates recently told me about this NPR story during our history department homecoming alumni reception last week.
Some of you may also remember that Matt was featured in our “So What Can You Do With a History Major” series. And here’s another fun fact: Matt was in the same graduating history class as The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling.
Drew Dyrli Hermeling and I just recorded Episode 7 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast. It is our baseball episode and it will go public on Sunday. Our guest is ESPN’s Paul Lukas, an expert on the history of baseball uniforms. Stay tuned. Better yet, head over to the podcast page and download a few episodes. Even better yet, tell your friends to download a few episodes.
As the baseball season gets underway this week, I have been trying to catch up on the work of sportswriters and commentators who usually use the first week of April to reflect on the meaning of baseball to American life. So far that best thing I have read comes from Chris Gerhz at his blog, The Pietist Schoolman. Here is a taste of “Opening Day: ‘An Indefensible Hope.’“:
For my Twins and most other major league teams, today is Opening Day: the time each year when I’m reminded again that I love baseball far above every other sport — and that it’s hard to explain that love to non-fans. For example, the fact that baseball could inspire a writer as acclaimed as John Updike to do some of his best work speaks volumes about the National Pastime: why I love it, and why others roll their eyes at people like me.
Consider Updike’s 1960 New Yorker essay on Ted Williams’ last game (“Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu“). Within three sentences, Updike has already described Fenway Park as “a compromise between Man’s Euclidean determinations and Nature’s beguiling irregularities.” And he’s exactly right to do so… But that’s just the first classical reference in an essay that goes on to liken Williams to Jason, Achilles, and Nestor.
And to compare him to works by both Donatello and Leonardo.
And to use “Wordsworthian” as an adjective. And to record a joke about Thomas Aquinas.
As you may have heard, baseball is “the thinking man’s game.”
But even if you find such allusions pretentious, stick with Updike’s essay. You’ll eventually come to his riveting account of the 41-year old Williams stepping into the batter’s box in the 8th inning of an otherwise meaningless game:
This was almost certainly his last time to come to the plate in Fenway Park, and instead of merely cheering, as we had at his three previous appearances, we stood, all of us—stood and applauded. Have you ever heard applause in a ballpark? Just applause—no calling, no whistling, just an ocean of handclaps, minute after minute, burst after burst, crowding and running together in continuous succession like the pushes of surf at the edge of the sand. It was a sombre and considered tumult. There was not a boo in it. It seemed to renew itself out of a shifting set of memories as the kid, the Marine, the veteran of feuds and failures and injuries, the friend of children, and the enduring old pro evolved down the bright tunnel of twenty-one summers toward this moment. At last, the umpire signalled for Fisher to pitch; with the other players, he had been frozen in position. Only Williams had moved during the ovation, switching his hat impatiently, ignoring everything except his cherished task. Fisher wound up, and the applause sank into a hush.
As a historian, I appreciate how Updike has all those memories of the past (each hearkening back to earlier sections of the essay) converging in a single moment. That’s a big part of baseball’s appeal for me: everything that happens adds a layer to the archeology of a game that would be recognizable to Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama alike.
Read the entire post here.
The moment you have all been waiting for is almost here!
January 16, 2016 is the official drop date, on ITunes and at the blog, of Episode 1 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast. Our producer, Drew Dyrli Hermeling, is putting the finishing touches on the episode as I type.
If you are not familiar with The Way of Improvement Leads Home podcast we encourage you to download Episode 0, our short introduction.
Of course ITunes reviews are always welcome.
The “Way of Improvement Leads Home” podcast (not even sure if that will be the official title) is on its way.
As some of you know, I am working closely on this project with Andrew Dyrli Hermeling. Drew is a former student of mine and is currently working on a Ph.D in early American history at Lehigh University. In addition to his work in 18th-century Native American history, Drew is a new father, writer, web-content specialist, and singer-songwriter. He also plays the ukulele! Check out his website!
Drew will not only be producing the podcast, but he will be joining me on air.
And speaking of “on air,” we are happy to announce that the podcast will be coming to you from the studios of WVMM-The Pulse FM. “The Pulse” is the Messiah College radio station and the central Pennsylvania home of several great national and regional radio programs including The Score with Edmund Stone, Backstory with the American History Guys, The Takeaway with John Hockenberry, and Blue Grass Review with Phil Nusbaum.
Stay tuned for more updates soon. We are hoping for a January 2016 launch!