Proposal for Public Site of History (Museum Exhibit or Monument) – Assignment

OVERVIEW

This assignment was designed as a final project (a summative assessment) for a course on Mexican American history since 1848, and which typically draws high enrollment from non-majors. See the syllabus here. The assignment tasks students with choosing a single topic from the course that they think ought to be shared with the public (as a museum exhibit or monument). A significant portion of the class is devoted to understanding how history is expressed, engaged, and discussed in the public so that students can have a real-life audience to think about as they develop their proposals.

Additionally, two separate weeks in the semester are dedicated to workshops—“Project Workshop weeks”—aimed at supporting students in crafting their proposals. No new content, in other words, is taught/learned during these two weeks. The general timetable for completing the proposal is as follows (for more, see syllabus):  

Project Workshop Week #1 – Preliminary Analysis (10% of total course grade)

The first workshop takes place in week 8, and consists of two class meetings in which students fine-tune their preliminary analysis of Mexican American history in the public imagination. They are tasked with identifying 3-6 public sites of historical memory that focus on, or which they think ought to include, some aspect of the history of Mexican America. The goal is for them to gain a general sense of how the history of Mexican America does or does not appear in public sites of historical memory. One day in this week is spent understanding how the public thinks about history (a reminder of what we discussed in earlier weeks, but also new material to think about), while the second day in this week is devoted to students sharing and discussing their preliminary analysis with their peer group.

Project Workshop Week #2 – Proposal Draft (15% of total course grade)

The second workshop takes place in week 13, and is a time for students to share with their peer group a draft of their proposal for creating either a museum exhibit or monument that draws upon course materials. These do not need to be perfect drafts. But students will want to have at least thought about the evidence they’d like to use to describe the topic they’ve chosen and what the monument or museum exhibit will look like.

Final Project – Final Draft of Proposal (20% of total course grade)

The final project itself—what students submit on the final exam day, in week 17—is a finalized version of the proposal they will have already been working on for weeks, during the project workshops and in a self-directed study week.

Below are instructional materials for completing the “Proposal for Public Site of History”:

1) Preliminary Analysis instruction sheet

2) Project Workshop Week #1—Feedback Rubric, Next Steps prompt (2 items)

3) Proposal Template

4) Proposal Rubric

5) Project Workshop Week #2—Feedback Rubric (1 item)


Preliminary Analysis – Public Sites of Historical Memory

The preliminary analysis of public sites of historical memory emphasizes one of the three learning goals I have set for the final project (refer to the syllabus for all three): to examine and analyze the way the history of Mexican America appears in public spaces of historical memory and how this shapes the national story that is ultimately told about our past.

For the preliminary analysis, I would like for you to examine various public sites of historical memory for if and how they include the history of Mexican America. Your analysis must include:

  1. An annotated inventory in which you identify 4-6 public sites of historical memory that focus on, or which you think ought to include, some aspect of the history of Mexican America. In this task you are compiling a short list of where and how these public sites answer questions about history and historical memory. You will find these questions below. Your annotations must include answers to at least three of these questions. Feel free to present this task in the form of a bullet point list, so long as you include substantial notes, questions, observations, etc. (something to show that you’ve thought about this deeply). Also, make sure to include web addresses for each of the public sites of historical memory you discuss in your preliminary analysis (for easy reference).
  2. An explanation of why you chose to examine these public sites of historical memory. It would be good to consider two things when exploring public sites: a) does it already include or focus on the history of Mexican America? and b) if it does not, could or should it include that history? You do not need to offer a separate explanation for each site; a few sentences summarizing your approach is sufficient. 
  3. A preliminary assessment of how these public sites do in terms of honestly representing the past in the present. In what ways did these sites make effective use of historical memory, historical literacy? Is there anything you saw that you think you may work well for your own proposal?

FORMAT: Your preliminary analysis should be organized into three sections per the instructions above – 1) annotated inventory, 2) why you chose these public sites, and 3) how they honestly represent the past in the present.

Questions to Think About as You Examine Public Sites of Historical Memory

Answer at least three of the following questions you think are most relevant to the public sites you are examining. (You can apply the same three questions to all the sites or a single question for each site—so long as you touch upon three different questions throughout your assessment.) 

What does this site suggest about what we ought to remember about our nation’s past?

Whose story (or stories) is told in the public site?

Why do you think this story (or stories) was chosen over others?

Is the public site relevant to present-day topics or issues? How so? Does the public site contribute to how the everyday folks think about or understand a much-debated or popular topic or issue in the present? You can think locally, regionally, or nationally.

What do you learn from the public site? Does it include something you already knew? Confirm what you thought you knew? Or do you learn something new and different? 

If the public site does not include or focus on the history of Mexican America, do you think it could or should? (HINT: if your answer to this is “no,” then it might be best not to include it in your analysis) You can respond to this question by posing your own specific questions about what opportunities and possibilities there may or may not be for including this history. In other words, don’t feel like you have to already know precisely how Mexican American history can be part of the public site; rather, the point is for you to be intellectually curious in your analysis of these public sites. 


Project Workshop Week #1:

This section includes two items: a Rubric for Providing Feedback, and a Next Steps for Preliminary Analysis Prompt.

RUBRIC FOR PROVIDING FEEDBACK

Preliminary Analysis – Public Sites of Historical Memory

Provide feedback based on what you know the preliminary analysis of public sites of historical memory must include/address:

An annotated inventory of 4-6 public sites of historical memory that focus on, or which your classmate thinks ought to include, some aspect of the history of Mexican America.

  • Which of the questions (on next page) did your classmate answer for their inventory? What suggestions do you have that you think can help them answer these questions?
  • What other suggestions or questions do you have for them that you think can help them strengthen this part of the Preliminary Analysis?  

An explanation of why your classmate chose to examine these public sites of historical memory. Remember they need to consider two things here: a) does the public site already include or focus on the history of Mexican America? and b) if it does not, could or should it include that history?

  • What suggestions or questions do you have for them that you think can help them strengthen this part of the Preliminary Analysis? 

A preliminary assessment of how these public sites do in terms of honestly representing the past in the present. Remember that your classmate must think about the following questions: In what ways did these sites make effective use of historical memory, historical literacy? Is there anything you saw that you think you may work well for your own proposal?

  • What suggestions or questions do you have for them that you think can help them strengthen this part of the Preliminary Analysis?

NEXT STEPS FOR PRELIMINARY ANALYSIS

Look over your workshopping notes. What are your next steps before the second Project Workshop (mid-November), when a draft of your proposal is due?

  • Based on your preliminary analysis of public history sites, what ideas do you have for your proposal? These can be tentative, but do share what you are thinking of doing: a museum exhibit or a monument? Located where? What specific topic? Or theme? Again: it’s okay if you change your mind in the next couple of weeks. The point here is for you to begin thinking concretely about the proposal.
  • List three next steps (in complete sentences). Have you decided on a topic, for instance, but need to do more research into what other sites exist on this topic to help you figure out what you’ll propose? Or do you need to narrow down the type of site you’ll propose? Perhaps you need to think about who should be involved in creating the site, or which historians have an expertise on your proposed topic. You should refer to the proposal template (on Canvas) to help you determine what your next steps are in the coming weeks. Make sure you identify your next steps and include an explanation of how you plan to complete these next steps. FYI: Discussing each step should require more than a few words or a single sentence.
  • Optional: You can also share with me any questions you have about completing these next steps, or general questions about the proposal. 

Make sure you include these “Next Steps” at the end of your Preliminary Analysis (i.e., not as a separate document) before you submit tomorrow. What you upload to Canvas, in other words, should be one document (Preliminary Analysis + Next Steps).


Proposal Template

PUBLIC HISTORY PROPOSAL

Title

By your name

STATEMENT OF NEED

What type of public site do you propose?

Indicate whether your public site is a museum exhibit or monument

What topic in Mexican American history?

Choose a topic from the course materials. I recommend looking at the prep tasks for each unit to refresh your memory. A single sentence or two describing the topic is sufficient.

Does this topic currently have visibility in the public? In what way?

Here is where you can pull from your Preliminary Analysis.

  • Based on that research, what currently exists? Did you find any public sites on your proposed topic? If so, what kind of story did it/they tell?
  • Based on what you’ve learned about this topic in this course, was this sufficient? If not, what will your proposed public site do differently to tell the story of your topic?
  • At this point, you may wonder if you should do a bit of research on the topic. You can do this but it’s not required. We certainly didn’t cover every single topic in Mexican American history this semester, but the purpose of the final project is not for you to research a topic that is entirely brand new to you. Use the course materials—what’s available to you right now, what you’ve already spent time thinking about—to develop your proposal. If you choose to do some research, make sure you talk with me first.

TOPIC

Topic Description

Briefly describe the topic—specifically, the three things you think are most important for the public to know about this topic. As you write this, think about the relevant context the public needs in order to understand the three key points you choose to emphasize in the public site. You might choose the three key points first, then think about what basic information you need to provide—what context you need to develop—in order for those key points to make sense to a public that doesn’t know as much as you (that hasn’t had the opportunity, in other words, to take this class). You’ll want to make sure you footnote the materials you use for writing this part of the proposal. In this section I will be assessing how well you understood your chosen topic, but also how well you’ve developed your historical literacy (both skills and concepts).

CREATING & PLANNING LOGISTICS

Public site design

Here you can be fairly creative. Some things to think about:

  • For a museum exhibit: What images would you use? Any quotes? Or material items? Audio and/or visual? Would the exhibit be interactive in some way?
  • For a monument: Would your monument focus on a single person? People? An idea? Event? Whatever you choose—how will the monument depict this? What kind of material would be used to make the monument? Will you include any text to accompany the monument?

You will likely find your Preliminary Analysis useful for thinking this part through—the sites you explored can be a source of inspiration for your own proposal. The readings we discussed at the beginning of the semester—the debates on monuments, for instance—may also be useful for sparking your imagination.

Where does your public site belong? Why this location? 

If a museum exhibit, which museum? Why is this museum the best place for hosting the exhibit? Does your topic fit with the museum’s purpose and vision? Has it ever hosted an exhibit on this topic before? TIP: You should visit the museum website to see if you can locate this information.

If a monument, where should it be placed? Is this a virtual or physical site? Does it belong in a local, regional, or national space? Is there historical and/or present-day relevance of the location you’ve selected for your monument? Who in the public would likely encounter the monument?

If adopted, who should be involved in the planning and building of the public site?

You should think about historians and other scholars for consultation purposes, but don’t forget others affected by the creation of your public site. Will local community members, leaders, and teachers be part of the process? Importantly, what about folks who are part of the community featured in the public site—what role do you envision for them in the planning and building of the project? Again, the readings from the first three weeks of the semester may be useful to you in thinking about this question.

HONESTLY CONFRONTING THE PAST IN THE PRESENT

In what way will your public site tell an honest story about the past?

There are at least two ways to address this question:

  1. If your topic already has some visibility in the public—How does your proposed public site do a better job at telling an honest story of this topic? Or does your public site instead complement existing sites? If yes, how so?
  2. If your topic does not have visibility in the public, how will your proposed public site tell an honest story? Will it be celebratory? Or will it attempt to show the complexity of the topic? Whichever way you go, make sure to think about historical thinking concepts—context, complexity, causality, change over time, contingency, historical empathy—in answering this question.

Proposal Rubric


Project Workshop Week #2:

RUBRIC FOR PROVIDING FEEDBACK

Public History Proposal (draft)

Provide feedback based on what you know the proposal must include/address:

Statement of Need

Public visibility: Is the need for your classmate’s proposed topic clear? What does your classmate say about this?

Any other questions, thoughts, suggestions for improving this section?

Topic Description

Does your classmate’s topic description focus on three key points? Do they cite course materials?

Did your classmate include sufficient context for understanding their chosen topic? Remember: they should’ve written this for an audience—the public—that doesn’t know as much (if anything) about this topic.     

Creating & Planning Logistics

Public site design: What is something you like about the design your classmate proposes? What is something you think they could do to enhance it?

Location: Any questions, thoughts, suggestions about location?

People involved in planning: Any questions, thoughts, suggestions about the people and/or organizations your classmate has listed? 

Honestly Confronting the Past in the Present

In what way has your classmate used what we’ve learned about historical literacy and historical memory to inform what they’ve written here? Do they make effective use of concepts (like contingency or historical empathy or other)? Have they taken into consideration the AHA survey and the information it provides about public perception about history?

Any other questions, thoughts, suggestions?

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