Reflections from Guest Curator Daniel McDermott

I have previous experience in public history and historical interpretation as a Park Ranger for the National Park Service, and I have looked at and interpreted primary sources for other history classes and for tours, so heading into this project I felt comfortable and within my element. The project did still push me to further my interpretation skills and ability to analyze primary sources, all within a public history setting. I especially was pushed to find my scholarly voice as well. I feel I learned a lot about the purpose of the project and about digital humanities projects, which I find to be an importation means of linking the academic world to the public through digital platforms. I came across unexpected challenges, such creating the content to reflect the audience of the project. Researching specific sources and documents for the posts was also a welcomed challenge.

The research topic and general theme of the project allowed me to really dive into learning about everyday live in colonial and Revolutionary America. A lot of my work and writing allowed me to compare our current everyday life and find similarities and differences to eighteenth-century life. Newspapers were a particularly fascinating primary source, a means of cultural communication that is still in place today, in paper or digital. Understanding the primary sources and taking on the viewpoint of a colonist helped me develop different perspectives. It pushed me to become the audience and ask myself questions. Then being able to step outside of that perspective and write about it in present terms to make it available for the public to use and learn was engaging. I tried to focus my work on an array of topics to allow readers to see that colonial life was just as complex as today. See, specifically, my post on the different textiles, baize and tammy. I realized they seemed like unfamiliar goods, but today when I see an advertisement, I automatically know what each product is. I asked myself if readers of the newspaper would read the advertisement and automatically know everything as well. I began researching the two I personally found interesting and it eventually led to me finding Abigail Adams mentioning baize in a letter to her husband John. I wanted to make clear comparisons to today as well; I hoped this would interest readers.

As for my long-term academic plans, I feel this project will help me in different aspects. It gave me a taste of being an actual historian, doing work that I might experience when I plan to continue the study of history in graduate school. Interpretation of primary sources and researching historical topics for public history use will help develop my interpretation skills as a Park Ranger. I hope to continue linking scholarship to the public through different means, especially through digital humanities which gives it easier access to people. For doing public history in an academic setting, I thought I learned a lot of the behind the scenes work it takes, and embraced the challenges not usually found in a typical classroom setting.

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