Reflective Essay

Primary Sources. I really do not have a complete list of primary sources since the user chooses the sources. I do have three broad categories of primary sources—texts, demographic data, and maps. My overall goal for each category is to encourage students to ask questions of the sources. I have more specific goals for each category:

Content Analyses--The web is a wonderful delivery instrument that enables us to view primary materials via a browser. Nonetheless, I find that many students struggle with the relevance of historical texts. In some ways the web is less satisfying than a document reader that contextualizes the readings. If you accept that texts have meaning beyond what you bring to them, then students can benefit by conducting quantitative analyses of texts. Quantitative content analysis does not replace reading, but a quantitative analysis of the text allows the student to become a more active learner by formulating hypotheses, by asking questions of the text, and by comparing quantitative analysis of rhetoric to other information about the text.

Visualization of Demographic Data: Students frequently roll their eyes when asked to think about demographic information. I believe, however, that demographic factors are critical to one's analysis of a region or country. When presented with comparative demographic data, students seem to respond more favorably to the argument that circumstances and context matter. Most of our demographic data, like our histories, are organized according to political entities like the nation-state.

How do I encourage students to think about the influence of non-animate, structural factors upon developments in history? How do I encourage them to think about broader theories and models? I hope that student interactions with the information further these objectives.

Interactive Maps: Students struggle with the idea of a dynamic territories, monarchies, or states. This seems particularly true for Poland and central Europe. Although historical atlases are valuable to further student learning, my objective is to make them more interactive.
How might one visualize border changes to gain a better understanding of domestic and international relations by viewing and interacting with a graphical display of Poland's borders?

Consequently, I have organized my work around three ideas, but I try not to limit myself much to a specific topic or concept. I try to increase 1) sensitivity to rhetoric, 2) awareness for physical and demographic circumstances that influence individuals and societies, and 3) one's understanding of changing historical identities and political boundaries.