Were there Cannibals in Africa?

Teaching undergraduates to think historically is difficult. Teaching them to think historiographically is even harder. As an undergraduate, I was taught that historiography is the “bread and butter” of the historian. Our introductory courses were not survey classes, but introductions to either world historiography or Mexican historiography. One of the first papers I had to write was an analysis of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian Wars and it was not very good. Historiographical analysis takes time because it requires a lot of reading. This is difficult to justify in an undergraduate course that covers diverse topics and questions. 

However, I do believe that reading how historians locate their work and justify their questions and arguments within a larger conversation is essential for students to learn how to do this. They may not need to read all the books mentioned by an author, but it is important for them to know that historical arguments do not exist in a vacuum. Moreover, it is important for them to understand that questions change with time, new sources appear or are reconsidered and, most importantly, our present circumstances change our perspective on the past.

To illustrate these questions, I typically try to do in my courses is to identify a source, book or article, that makes the historiographical conversation a central part of the story that is being told. Sometimes there is a prominent historiographical survey in the introduction, other times there is an appendix. In most cases these sources deal with a question that has captured the attention of historians for some time. I recently read a book that does this very well and I am contemplating using it for my project. The book is called Converging on Cannibals. Terrors of Slaving in Atlantic Africa, 1509-1670 (Ohio University Press, 2019). This book revises the history of the Jagga or Imbangala, a society that lived in areas of central Africa who came into contact with the old kingdom of Kongo and were described in several Portuguese accounts. In this book, Staller re-examines the history of the Jagga by questioning whether the practice of cannibalism, as described in many European sources, is in fact justified by the historical record.

It so happens, however, that the historiography of the Jagga is, in itself a storied one. Some of the revolutionary work in African history was done by historians, such as Jan Vansina and David Birmingham, who investigated who were the Jagga and what was their role in central African history. These historians worked primarily on establishing a chronological framework for the history of central Africa but also chose to largely ignore European sources and preferred to use oral traditions. Historians of this early generation did not trust the accuracy of European sources precisely because they presented what they thought were exaggerated and prejudiced depictions of African culture, cannibalism being one of the many forms of violence and barbarism that Europeans sources presented as typical in African societies. However, as Staller shows, a careful reading of European sources can inform a new interpretation of African sources where the image of the cannibal is not purely a European creation but one that even some African leaders deployed to their advantage. 

What I would like to do is present students with extracts from two secondary sources. First, an article of Joseph Miller that re-interprets the chronological framework for the history of the Jagga. In this article, Miller looks at the arguments presented by two other historians (Vansina and Birmingham) for certain dates, while he presents a new set of possible dates. What is interesting about these arguments is that they are largely based on oral traditions and openly dismiss the use of European sources. Second, I would use an extract from Staller’s book to illustrate how history is not necessarily cumulative, in other words, the use of new sources does not necessarily answers all the questions we used to have, but allows for new questions and maybe even complicates the old ones. 

In terms of the exercise, I would present the Miller text annotated by me, and I would ask students to annotate the Staller text to identify where the interpretations overlap and where they are different. 

In terms of images I think it would be interesting to use some of the maps created by old historians like Miller or Vansina and compare them with the ones created by Staller. Some of them are slightly modified, which shows how the work of Staller both builds upon the work of Vansina, Miller and Birmingham but also departs from it. There are also some great images included in Staller’s book reproducing European depictions of cannibalism among Africans. Depending on what excerpts I choose from Staller, some of these images can illustrate how a careful reading of diverse types of evidence can open new and unexpected questions.

How to read history as conversation?

The key factor that digital media contributes to the teaching of historical thinking is, in my view, accessibility and flexibility. More than ever, it is possible for instructors to find and collect secondary and primary sources for use in the classroom and also to use these materials in combination with an abundance of digital tools such as text mining, mapping and other kinds of visualizations. 

The main target audience of my project are college students. From the beginning of my career as a teacher of African history I struggled to find primary sources in my courses. I also struggled compiling secondary sources that I could use since I always refused to use text books. The availability of digitized articles, books and book chapters has made it a lot easier for me to expose my students to the debates of historians and to emphasize the study of historiography and thus, the understanding of historical thinking as a way to learn about multiple interpretations and the means to analyze and evaluate them. 

Not surprisingly, this same abundance and availability also requires that I carefully curate the readings I present and that I help students develop tools to successfully navigate them. I believe this can be achieved using annotation tools where students can use annotations to identify different elements of the argument that is presented by the author. However, in my original pitch, I had only identified elements of the story and argument that I wanted students to annotate. After giving it some thought, I believe the annotation tool can also be a good tool for students to identify the historiographical content that most articles contain. In fact, I was thinking that it may be useful to annotate two articles at the same time. This would enable students to identify the differences in the presentation of the story, the sources used, and the framing of the argument. Pedagogically speaking, I could use one article to present an example of how to annotate, and then use an article that is in conversation with the first, for students to annotate. 

“Historia Magistra Vitae”

The idea of “history as a teacher of life” is a truism that many of us learned from a young age. However, the what and the how is history supposed to teach us are not as self evident as it may seem. In the United States history started to be taught in schools as soon an educational system started to be created. However, there have been many changes in terms of who has been responsible for teaching history, what should be taught, and what should be the goals pursued and methods used by teachers is history.

Since the nineteenth century, we have seen an abundance of reflections on the nature of history, many of them in response to the view that the role of history was simply to compile historical narratives aimed at helping students become proud and law-abiding citizens. This was to be achieved, however, by making sure students learned these narratives without always having an understanding of how said narratives were produced. This version of history as a teacher was partial to the idea that to learn history or to think historically was equivalent to knowing the facts of a story. In this version, questions about contextualization, interpretation or sourcing were often ignored or secondary. The emphasis given this aspect of historical thinking was reinforced by the development of textbooks as the main tools for history teachers. As history became a required part of school curricula and history teaching was professionalized, states started to create standards that were to dictate the content and approach of text books. Over the years, debates about what should be included in the history curriculum have become increasingly political; much less concerned with teaching historical thinking and more with history as a collection of well-defined narratives meant to cultivate students’ moral character and national identity.

The political dimension of these debates has also increased the calls for accountability, which in turn has led to the development of types of assessment aimed at measuring what students learn in history classes. Not surprisingly, measuring history learning, has been largely limited to measuring how many facts a student can remember at the time of the test. Although, more states have included contextualization and sourcing into their standards, history teaching and assessment continues of favor a “coverage” approach in which the amount of knowledge is meant to reflect the amount of learning.

The prevalence of this version of history as a teacher cannot be blamed on the fact that historians don’t know any better. Political and logistical factors have conspired to reinforce this particular approach to teaching history. Historical thinking is complex, it requires the use of a variety or materials, primary and secondary sources, maps, artifacts, even field trips; and it requires a significant level of historical as well as historiographical knowledge from the instructor. There is no wonder textbooks have been so successful. They have successfully created the illusion of coverage and convenience in a not-so-neat and not-so-little package.

The explosion of the internet and the proliferation of historical information has, however, shattered this illusion. More than ever, history as a teacher of discernment and reasoning needs to complement history as the teacher of facts. Ironically, modern technology has made historical materials more abundant and accessible and, in doing so, it has also made it possible for teachers and students to bypass the authority of the text book and try to make sense of primary and secondary sources on their own. The question is whether these technologies can also provide the infrastructure for a new kind of history education that not only increases access but can also enhance students willingness to embrace the complexity inherent to historical thinking. We are still on the early stages of this particular phase, but I do not think it is casual that, as we have seen this explosion of information, there is greater emphasis on the teaching of history more as a problem solving discipline and less as a memory contest. The complete shift towards a more well-rounded understanding of history teaching will not happen quickly, and there is no proverbial pill that will make it happen, no longer can we rely on the textbook as the deceptive solution to all our problems. However, shattering this illusion is, in my view, a most promising sign that we are ready to let history be a much better teacher in our modern life.

Historical Thinking

The literature on historical thinking highlights the needs for both history teachers and students to develop a better understanding of the difference between “learning about the past” and “knowing the past.” While the first one can be achieved simply by reading historical literature, and watching movies or documentaries; the second requires some understanding that the past is the product of a particular process of inquiry which can be called historical thinking.

Some important aspects to this literature speak of the necessity to “decode” or “deconstruct” the discipline of history. That is, identify the multiple mental operations or habits that historians perform when they read, research, and write. For example, Sam Wineburg’s research on how historians read primary sources (by asking them to describe their thoughts as they read a document) has shown that historians engage in a kind of reading that largely relies on their habit of interrogating not only the content, but also the context and subtext of the source. This decoding, can enable teachers to break down the mental operations that historians use, and teach students the different practices and habits that will lead them to be better historical thinkers.

Another important insight points to the fact that, is the case with other mental habits, historical thinking is something that is better learned through observation and practice, and even though it may seem solitary (as a mental process) it has an important collaborative element. The dialogue that historians learn to hold in their heads as they read, is similar to discussions they have read in the writings of other historians. We learn to think historically when we see other historians do it. We learn to to read and write as historian when we learn that historiography is not just a collection of writings, but a conversation among historians, a conversations we can join if we learn to rules of the game.

The last point that I found interesting about historical thinking is that It has both an epistemological and an ethical dimension. Understanding the past means not only learning what may have happened, but also that our present questions and values affect the meaning of the past. Learning to think historically requires a clear understanding of how these two aspects of the discipline affect one another.

These insights leave me with three questions which I would like to explore during this class: First, what are some of the operations or mental habits that have been identified as constituting historical thinking? And, what techniques and/ or assignments have been used to teach this operations?

Second, to what extent have historians been able to leverage the use of digital tools to teach the habits of historical thinking?

Third, most of the literature emphasizes the importance of using primary sources to teach historical thinking. Even though I completely agree with this, I feel like not enough attention is given to teaching students to read secondary sources, and to learn about historiography and historiographical analysis. I would like to learn if more has been done on this question. 

Introduction

My Name is Esperanza Brizuela-Garcia, I am an assistant professor of history at Montclair State University. My areas of interest are intellectual history of Africa, historiography, philosophy of history, and historical methodology. My work on historiography and methodology led me to become interested in digital history.  I have also been in charge of teaching many of our prospective teachers, so I have thought a lot about the concept of historical thinking. I am interested in exploring further how I can help my students, and the public at large, cultivate the habit of thinking historically, especially in an environment where most of their historical knowledge is mediated through digital means. 

I am mostly interested in becoming a better teacher in the classroom, but also a practitioner who can help students become better communicators and consumers of history. I am particularly interested in finding ways of using digital tools to help students become better readers and writers. I think digital literacy should complement and reinforce traditional literacy, not replace it. 

One major takeaway from previous courses is how the process of digitization itself can be a useful tool to help students reflect about the sources they use. For example, I am interested in developing assignments that help students create better metadata. Writing useful metadata requires good reading, writing and general critical skills. It also requires students to have an overall understanding of what is the audience and purpose of said metadata. Ultimately, it is a great way for students to understand the different dimensions of a source, and an indispensable first step towards our ability to think historically.

Process Reflection

When I first pitched Constituting the Nation as my final project for this class, I was still thinking of a relatively traditional source site where students and scholars could have access to primary sources. It has been very interesting to see how that initial idea has evolved in response to what this course has taught me.

I had expected to learn about the practical aspects of creating public history projects and experiences. From the start, I was pleasantly surprised when the readings encouraged me to reflect on how historians could re-imagine how their worked served the public and the impact that this interaction could have on their work. I believe that historians’ main obligation is to produce knowledge about the past, understanding of how it has evolved, and to interpret what meanings it may have for our daily lives. More importantly, in doing these things we should aim to teach our readers and students how to think historically, so they can also evaluate and make meaning of what they learn about their past. But if we have learned anything from the precipitous decline in the standing of the Humanities at our universities is that many don’t feel like they are being served by the work we do. This class has taught me that not all historical scholarship needs to be guided by or devoted to cultivating a relationship with the wider public, but that ignoring this relationship hurts both scholars and the public.

Thinking about how to use my scholarship to help others learn to think historically became the main goal of my project. The first two design tools that caused me to rethink elements of my project were the creation of personas based on my targeted audience, and the story boarding exercise. Using these tools helped me make important decisions about the design of my project. First, I needed to recognize that the two main audiences I was hoping to serve were in fact very different. Scholars and students have different needs when it comes to reading primary sources. So I decided to create an exhibit that would use selected documents from a larger collection to teach students how to read archival sources related to the constitutional history of the Gold Coast. I had already created an Omeka site that contained close to sixty documents on this topic. Thus, I turned my efforts on creating an exhibit within the larger site that would be specifically designed for high school and undergraduate students.

Having conducted interviews with two students (one undergraduate and one from high school), it became clear that the main challenge of the site was to help students find a connection to the material. Students learn very little about the history of Africa during their educational careers. What little they do learn is mainly focused on the Slave Trade and, to a lesser extent colonialism. The students I interviewed also had very little idea of what intellectual history was, and constitutional history was just as obscure. However, the concept of a constitution, as a document that defines the character and ideals of a nation, was something that they could recognize. Fortunately for me, students in American schools as quite familiar with the history and importance of the United States constitution and the debates about whether it should change or not, or on what basis it could change. I realized that my exhibit should try to help students use their study of the Gold Coast constitutional development as a way to answer questions about what constitutions are, what role they play in the creation of new nations, who can legitimately write them, etc.

A second finding from the interviews with students was their need to articulate their questions into a narrative. This was a challenge in the sense that historical thinking should encourage us to recognize that narratives are interpretations and that there is rarely as single undisputed narrative of particular events or processes. So I decided that my site would need to give students some guiding questions, the scaffolding of a conversation, of a larger mystery, so they could insert or assess their own conclusions in relation to the debates that historians have had on particular issues. In this case, the larger question I want my readers to address is when does Ghana start? Can we see the emergence of the political community that became Ghana take shape in the constitutions that were written during colonialism? What were the values and aspirations of the nation that started to be formed during colonial times? By providing these questions I hope to give students a few possible frameworks to participate in a much larger conversation, but also to start asking themselves what the history of this foreign territory means to them.

So, doing interviews with two students that represented two potential users of my project was tremendously clarifying for the conceptual design of the project. From a practical point of view these students needed to be presented with something that was easy to navigate and that offered a scaffolded approach to answering questions that could become stories. For this reason I chose to adopt a chronological organization of the material, prefaced with short introductions and brief statements about the debates and questions that students would find in the selected documents. It was clear that too much information presented at the same time, could be quite discouraging to students. Breaking things down in a chronological and consistent way helped simplify the initial access to the documents.

A second decision was to make some brief annotations in the documents. One problem I have found when presenting students with primary materials is that they have difficulty seeing documents as objects of the past. Instead, they focus on the content and they forget, that “form affects content,” that is, information contained in a letter should be read differently from information found in a draft report or a published report, to cite just one example. For this reason, I extracted parts of the selected documents to highlight the differences among them and point out how letters are addressed or signed, what can we expect from dispatches, draft reports, or memoranda. 

As much as I have thought about how to make use these materials to help students become better historical thinkers, I am also happy to say that it has also changed my scholarship. Before I worked on this project I was focused on producing a manuscript on the intellectual and constitutional history of the Gold Coast. My questions were those of historians interested in constitutions or nationalism. But asking myself why should these materials matter to students, particularly American students, has forced me to reframe my questions and even read my sources rather differently. Acknowledging the questions and interests of a wider public can sometimes be used as an excuse to ignore historical questions that are not directly related to our present problems or questions. However, it can also be the springboard to new questions. An important element of historical thinking is to learn to recognize ourselves in the lives of peoples far removed from our experience, either geographically or temporally. If we are serious about helping readers and students see themselves as members of a complex and diverse global community, we need to take the time to figure out what is important to them so we can help them learn about themselves through the understanding of others.

Constituting the Nation, Project Overview and Evaluation

On August 1961, the renowned Ghanaian lawyer and politician J.B. Danquah delivered a paper at the Fourth Annual Conference of the Ghana Bar Association. The title of the speech was: “The Constitutional History of Ghana in the past Fifty Years.” In this document, Danquah recounted the evolution of Ghana’s constitutional development from the colonial past until the then, recently approved, Republican constitution of 1960. Danquah took this opportunity to criticize the new constitution for going against what he saw as a long tradition of constitutional debate that had characterized the Gold Coast and Ghana since it had become  a British colony. 

It has been claimed by some that our constitutional history during the last fifty years has been fashioned by the ideologies of Marcus Garvey. Others have claimed that our constitutional history has been fashioned by the Pan African Congress. It seems to me that when we look at the momentous change of direction which took place in Ghana constitutional struggle during the First Great War, we should discover that the wind of change that overtook our land was motivated, firstly, by local conditions and local talent and, secondly, by the general conditions and the universal stress of the first great war.

I do not believe that our great leaders of the century were moved into action by the fissiparous congresses or movements on Africa which took place in atmospheres at which neither John Mensah Sarbah nor Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford or King Ghartey IV of Winneba, or James Henley Coussey or George Alfred Grant (who are some of the founders of modern Ghana) were present, or even known.

Danquah, J. B. “”A Paper on ‘the Constitutional History of Ghana in the First Fifty Years’ Read at the Fourth Annual Conference of the Ghana Bar Association on August 29, 1961.” in A. Adu. Boahen (ed.) The Ghanaian Establishment : Its Constitution, Its Detentions, Its Traditions, Its Justice and Statecraft, and Its Heritage of Ghanaism . (Accra: Ghana Universities Press, 1997).

In Constituting the Nation students will examine the constitutional struggles that unraveled in the Gold Coast on its way to becoming Ghana. The site provides students with documentary tools to ask questions about how, the diverse societies that came to form the Gold Coast colony, negotiated the tricky waters around building a new political community.

The exhibit was created as a tool for instructors that want to introduce and guide students through the process of asking questions and drafting arguments after reading primary documentary materials. Ultimately, the goal of the project is for students to learn to think historically by making some history themselves. 

Having taught an introductory course to historical writing for many years and, being an Africa specialist, I struggled finding primary source materials that my students could use for class assignments. Although there are several published and digital primary source compilations, these are often carefully curated, generally transcribed and, largely removed from their arrival context. My intention in this site was to present students with scanned copies of documents that I have collected during my own research. Although I do provide some curation and organization, together with some contextual information, I try to balance this by presenting the copies without a specific description. I want students, for example, to learn to use the metadata provided by most archives to get clues about what the document is, both as an object as well as a digital representation. In this way I hope students will get used to asking themselves questions about the original purpose of some of these documents as well as of the ways in which they come to be collected and organized in archival settings or digital collections.

I also made the decision of using materials from my own research because I want to emphasize to students that they will be working with exactly the same materials that I read and work with regularly. The debates and questions they will be reading about in the documents and secondary sources are exactly the same I have been working on over the past five years. The working premise of the exhibit is that students are being invited to join a conversation among historians by adding questions and answers to the debates that already exists in the historical literature. For that reason, I thought it was important to bring my own research work and let my students become collaborators in the enterprise.

 

Since the guiding question of the site revolves around the history of constitutional ideas in the Gold Coast, I organized the site chronologically. Starting in 1872, there were five moments when colonial administrators and Gold Coast politicians and intellectuals debated and revised constitutional instruments. For each of these sections I have created two sub-sections, one that introduces the main issues debated in that particular document or revision, and a one where students can read selected documents, and are asked some questions about them. In the first section I introduce contextual knowledge about the documents themselves, but also some questions from secondary sources to introduce students to some of the conversations among historians. By doing this, I will try to guide students’ attention to how the reading of primary and secondary sources goes hand-in-hand. In this sub-section I also introduce names of places and individuals that will help students read the documents as well as important dates related to the issues discussed in the documents. In the second sub-section I encourage students to “describe” the document. Here I want students to focus on the document as an object with a purpose in its time. This is a first important step before students can consider the document as a source. Then students are asked to describe the content of the document, it is here when they can start thinking of the document as a historical source. 

Ultimately I hope to create a student survey to assess students’ experiences using the site. I am sure I will learn a lot from samples of students work, but I think it will be also very useful to get information about the specific aspects of the site that students think are working well and which they think are not working so well. Given that there are several sections and sub-sections, it is possible also that I can make some changes to the specific documents that I chose to include. My initial choice was dictated by the need to include not just documents produced by colonial officials, but also some where one could read African perspectives. In both cases, however, most documents can be long and obscure for students with little knowledge of the topic. For that reason, I hope students will comment on which sections they found easier to navigate. That will be the may tool to make additions and improvements to the site.

Progress Report April 14

It took me a while but I was finally able to change the font color in some of the elements of my project. I think that makes a significant improvement on the site. The main work not is to continue adding content. These are mainly information about the people mentioned in the documents and other contextual information to facilitate the students access.

I am still considering adding some plugin that will allow some interaction, or maybe some annotation from students. I am exploring a couple of possibilities, but I think they require an added account, which adds a layer of complexity, but I will keep thinking about this.

New Technologies and Public History

It is natural that as new technologies emerge, historians will seek to explore how these can be used to achieved the goals of public history. In the most recent modules we looked at how virtual reality, the use of mobile devices and podcasting are being used by large institutions such as museums and universities as well as individual researchers. In this blog, I will seek to assess to what extent these technologies are helping institutions and individuals encourage historical thinking among users, as well as to increase engagement and participation from the public in the making of history.

Not surprisingly, VR technology has so far been mostly used by large museums or institutions. Virtual Reality this is a complex and costly technology that would be very expensive to use in a community or even university-based project. Even large museums can only make limited use of it. For this very reason, we saw that museums are being strategic and judicious in their choice of where and how to use it. In most of the examples that were highlighted, VR is mainly used to highlight and enhance particularly popular exhibits. For example, the Gioconda in De Louvre or Alice in Wonderland and the Victoria and Albert Museum show the strategic thinking behind the investment in VR enhancements of these exhibits. These are designed to increase engagement and maybe even attract more visitors to these specific exhibits, but also to the museums more generally. Thus far, the impact of VR has been to allow visitors a more intimate experience, or simply a different way to “see” or appreciate artistic or historical objects.

Having said this, some important goals of public history are not well- addressed by this technology. In fact, VR may be somewhat counterproductive in helping institutions listen to and connect with their visitors . Community-based projects try to capitalize on their ability to offer increased human contact with visitors and greater collaboration with the community in the curatorial process, Virtual Reality creates more robust barriers between the curator, the historical or artistic object, and the visiting public. Even though these exhibits may offer visitors a rather unique experience, it is not clear that they allow for a more meaningful one.

Another technology that has been profitably used by museums are websites that can be easily deployed in mobile devices and mobile- applications (apps) where museum content can be delivered and customized by visitors. The key attribute of these twin approaches has to do precisely with the possibility for visitors to craft their experiences according to their time availability, interests based on age and knowledge, and maybe even their particular location in the building, or city. To a large extent, these technologies offer visitors the ability to curate their own exhibits.

The development of mobile technologies has also added new challenges and possibilities to community and place-based projects. Visitors or even residents can use these applications or sites to navigate their surroundings, and even make contributions to the projects, either by commenting or even creating new entries. These technologies have made it portable to reach a wider audience into the curatorial process. However, it also highlights the tensions that we see in other projects that try to incorporate the wider public in the creation of historical knowledge. It is difficult to allow for unlimited participation while trying to maintain historical rigor. It is also difficult to break away from the more traditional forms of history: the history of great-men and famous individuals, vs. the history of everyday people and their changing ways of life. These technologies can encourage and allow many people to think about what the places where they live mean to them, but also to embark in serious historical research to explore, and question those very meanings. In this regard, I believe this types of technologies to have a great deal of potential. Unsurprisingly the realization of such potential is not dependent on the technologies themselves but on the human guidance, connections and relationships behind each project.

The last technology that I would like to discuss is podcasting. This is both old and new in that broadcasted audio has been around, in analog form, for more than a hundred years. Thus the question is, what is new about the digital production and distribution of audio for the purposes of public history. Podcasts are, in some ways, the poor relatives of VR in the that they also are very good to increase interest and engagement of potential visitors but they do so in a relatively inexpensive way. It is possible to achieve high production values of podcasts with technical expertise that is not difficult to acquire and without very expensive equipment. As with VR, podcasting, or at least narrative podcasting, offers limited opportunities for interactions with the public. Good narrative podcasts will evoke the past in ways that only great audio story-telling can do, and, in doing so, it will provoke or highlight new interpretations, new problems, or simply will bring those to a public that had not previously engaged with such questions. However, these stories are still in the control of historians and producers.

Having said that, the ease of producing podcasts, at this  point, does allow for members of the public and communities to produce their own works and thus create a wider diversity of interpretations. This is, in some ways, both the blessing and the curse of digital technologies; they allow for such proliferation of views, that it seems less necessary that these diverging views speak to one another. To what extent the increased means of participation of the public, lead to the dissolution of the public sphere? Or to a weakening of a sense of community? This is, in fact, one of the great challenges that these technologies pose to institutions that try to harness them precisely for the purpose of creating stronger and resilient communities while still making space for rich differences in history and experience.

Review of Clio entries in Easton, PA.

I have lived in Easton for close to 18 years and I have often heard about its history, however, I have never spent any time investigating more closely. The application Clio actually facilitated this process. As user, Navigating Clio is very simple. Upon opening the app one can simply go to sites in your present location (if your device is set up to allow location services), or one can search by name of the city or by zip code. For my first search, I did not use location services, rather, I used entered a zip code. Interestingly, that first search resulted in three sites in Bethlehem PA, which is about 15 miles west from Easton. But when I entered the name of the city, Easton, I was able to find some historical markers in downtown Easton and the surrounding area. 

I decided to focus my visit on three sites in the downtown area of Easton. These were relatively small sites, none of which amounted to a full museum. However, it was for this reason that I appreciated they being included in the app. It is precisely small, relatively, uninteresting locations, that are often overlooked, and it was nice to be able to discover them and explore them with the aid of this app. 

Easton PA is situated right across the Delaware River from the New Jersey town of Phillipsburg. If one is traveling from the East to the West along interstate 78, Easton will be the first town they encounter. The first of three major cities that represent what is called as the Lehigh Valley: Easton, Bethlehem and Allentown. Allentown and Bethlehem are better known, Allentown has grown more large and important in the recent past, while Bethlehem was the site of Bethlehem Steel, a large steel- producing company that fueled much of the industrial revolution in the United States. Easton is the smallest of the three towns and the one that has suffered the most of economic decline. However, things have started to improve in the past twenty years and Easton is in the middle of a resurgence. This has allowed for some improvements in the  area of historical preservation particularly in the downtown area. 

As soon as one crosses the Delaware using the Free Bridge (there is a second bridge built more recently but it is only open to cars) one enters Northampton Street, which runs East to West across a grid that goes from First Street, starting on the second block and continues all the way to 25th street, well outside of what we would consider Downtown Easton. The first stop in my visit is located in 200 Northampton Street. In the corner with 2nd Street one sees a recently renovated building that still preserves much of its old architecture. Most of the buildings in Northampton street have been turned into restaurants or stores, so this particular one stands out. This is Bachman Public House. There is a small sign mentioning this, but not other references to the history of the building. It is by using the app that I was able to find out that this structure was originally built as a tavern in 1753 by Jacob and Katrina Bachman and this is Easton’s oldest building. The tavern served also as an Inn and, for a about twelve years also served as a court house. According to the app, the tavern hosted meetings between settlers and Native leaders and was the site for the signing of some treaties. It also hosted strategy sessions during the revolutionary war and offered lodging for John Adams, William Ellery and William Whipple. It continue to serve as an Inn and court house until the nineteenth century. In the 1920s it came to be known as the Blue Moon Cafe, a speakeasy during the prohibition era.  It was first acquired by the Easton Heritage Alliance in 2001, but efforts to renovate it were eventually abandoned. It is now owned by the Northampton County Historical and Genealogical Society. It is used to host special events, historical re-enactments and it is the home for the Bachmann Players, an amateur theatrical troupe.

I would not have known any of this if it was not because of the application. The Bachmann Public House record includes not only a long description of the history of the house, it also includes pictures of of the interior, a Google Street View of the structure, a citation for the historical description and sources. There are also some links at other available resources, particularly more recent news pieces. In addition, one can also find useful information such as hours of operation, phone number. Most importantly, the entry also includes information about the person who created the entry, how many times the entry has been revised and by whom

From Bachmann Public House I walked a couple of block north up 2nd Street to find a blue historical marker indicating the place where Florence B. Seibert (1897-1991) was born. She was a famous bio-chemist who made her name by working on the development of a test for tuberculosis. The marker is relatively small and it does not include as much information as the entry in Clio. The entry in Clio also includes several pictures of Florence Seibert, google street view, sources, citation and credits. 

My last stop in this improvised walking tour requires that I walk back, towards the south. cross Northampton street walk an extra block south and then turn right until I get to 4th street where one can find another historical marker that commemorates the life of George Taylor, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence as representative of Pennsylvania in the Continental Congress. This entry is the shortest one and it is not clear what is the connection between George Taylor and Easton, other that having stayed at Bachmann House

Overall, the app Clio did offer me the opportunity the learn more about the history of Easton. It was very easy to navigate and the entries were well-written. The entries in Clio are written by volunteers and edited by trusted individuals and organizations. In this regard, Clio allows for a mixture of volunteer work that is monitored by a select group of more experienced editors. Individual entries can be combined to create a walking tour. I could have done that with the three sites I visited, although I decided I would have needed to add more contextual information. Given that two of the entries went back to the eighteenth century and a third one was from the twentieth century, it would have been necessary to fill some of the gaps. What this reveals is a view of history that is only interested in major events or figures and less on the everyday lives of regular people. I am sure one could add more entries on buildings that can help us tell the history of Easton from the perspective of the people who have lived here bot for whom there are no historical markers.