Field Trip to New York City

Field Trip to New York City

Academic Year:
2015 - 2016 (June 1, 2015 through May 31, 2016)
Funding Requested:
Project Dates:
Chair Uniqname:
Overview of the Project:
For Hist 497: Wastes of War: A Century of Destruction, I seek to take my 10 students to New York City during the week we discuss the War on Terror with the goal to visit the Museum at Ground Zero, Freshkills Landfill from which many of the artifacts displayed have been retrieved, and environmental consultants and representatives from the city government and the United Nations to discuss disaster prevention and clean-up both. We would document and share our experiences through a course blog, tweets, photos, videos and the like and potentially produce a collaborative essay report. I would like to get it published in either the Chronicle of Higher Education, History Teacher, History Today, the Michigan Daily or in any event in an internal publications like the history department's newsletter or college or university equivalent. This might be great publicity not just for history but for our institution in general. Most importantly, this active learning initiative connects pertinently with the University's focus on sustainability and shows that questions of sustainability have deep and complicated histories that are not always visible. Moreover, I think, such undertakings take seriously our institution's emphasis on innovative, experience-based, active learning. Lastly, it also shows that history is of public, contemporary relevance. It would take students out of the classroom but deeper into the issues we study. 
Number of Undergraduate Students Affected Annually:
10 undergraduate students
Final Report Fields
Project Objectives:

For History 497: Wastes of War: A Century of Destruction I took my 9 students to New York City from 11/21/15 to 11/23/15 in the context of examining the War on Terror in class. Our trip had three main components: First we visited Freshkills Landfill, which reopened after the attack on the twin towers to receive the debris. Here the FBI and the members of the New York State Museum sifted through the remnants in search for evidence and artifacts. Some of the remnants preserved are now on display at the 9/11 Memorial Museum which we visited on the second day. Here we met with with the Vice President of Exhibition, Amy Weisser, to discuss the visions for and construction of the museum, the debates and controversies that have surrounded the exhibits. Lastly, we took a tour of the United Nations headquarters and met with Ambassador Kamal of Pakistan at the United Nations for a briefing on the effects of the War on Terror on the United Nations and the international community. Throughout we were thinking about the fluid boundaries that define the use-value and status of objects, how they shape public memory and order urban space. The trip juxtaposed the two practices prevalent in our society: Hiding wastes and showcasing culturally significant artifacts by drawing attention to the fact that shifting political, social and cultural needs and ideas have transform material realities. This trip was meant to illustrate the complicated connections between such mundane matter as waste and such highly political practices as war shape local and global perceptions even after the fighting ceases and the wastes are buried.

Project Achievements:

The trip made tangible the connections between materials and representations of history, underscored the public relevance of history-making, illustrated its global implications and foregrounded the complicated and often controversial process of actively turning the past into history. Most importantly, students expressed that for the first time they felt that they could see the relevance of their readings to real life situations and apply their history skills to counter expertise that is used to be taken for granted. Moreover, the trip forged a really strong connection between students. The peer reviews they engaged in subsequently, were more honest and more productive. We all, myself included, experienced this trip as truly collaborative and productive intellectual and fun endeavor. This trip strengthened my resolve to create situations that shake up existing formats and suspend hierarchies to allow students to experience themselves as active thinkers, interlocutors and scholars. As for my department, I hope that history will consider offering at least one section of the senior colloquium per semester in which public history and experiential learning figures centrally.

Yes part of the project is continuing. Two students and I are currently engaged in an independent study which has two main objectives: 1. to allow students to expand on their final papers from last semester for the purpose of a collaborative publication in a scholarly journal. 2. to turn the recorded footage into a experimental documentary short.
History is already in the process of publicizing this particular trip. We will submit the short film to Imagination and potentially beyond that. The article we are collectively authoring this term will be submitted for review to either History Today, Public History Review or The Public Historian. Lastly, and most importantly, we have collaboratively shared photos and film footage so that the participants in our excursion can continue to share their experience in forms and formats that suits them best.
Advice to your Colleagues:
This was the single most rewarding teaching experience of my career and which is still in the early stages. People told me this would not be possible. It is exhilerating to expand the realm of what's possible.