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Finding a Speaker Willing to Use Digital Networks

color photo, 2001, Students taking a computerized exam, Flickr Commons
Question 

Is there a historian that would be willing to Skype a 4th-grade classroom on the American Revolution?

Answer 

There are two levels to your question—how does one find a historian who would speak to a 4th-grade class, and how does one find a historian who will Skype into the classroom?

The first question is much simpler than the first. In my experience, historians greatly value current and future students of the discipline, so I often find they are quite receptive to opportunities to talk about their subjects. At the American Historical Association we maintain fairly wide-ranging databases of faculty in almost every field of specialization, and regularly suggest names of specialists that might speak on particular historical topics.

While a growing number are willing to experiment with technologies such as Skype, most tend to just dismiss them as too much trouble

The next question you should ask is—how generally you want someone to speak on the topic? For instance, would you be looking for someone who could provide a broad overview and then take questions from students, or would you be more interested in someone who could talk in some greater depth about a specific aspect of the Revolution? There are hundreds of historians who work and teach in this area of American history to choose from, but that is where the added criteria about finding a historian who will Skype into the classroom creates a complication.

In a survey of historians conducted last year, AHA found that they are much more likely to use technologies for personal research than interpersonal communications and teaching. That statistic certainly bears out in my work with other members of the discipline. While a growing number are willing to experiment with technologies such as Skype, most tend to just dismiss them as too much trouble. I often have to coax historians to participate in meetings with Skype, even though they often find it all much simpler and easier to use than expected. Hopefully, as these technologies become more ubiquitous that problem will disappear, but for now it would significantly complicate your request. I can't think of any databases other than our directories of history departments and members. (Unfortunately they are gated, though I am always happy to dig into them for anyone who writes or calls looking for help.) Part of the problem may be that I am a little too stuck in the world of academics.

The best first step for finding a potential speaker is probably to just look on your bookshelves for the authors of books on the subject, or even Wikipedia, which has a pretty good list of popular surveys on the topic. From there, a quick Google search on the author's name will usually take you to their faculty page, which will almost always have an email address. You really don't have to be shy about writing to ask them if they would be willing to speak to your class. A simple and direct request, noting that you are trying to develop your students' appreciation of history and desire to help them understand how history gets made should elicit a generous response. Even if they cannot assist, they are likely to have a student or two who also writes on the subject and could also be asked to serve. In my experience, most historians are happy to assist as time and opportunity allows.

Bibliography 

Ask a Master Teacher

American Historical Association Accessed March 2, 2011.

Humanities and Social Sciences Online. Last Modified March 2, 2011.

OIEAHC - Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture. "Institute Colloquium." Accessed March 2, 2011.

Finding a speaker

You might also try the Organization of American Historians distinguished lectureship program - http://lectures.oah.org/ - to get ideas about in which disciplines history professionals work. While bringing an OAH lecturer to your school officially would be costly (there is a fee associated with an 'official lecture') elementary and secondary schools might have luck asking professors on the list whether they would be willing to 'skype.'

Nicholas Aieta
Assistant Professor of History, secondary education program coordinator
Westfield State University

American Revolution

Or, just ask around in your local school system as to who may teach a dedicated American Revolution course, like what we have.

dan.korn at ucps dot k12 dot nc dot us

Master teacher Revolutionary War & Civil War

 
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