Final Reflections on the Semester

For the sake of this blog style format, I’m going to answer these questions as if they were presented in interview form

What are the most important things you learned in this course and planning A Journey Through Hollins? Organize your response to focus on the things you learn in order or importance. Please be as specific as possible.

I think the most important things I learned, personally, had to do with the history of Hollins Market itself. I’ve touched on this before in earlier posts but to be honest I didn’t know much at all about the market or the neighborhood. Hollins Market was basically just a name, a place I knew existed but didn’t really know where or what it even really was. What’s more I didn’t realize that so many events and places I had been to over the years in Baltimore were actually either in Hollins or just outside of the borders comprising the neighborhood. I remember going to Zella’s pizza with an ex-girlfriend in like 2013 but not making the association between it and the neighborhood it was located in. I feel like I now have a big piece of a larger Baltimore puzzle that I was missing before.

I think the second most important thing I learned was how easy it is to get involved with community building in Baltimore City. At the end of the day this city is extremely small and it doesn’t take long before you meet someone new who knows someone who knows someone you know. While I didn’t have that exact experience this semester, I did have many instances of seeing or learning about things that were happening in the market that I had previous experience with elsewhere in the city. I guess it sort of feels like everyone goes to everyone else’s community building events and takes cues from one another. Then again it might just be that there is a developing playbook for responsible community engagement that a lot of people in the city, especially non-profits, are borrowing from. This class really affirmed that reality to me: that there are a lot of well meaning people doing the hard work of rebuilding Baltimore from within, often without the political will or support from those in city government.

Analyze your work: Describe your main contributions to the class project. What did you do well? What could you have improvement upon?

Well I guess I’d say that I was the historian of the bunch. This sort of became clear from early in the semester and I was totally cool with being that guy. My main contribution was the StoryMap. I did a ton of independent research on the buildings and sites of Hollins Market in order to create a cohesive timeline/narrative that would present the history of the neighborhood as a concise story. To that end, I think the StoryMap was successful. As an historian I often feel like I’m stating things about places that are really obvious. That being said, I get the sense that I did present some interesting and fairly unique research about the market that a lot of people didn’t know. It’s always a weird process to come into someones neighborhood, a place that many have lived for generations, and be like “hey did you know this happened here?” or “this happened here because of this etc.”

I think if I could do it over again I would have liked to have focused more on stories of individuals as opposed to places. That’s kind of a running concern with my approach to history. Buildings are easy to talk about because you don’t really have to interface, or have a dialogue, with them. You can kind of print your own story upon them. For someone who isn’t the best talker or communicator, that is the path of least resistance. I didn’t really ever go out into the community this semester with the rest of the class, which is something I regret. As a public historian it’s really important not to “isolate in the academy”, as we say. That’s something I was consciously doing this semester and I wish I would have not fought against that a bit.

Analyze the course:This is a project-based course focused on collaborative learning. What worked about the course? What specific improvement would you suggest? I take your suggestions seriously for designing future courses.

This was a really fun course. It was especially fun for me because it was basically the only course I took for my M.A. that was predominantly undergrads, not to mention all non-history majors. It was an equally eye-opening, and at times concerning, experience to see how little (and I don’t mean this in a demeaning way) so many UMBC folks know about Baltimore City, especially given its proximity to the city. I get the sense that most of my classmates were kind of intimidated coming to class every evening, which I certainly understand. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think everyone in the class developed a really strong sense of what makes up southwest Baltimore (and it’s not all crime and negative associations), and as someone who grew up in the burbs and came to Baltimore over a decade ago, it’s always really humbling for me when people gain some kind of perspective on that.

My recommendation is to absolutely continue having this class “in the city”. Just the experience of coming to class every week almost becomes as instructional and informative as the content discussed in the classroom.

One suggestion: I think that we had actually planned on doing this but I would absolutely recommend dedicating an entire class period to going to the Pratt Library MD Department. I seriously doubt that most of the class went there. The Pratt obviously has sooooooo much stuff and I think we could have maybe honed in on some interesting stuff a bit earlier in the semester if everyone went there and dug around.

Other improvements: More Pizza? 🙂

This is the first year I have taught this course at the Lions Brothers Building. Please describe what worked and did not work about specific aspects of the course such as its location off campus in Hollins Market.

I think I covered most of this in the answer to the previous question but I’ll reiterate that I think it was invaluable to the process of desensitizing Baltimore to a mostly suburban audience. As someone who finds themselves constantly struggling to find ways to advocate for or redefine the image of Baltimore to people from my hometown in Anne Arundel County, this kind of project can go a long way towards achieving that goal.

Reflect on the final event… what worked and what could be improved?

I think in general the final event was a success. I think the meet-up at the Lions Brothers Building was great. The walking tour was great. I do think that the final meet up at Hollins Place was a bit overkill. My sense was that at that point people who were willing to go on the walking tour had already given up about 3 hours of their Saturday to be there, which is a lot. As much as I did enjoy Curtis’ performance and the Mai Tai I got from the bar, and the cake, I was pretty burnt out by the end of it all. I wonder if in the future there is a way to have the beginning portion of the event at a local business/vendor? That was when we had the biggest turnout and maybe it would have been good to have people in a local business buying a drink or food item? I don’t know, that might not have worked actually. Just a thought though.

What grade do you deserve in the course and why?

Well…. I think I deserve an A but I feel awkward saying that, as I’m sure everyone who is responding to that question does. However I do really feel like I put in a ton of effort to help make the project a success and I hope that the StoryMap lingers on in the brains of those who were at the event or picked up the zine. It seemed like most people found it to be a clever and concise way of presenting the history of Hollins and I personally feel pretty proud of it. Anyways, I’m a research junkie and I definitely feel like put in some serious hours on the research component. So yeah, I guess an A. I could live with an A minus though 🙂

Please add any final thoughts or reflections.

I’ll keep it short and sweet: Good Class, Fun Class, Fun Event, Good Pizza, Great People, Great Neighborhood, Learned A lot!

The End!

The Last Post

So I guess I would echo Professor King’s anxiety from last week and say that it feels weirdly comforting that we seemed to pretty much have everything done last week per the zine. I feel like everyone in the present group really stepped up in the last few weeks and got some solid interviewing done. I’m glad to see that we were able to get some community voices in the zine.

Other than that, I don’t know that I have a whole lot to say or comment on for this week. I’m really excited to see what the finished product looks like. I’m also a bit nervous about kicking off the event on Saturday by introducing the website. Hopefully people will like it.

I guess at this point in the semester I’m feeling a weird mix of relief and panic. Relief because the semester is over and panic because I’m not actually graduating until the end of the summer. This week was pretty much full on thesis drafting week and I really cannot wait to get this behemoth off my back. I remember my advisor telling me last Spring that we should pick a project that we will enjoy enough to sustain our energy to work on it over the following year. Now that I’m at the tail end of the whole process I think I can say that I’m still interested in my topic but I will be so glad when I don’t have to think about it for a while.

I’m just kind of rambling at this point so I’ll stop. I got nothing else to say right now. I’ll see everybody at Zella’s tomorrow. Go TEAM!

Semester Reflections

This class, and project, has assumed an especially emotional place for me. It’s the last class I will take per my Masters Degree. This culminates a two year odyssey that I can’t believe is about to come to an end. All of which has given me some pause and time and to reflect on a few things that have stood out to me this semester:

1. It was cool to actually utilize some of the tools and skills I picked up in Public History classes in 2017. Although I still struggle greatly with being concise when trying to tell a narrative, I think I am getting better at it. As an aside, not being an American Studies major, it does seem to that there are a lot of overlaps between it and Public History. Which is maybe another way of saying I have no idea how to define what each discipline specifically is? Which I think is fine. I think I can say that at the end of the day each is constantly evolving, sort of like aiming at a constantly moving target. Both seem to be centered on working with communities, or groups of people. Which effectively means that you are giving up control of your final product to a variable that is naturally beyond your control. That at first can be hard to reconcile, but it’s something I’ve learned to embrace.

2. It was great to actually be at a class in Baltimore City, focusing on a project that is directly about the city. My research focus, independent of this class, has and will continue to be Baltimore. To me, Baltimore is like this never-ending novel that I can’t help but keep reading. This is despite a reality that constantly seems to be telling me to give up. Many of my old friends have left the city, and many others talk about doing so everyday. I think part of what keeps me here is that novel idea. That tomorrow I might learn something new, and potentially extremely disturbing, about the place I’ve called home for the better part of a decade. It kind of feels like this impossible quest that I have to finish, like reading Infinite Jest or something (which I haven’t done). Either way it keeps me coming back. This class succeeded in filling out a missing chapter in that greater story. I didn’t know much about the southwest, and now I do. I’m grateful for that.

3. This class has given me confidence about my skills as an historian and academic. Prior to starting my Masters degree in 2016, I had no formal background in history. I got my undergrad degree in guitar performance in 2009 (it seems much longer ago than that). I played music and toured all over the world between 2010-2016. By the end of it, I felt pretty much in a rut. Music was not paying the bills and I was honestly growing to resent it. The decision to go for the history degree was kind of a whimsical decision. One which I honestly didn’t think would happen because I wouldn’t get in to the program. When I did, I was ecstatic, though I still had no idea what was ahead of me. My first class, I was basically like “holy shit, what was I thinking”. Everyone else had history undergrad degrees, or worked in museums or archives. I was just a guitar player. Now two years later, it kinds of astounds me how much that has changed. I know so much now about 20th Century American History. I think I could easily handle a classroom full of high schoolers ( not that I want to). Throughout the semester, it was a humbling experience to have some of my classmates ask me various questions about the history of Baltimore, or how to poke and prod through archives and databases, to the point where it made me think “Ok I know what I’m talking about, I got this”. That’s something I didn’t have before this spring, and it makes me feel reasonably good going forward into the “real world”.

Thanks Prof. King and all you guys for an engaging class! Greatly looking forward to our event! GO TEAM!