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!

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