By Professor Jacki Thompson Rand, Heather Wacha, and Mary Wise
After a thought-provoking conversation about public engagement at the University of Iowa’s WorldCanvass “Taking it to the Streets: Engagement and the Academy” event tonight, Heather Wacha, Professor Jacki Rand and I retired to a local restaurant to gather our thoughts. Heather and Professor Jacki Rand had just finished talking about History Corps and public engagement. I attended as an audience member. At dinner, our discussion turned to our collective takeaways, and we were surprised to realize that the timeless saying, “Great minds think alike” really holds true! Tonight’s event had two concrete takeaways for History Corps members.
Our first common takeaway was the extent to which public engagement has such transformative power. We all agreed that this was key to all three presentations tonight. Engaged scholarship is meaningful, worthwhile, and produces tangible results. Teresa Mangum and Jennifer New from the Obermann Center addressed the value of interdisciplinary-engaged projects and described how publicly engaged projects had real impact on the graduate training of participants of the Graduate Institute. Heather discussed how working with both digital tools and public history brought about a radical new interpretation for her own work on medieval France. Finally, Kate Kedley and Hector Efren Flores, community partners involved in a project aimed at improving literacy, discussed how their work in Honduras reclaiming public spaces normally occupied by gangs and violence has dramatically improved both Kate’s work and Hector’s activist-centered project
A second take-away shines the light on how public engagement provides an opportunity to use experimental methodologies and approaches, shaping projects as they unfold and not dismissing unforeseen possibilities as they arise. However scary taking these methods on might be, and we all learned about the challenges of these collaborations from Dr. Craig Just, Kate Kedley, and Hector Efren Flores, the feeling of worth when all partners benefit from the outcomes outweighs the challenges of collaborative work. For Jacki Rand, publicly-engaged scholarship has helped her rethink the meaning of knowledge production in an innovative way. The concept of knowledge production – as opposed to the salvaging of indigenous history, which has been a traditional approach – can be turned around when public partners contribute to the generating of new knowledge. History Corps members are embracing this methodology on the new Iowa Native Spaces project.
Tonight’s event reminded Heather, Professor Rand, and me how important and how rewarding publicly engaged scholarship can be! We look forward to sharing more as we continue to blog about our work throughout the rest of the year!
Visit the WorldCanvass website to learn more about this program and to learn when they are recording next!