Thesis Thoughts

Big decisions are terrifying to me. I agonize over making the “wrong choice,” especially with something as significant and potentially-influential like my thesis topic. There are too many things that I “could be” interested in, and yet I don’t want to close myself off to other possibilities. Too much excitement, not enough direction!

Here is a rough idea of all the potential topics I’ve floated so far:

  • The go-to is Jewish immigration 1880s-1920s, which can lead to some fantastically relevant work in current immigration communities, but I don’t necessarily want to pigeonhole myself, especially since I come to this topic through work.
  • A subset of this could be looking at the urban renewal efforts in the 1950s that turned what once was the Jewish Quarter into what’s now Society Hill/Old City…
  • Labor history and women’s activism via Clara Lemlich (or lesser-known women??)
  • Something something non-binary history
  • Wondering about any history of disability activism in Philadelphia, a largely inaccessible city
  • Maybe tracing how West Philadelphia became a sort of “queer hub” while the gayborhood became more corporate/tourist-y

Like, I’m all over the place here! Plus, there are the other elements of what the result will be, and an organization to intern with. All I know on that front is that I can’t intern with the Edu Dept at NMAJH, and I want my thesis to involve some degree of community outreach, or be tangibly beneficial to someone in some way. (And yet, I don’t want to do too much oral history, mostly because people are scary, but not as scary as the risk of misinterpreting others’ stories.)

But I gave a tour at NMAJH’s Educator Appreciation Night tonight, and I was reminded of my original interest as stated in my Personal Statement – I want to do something that will help students become more interested in history, especially through helping them become “mini-historians.” Especially students who might not encounter history (or museums) in such a way otherwise.

We do this in the Traveling Suitcase lesson, when we bring artifact replicas to schools and help students essentially do research through material culture/primary documents. Whenever I lead these lessons, I always encourage the students to ask questions not just about the historical subject but also the process of historical research. I tell them about all the research I did to create this project — and how it looked exactly like what they’re doing in class now. I didn’t really become interested in history until I took an active part in “doing” it (through interpretation and research), and I want to help students to do the same.

(The only caveat is that I don’t want to do another Traveling Trunk program. It’s an incredibly useful model, but also a common one that I’m already familiar with. I’d love to create something that helps students do their own research from scratch, or like a scavenger hunt where they need to separate out the relevant artifacts! A fossil dig but the fossils are primary documents!!!)

So this is a start… now what? Of course there are a number of organizations that do something like this, from huge endeavors like National History Day to local school projects like the annual “My Home, My History” project at Esperanza Charter School. I would also need to figure out how to actually access children (especially over the summer!), though that could be solved through wisely choosing an organization to intern with. And there’s still the issue of a topic to research…

But I think this will be helpful, to keep this theme/goal in mind of connecting children with history by “doing” history. Also to remind myself to not think too big, and that I would have the support of some kind of institution rather than doing all this by myself.



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