Jake Dinkelaker had never built a website or even blogged prior to senior year, so he might seem an unlikely candidate to be one of the first two Wooster students to create an entirely digital I.S. (The other, Catherine Trainor, also a history major, wrote and produced a 40-minute documentary, despite having no prior filmmaking experience.)
“I’ve never been a big early adopter,” Dinkelaker says, “but with public history being my chosen career path, you can just reach so many more people [using technology].”
For his Independent Study project — “The Historic Built Landscape of The College of Wooster: An Investigation into Architecture, Curriculum, and Memory” — he created a website rich in information and multimedia content about four iconic campus buildings: Kauke Hall, Timken Science Library in Frick Hall, Ebert Art Center (the former Severance Gymnasium), and McGaw Chapel.
A self-described “history geek” who spent middle school spring breaks on family trips to Shiloh, Chickamauga, and other Civil War battlefields, Dinkelaker played football his first two years at Wooster, spent two summers working at Gettysburg National Military Park, and also interned there during a semester at Gettysburg College during his junior year. It was those experiences of giving tours and interacting with visitors that sparked his interest in public history.
Dinkelaker spent countless hours in the college’s archives researching the four buildings’ construction and later renovations, and how curricular needs and other issues affected those plans. He interviewed professors and staff, compiled scores of historical photos, edited videos, and read extensively on the subject of campus planning, to put Wooster’s experience in a larger context. And with the help of Jon Breitenbucher, Matt Gardzina, and others in the Office of Instructional Technology, he mastered a new set of tools to create the project he envisioned.
Katie Holt, assistant professor of history and one of Dinkelaker’s I.S. advisors (along with Heath Anderson, a visiting assistant professor of archaeology), says public history is about “making history accessible to a wider audience by engaging the public in the process of asking questions and interpreting the past.”
Dinkelaker took pains to facilitate that engagement, by incorporating multiple means of audience interaction and feedback into the site. Visitors can write comments or record their own memories and stories about the four campus locations.
“He’s not trying to push his interpretation of the college’s built environment,” Holt says, “but instead to bring the sources to his site visitors and encourage them to weigh in with their own interpretation.”
After graduation, Dinkelaker will return to Gettysburg for one more summer as a park ranger, helping to connect visitors with the momentous events that took place there in July of 1863, before heading off to graduate school in the fall. He also will continue blogging about public history and the Civil War at Interpreting the Civil War.
“I used to view the Internet as just a place to find information,” Dinkelaker says, “but now I see it as a place for conversation and interaction with people all over the world. That’s the added value beyond traditional means of doing scholarship.”
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