Marrying History and Media: RSJ Professor’s different approach at finals

Marrying History and Media: RSJ Professor’s different approach at finals

When it comes to final projects, sometimes a lengthy research paper just doesn’t quite cut it.

At least, that’s how Assistant Professor Patrick File feels. He’s teaching Media History at the Reynolds school, a class he’s taught before at other institutions, but not here at the University of Nevada, Reno. File says what makes this class stand out is its duality: it’s not just a history class, but not just a journalism class either. That makes it slightly harder to define for final projects.

“Lots of good work, goes into and work comes out of the writing of a historical research paper,” He says. “However, in terms, of serving our students needs for good material to showcase their work towards a career, there’s not a lot of editors, or product managers, or folks in the professional world who are saying ‘can you send me one of your research papers?’.”

The idea for his final assigned project came from wanting to create a “marriage of doing media and doing history at the same time.” File’s class, which discusses the range of media technology and societal advancements from the first printing press to digital networks, was the perfect environment to engage students in media history in an impactful way.

Patrick File

Assistant Professor Patrick File

File’s solution was to encourage students to use historical research to create a short video or slideshow that could potentially be shared on social media networks or added to a professional portfolio. This year’s theme is “Battle Born Politics.” Students need to create a project that encompasses Nevada history from both a historical and media standpoint.

Stories range from the development of nuclear test sites, movie stars, and selling the idea of the Squaw Valley Olympics. One project focuses on how a Nevada senator attempted to secure the release of a newspaper editor’s son, who was caught as a prisoner of war in World War II. File encouraged students to research using university archives or the Special Collections at the Knowledge Center, but he also allowed a lot of independence in the developing topics. Research papers have their place, File said, but he wanted to have students engage with the work outside of class as well.

“The rigors of doing the research for this project aren’t any lighter than if you were doing a paper,” File argues. He worked in collaboration with the Special Collections staff at the Knowledge Center to encourage students to ‘really get their hands dirty” in archival research. File hopes to continue this project in the future, discussing themes like the Native American population in Nevada or land rights issues.

“There’s a deep well of things to draw from here, at the University of Nevada,” File says. “That’s another benefit of being here at a state institution that has archives and has special collections that we can draw from.”

The importance of media created in a social network world is not lost on File. Ultimately, the hope is that these shorter media projects could be shared on students’ media sites or professional portfolios, starting dialogues about history, media, and journalism.

“Relatively few people are going to take their ten page term papers and post them online and prompt a conversation, that’s just the reality of the world today. But I think something a little more interactive and a little more bite-sized could do that, and I would love to see that kind of thing happen.”

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