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Anastasia Day (right) speaks with other DelPHI participants after giving a presentation about her research on the prevalence of "victory gardens" during World War II.
If research in the humanities is
sometimes misunderstood or undervalued by the public, it wont be the
fault of a group of graduate students who attended an intensive
institute at the University of Delaware this month to learn how to share
their scholarly passions.
Participants in the Delaware Public Humanities Institute (DelPHI)
devoted two weeks to learning, developing and practicing an assortment
of techniques for engaging a variety of audiences in their work.
Focusing on everyone from children in elementary school to residents of
retirement communities, the students came up with creative ways to reach
Sessions covered such topics as social media, public relations,
marketing, grant-writing and copyright law. The students took part in
workshops in which they developed websites and learned to make iMovies
showcasing their research, and they got tips for being interviewed by
journalists in sessions that were video-recorded for follow-up
In the last afternoon of the institute, the group gathered in an
auditorium at Hagley Museum and Library near Wilmington, Delaware, for
final presentations. Each student had been randomly assigned a type of
audience for which to develop a 10-minute talk describing his or her
research and its importance.
With a lectern, microphone and screen on which to project PowerPoint
slides, each student spoke to the other institute participants, who
role-played the different audiences, asking questions of the speaker and
providing feedback on the presentation.
When you got away from the script and started just talking to us,
you were much more convincing and clear, Arwen Mohun, professor of
history at UD and co-director of DelPHI, told one student. You feel
strongly about your subject, and that was really obvious when you let it
That kind of advice was frequently given during the presentations, as
the speakers were urged to communicate more informally, without
appearing to lecture.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Amy Griffin delivers her presentation, to a mock audience of high school teachers, about her research on the Hyde Hall mansion in Cooperstown, New York.
Amy Griffin, a student in UDs Winterthur Program in American
Material Culture, gave her practice presentation to a mock group of high
school teachers. She showed them examples of her research and suggested
aspects of it that could be part of high school lesson plans the use
of primary source material in history research, for example, and the
connections that can be made to historical developments in science and
I tried to be colloquial but not make it overly simple for this
audience, she said of her presentation. I wanted to take part in this
program to get over my nervousness about public speaking and to learn
engagement techniques. Its really helping me think of ways to reach out
and interpret my work.
Other student presentations varied widely in both subject matter and target audience.
Anastasia Day, a fellow in the Universitys Hagley Graduate Program
in History, spoke to retirement home residents about Victory Gardens, a
key home front effort during World War II. Day shared photos, stories
and statistics and concluded by saying, Id like to hear your own
stories next, urging audience participation.
Mohun praised that idea. In general, this type of audience wants to
tell stories, not necessarily ask questions, and you leveraged that
really well, she said.
In another presentation, paleontologist Mariana Di Giacomo, a student
in the Winterthur University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation,
spoke to a group of college freshmen about fossils and the importance of
conservation. She distributed a few samples to her audience, moved
easily around the stage and made everyday references, such as relating a
saber-tooth fang to the movie Ice Age.
On the final day of the institute, students brainstormed ideas for future public-engagement efforts they might undertake.
The institute, which was also co-directed by Erik Rau, director of
library services at Hagley, requires each student to take part in such a
project in the next year. Some will have internships in which they
involve the public, Mohun said, while others will reach out to schools,
museum docents, civic organizations or other groups that host guest