Tales from the Dark Side

Last week, I began my appointment as Faculty Associate/Assistant Provost at Mansfield University.  My primary duties in this position will include coordinating the Faculty Work-in-Progress Speaker Series for spring semester, assisting with the annual Showcase of Student Scholarship, and working with the Department of Education and Special Education and the Associate Provost/Interim Dean of Faculty in the development of new curricula and delivery options, along with the usual “other duties as assigned” (I’m already aware of one of these other duties, and hopefully another will be added in the near future). One of my tasks, then, is to resurrect the post-baccalaureate certification program that was eliminated a few years ago (since then, there has been an approximately 50% decrease in graduate enrollment–perhaps just a coincidence, but I suspect there may be a correlation).  For instance, prior to the elimination of the PB certification program in social studies, we had between 10-12 student teachers a year; this academic year, we will have two, one each semester.  Resurrecting the post-baccalaureate certification program(s) will involve research (yay!) into how other 5th year/post-baccalaureate certification programs within PASSHE (and perhaps outside) operate and perhaps inquire about issues they have faced in creating and maintaining the program.

The view from the office

The view from the office

I am excited to have this opportunity to bring back a program that attracted students and produced high quality teachers.  The benefit of a post-baccalaureate certification program in social studies (in which students are certified to teach seven subjects:  history, civics and government, geography, economics, psychology, sociology, and anthropology) is that students’ content knowledge would be much stronger if students completed a major in history and a minor in one or more of the other social studies content areas and then pursued teaching certification as part of a graduate program.  Some universities in PASSHE, such as Slippery Rock, already have a 5th year certification program in place, which means that Mansfield will not be doing something that discourages prospective students but instead would help them become better teachers (and hopefully not tell their students that there are 52 states).  Plus, students have found the new pre-gate exam, PAPA, to be a bit challenging (to put it mildly–but at least our 39% pass rate is among the highest in PASSHE), and shifting to a post-baccalaureate program eliminates that as a barrier to student advancement in the teacher education program (currently, they must pass all 3 parts of PAPA–reading, writing, and math–before enrolling in any upper level Education or Special Education courses).

As a part-time (technically, 1/4 time) administrator, I am also learning that there are some things that I am not allowed to know or discuss because of confidentiality issues.  After all, I am still 3/4 faculty, and I’m guessing that they don’t want to trust me or the other faculty associates with state secrets yet (maybe they do realize that I write a blog!).  I have no control or input over budgetary issues; I cannot handle any problems with staff or faculty (including complaints); and I almost have to take a vow of silence–or, more accurately, emulate Sgt. Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes and say I know nothing.  To paraphrase, what happens on the 5th floor (where the administration is located) stays on the 5th floor. I have found out, however, that when it comes to snow days, I am not considered an essential employee (yay!).  Now I just have to find out if my new position also means that I have have to censor what I write in my blogs–and, if so, how I can find a way to vent my frustrations when I start grading assignments and exams again.

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Technology and Teaching 2.0 (aka the New, Improved, Updated, High Tech Version)

Almost three years ago, I wrote a blog on how instructional technology has changed (or evolved) since I first taught a college course in Spring 1986 (or since I had a week’s training in “instructional technology” in my one secondary education course when I was an undergraduate at Stephen F. Austin State University in Fall 1979) (here is the link to the previous blog: http://historyeducator.wordpress.com/2011/02/02/technology-and-teaching/). Since then, I have begun recording some of the lectures for HST 2201 (United States History to 1877), all of the lectures for HST 2202 (United States History since 1877), and most of the lectures for HST 4401 (History of Pennsylvania) using a flip camera. While the flip camera is easy to use, there are issues inherent with using it for a “professional” presentation, namely that it’s placed on a window sill, aimed toward the projection screen, and picks up all ambient noises ranging from students talking (which isn’t always a bad thing), to the sound of the heater/air conditioner running below the window sill (which can be quite loud at times when it works) or the noise of a lawnmower or traffic outside the classroom when the windows are open. Plus, because it’s a fixed camera, I’m not always seen in the video—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s certainly not as engaging as I would like.


2012 view…at least it’s evident that there are students in the classroom

The relatively medium-to-low quality of the film wouldn’t be a problem except that I also use the filmed lectures in the online version of HST 2202 (students physically aren’t in the classroom when I lecture, so they get to see/hear what the students in the room do). One student commented on the online course evaluation last spring that he/she had some difficulty listening to the first lecture and didn’t watch the rest of them, so I’ve decided to fix that problem. This spring, when I teach the course again, students will be required to watch the lectures for the course “attendance” grade (yes, I know, they can just play it and not pay attention, but honestly that’s not a lot different from students who sit in the classroom texting or playing games on their cell phones while I’m lecturing). The other change: I’m doing a more professional presentation of the immigration lecture that was the focus of the previous blog as a test to find out if it better serves students’ learning needs.

As an aside, there are a couple of reasons why I started recording the lectures. First, during the 2011 spring semester, we had four snow days during which the university closed—and thus classes weren’t held. Recording lectures and making them available through the university’s course management system (Desire2Learn) means that students won’t miss a day of instruction if we have a snow day. Plus, I can make them available for students to review when preparing their take-home examinations. Second, when I saw Charles Shaughnessy following his performance as Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady in June 2011, he asked if I had a video of the lecture—which, of course, I did not. So in February 2012 when the lecture was presented again, it was recorded with the flip camera—and, while the quality is adequate, it really wasn’t as good as I would have liked to share with someone who is a professional actor/producer (although I did still share it with him). I filmed it again in February 2013, but in that version I’m strolling around the classroom with my left arm in a sling while recovering from shoulder surgery…so that’s not exactly a version I want to show very often. Since then, I have wanted to redo this lecture with a “real” video camera…which I am getting to do this fall. And, as it turns out, I get to do it with two cameras.


2013 view…still wearing the sling after surgery on the left shoulder the week before classes started

Since the first attempt in February 2012, Mansfield University has hired a new instructional designer, Nick André. Nick has been very helpful in making the video something that is professional in quality (certainly more professional than a flip camera on the window sill). We booked a classroom to film the lecture with multiple cameras (including one that followed me as I paced around the room), adjusted the lighting, and provided me with a microphone to enhance the audio (just in case—my voice usually projects well enough that I don’t need any help to reach the back of the room—and, in fact, it sometimes was too loud, which we had to adjust in post-production). And, when I stumbled over words, we stopped filming and started over—something I really don’t get to do when I’m teaching.


What happens when images from both cameras appear…along with the fixed image of the PowerPoint in the background.

Then we started the process of post-production. Just after one morning (during which we worked on 8 minutes of video; the entire lecture has been divided into five installments), I really began to appreciate the time involved in transforming a simple “let’s shoot a home movie” into “let’s produce something that can contend for an Academy Award” (and no, I have no delusions that this lecture video will ever win any awards). We used Camtasia during the editing process, which involved animation (such as drawing arrows on maps to provide more specific locations–stuff that I would have used a pointer in class), inserting media into the video (which alerts students/viewers to click on the web link and access additional information), working with separate tracks for the PowerPoint presentation and the audio portion of the lecture, inserting me into the image (video of me talking in the corner overlaid over the PowerPoint slide), and developing ways to get anonymous student/viewer feedback. Phrases like “transition to fade,” “line up the tracks,” “right click on the pan handle,” “scrub the video,” and “callouts” are becoming part of my vocabulary, and, unfortunately, I have started watching television shows and feature films and focusing on the production qualities instead of the story line (which I’m afraid will happen with the lecture—the students will be so engrossed in the gadgetry that they don’t pay attention to the content—although I have found a solution to that problem). I have also started to rethink how I present the information on the PowerPoint slides; in the future, I will try to make sure that the content is concentrated on the top half of the slide, with the bottom section clear for the insertion of the camera footage of me speaking (and, occasionally, pacing around the front of the classroom).


I should have taken the photo of another frame…but you get the basic idea.

In the beginning, I was watching Nick work with the first part, which essentially is an overview of immigration in the late 19th century. As we were working on it, we began to think about how to improve it. The nice thing about editing that I’ve found out is that you can have do-overs that you don’t get when presenting the lecture in the classroom (we also re-filmed the last portion, as I realized after stopping that, unlike when I’m actually teaching the class, I do have time to talk after the audio clip plays). The entire film ended up being around 50 minutes—just like a regular class—except the 50 minutes will be divided into smaller segments centered around the content provided (e.g., one section will deal with the transatlantic crossing and processing through Ellis Island; that will be the “Coming to America” section and will fall between the “Reasons for Immigration” and “Employment Opportunities” sections). It will conclude with credits (just like a real production) where I can list credits for illustrations, properly thank those who helped with the project, and include some music to play while the credits are “rolling” that fits into the theme of the lecture.


Photo credits, Map credits, and Credits for the audio clip…with “Blue Danube” playing softly in the background as the credits roll.

The videos have been posted on You Tube (they’re set up in a playlist) and will be posted on the Desire2Learn course site for both the on campus and online sections of HST 2202. Hyperlinks to information are embedded in the You Tube videos using Pretty Links; I have set up a WordPress.org account (which is slightly different from the WordPress.com account where this blog is posted) to use for creating the links. The WordPress.org account has been established as an “Associated Website” on You Tube, and Pretty Links enables me to redirect from WordPress to another website (such as a seamless transition to a biography of Thomas Nast when a student clicks on the red web link logo in the corner of the Thomas Nast cartoon). And, of course, since the links are included in the video of a lecture, the students should expect to be assessed on the information included in the video along with information in the websites they are supposed to access.


Located on the bottom right corner of the image, the red web link logo will alert students that they can click on the logo to access additional information.

The best part, though, is that it will be a far more professional production that might become part of the Legacy Library on the MU YouTube Channel (and thus will be available to prospective students who are interested in seeing the type of engaging instructors we have here at Mansfield). Fortunately, I already have all of the permissions I need (in writing), which is important because the lecture continues to include the original audio clip that led to the whole “let’s bring another voice into the classroom” experience back in February 2011—only this time, the students will be able to click on the red logo in the corner and access additional information on the guest speaker—and they will be tested on that information.


The final slide, after the credits…

If you are interested in viewing the finished product, send me an email at kguenthe@mansfield.edu.

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Loaves and Fishes

As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”   Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”  “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said.  

And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people.  They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.  The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Matthew 14: 15-21 (NIV)


Food and religion have been intertwined ever since Adam took a bite of the forbidden apple (Genesis 3:6, NIV).  From mandatory fish on Fridays during Lent for Roman Catholics to no meat for Hindus and Buddhists to Jews not eating pork (or having meat and dairy at the same meal), religious groups have used dietary restrictions as a means to reinforce faith.  At the same time, though, church dinners have also traditionally been an effective way (particularly for Protestant denominations) to generate revenue and to provide a service to a local community.

One thing about researching the history of a congregation is that I find a variety of ways the church raised money to fund its financial obligations.  Typically, people think that weekly offerings are sufficient to cover the church’s expenses, but that seldom is the case.  During the colonial period, for instance, clergy often preached at multiple congregations unless they were fortunate enough to work in a town—and even then, they might serve more than one congregation, as the parishioners seldom contributed enough funds to support a minister’s family.  Consequently, Zion’s used a variety of methods to raise funds to pay the minister’s salary (and the choir director, organist, etc.), meet its charitable obligations, pay for utilities, etc.  When I was a member while in graduate school, one of the big fundraisers was the rummage sale, during which the church in a sense performed a mission to financially distressed residents of Reading by selling inexpensive used (but in good shape) clothing.  Probably the best known way that the church raised funds, however, was through food sales, such as the soup sales that often accompanied the rummage sale.  During the 1940s, however, these fundraisers had an entirely different purpose.


Details of Chicken Pattie Supper, October 1941. I wonder if the cranberry sauce on the lettuce leaf held the shape of the can.


The United States entered the Second World War on December 8, 1941, following the Japanese attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor.  That same day, Germany declared war on the United States, which meant that the U.S. fought a war on two fronts for the next several years.  Almost immediately, men and women of Zion volunteered to serve in the armed forces, continuing to do so until the end of the conflict.  One hundred twenty-seven men and women from Zion’s served in the Army, Navy, and Marines during the war, with three of them making the ultimate sacrifice.  Throughout the conflict, Reverend Harry S. Kehm corresponded with the soldiers and sailors, providing a report to the Consistory each month with a cumulative total of letters sent and received.  Sending these letters cost money, as did the Christmas packages sent to the troops each December.  In addition, for the duration of the war church members in the service of our country did not have to pay “church dues” (in other words, they would remain on the rolls as church members even though they did not contribute financially to Zion’s operations).

To raise money for these expenses, in 1942 the Consistory authorized holding a peach festival that August “to help defray the expense of the testaments sent out to the members of the church who are in the armed forces of our country.”  The peach festival joined the Annual Roast Beef Dinner (held by the Consistory each fall) and occasional Ham and Egg suppers in the spring as food-based fund raisers for Zion’s during the early 1940s.  Consistory minutes also reveal the menus for these dinners; the 1942 Roast Beef Supper, for instance, included roast beef, mashed potatoes, stewed dried corn, canned peas, pepper cabbage, celery and carrots, bread and butter, and coffee, with ice cream and cakes available for sale.  In February 1944, the Fastnacht Bake and Sale generated over $200 in profit.


Advertisement for 1944 Peach Festival

Dinners also funded other activities.  A Ham and Egg supper in April 1940 raised funds to pay down the church mortgage (which would be paid off by 1947), and the one in April 1945 contributed toward the Building Fund.  Of course, by April 1945 the war was winding down, but Zion’s still held its peach festival that August.  My mother (whose only brother enlisted in the Navy in September 1943 and was stationed in Japan) still remembers the Peach Festival held on Tuesday, April 14, 1945, as one accompanied by church bells ringing and Reading citizens shouting in the streets—because it was held on V-J Day.

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It’s Showtime!

The past couple of weeks were spent preparing for the Faculty Work-in-Progress Speaker Series talk, working with the bound volumes, and sorting the file folders.  The bound volumes actually involve more cataloguing than filing, although there are still some loose pages inside the bound volumes that are being placed in file folders.  The turnout for the talk wasn’t too large, but I did film it, and there has been some interest in watching the video (if you’re interested in watching it, send me an email at kguenthe@mansfield.edu, and I’ll send you the links).  Of course, my mother (aka “research assistant”) watched it, and she pointed out an error I made in the presentation.  Apparently they did all the fastnacht baking and sales at my grandparents’ house in Reading…and it reeked of fastnachts for six months afterwards (and no, while fastnachts are like doughnuts, they are fried in lard—and it’s not exactly an aroma you want as an air freshener).


Paternal grandparents showing off their fastnachts

 The bound volumes include the church registers (baptisms, confirmations, marriages, deaths, transfers), along with Consistory (church council) minutes from 1881 through 1939.  The first 35 years (1881-1916) of the Consistory minutes are recorded in German…the lovely schriften that makes reading doctor’s prescriptions easy.  The church registers are also in German during this period, but I know enough German to figure out months without resorting to a dictionary.  For the Consistory minutes, not only do I need a dictionary, but I also need a “cheat sheet” to decipher the script (check out the difference between ‘e’ and ‘n’ on the sheet). 

ImageThe sorting part is the most fun.  Once again, I’ve set up tables in the garage for the piles…except instead of dealing with 80 degree temperatures like in September, it’s now 40 degrees in the garage.  This means, of course, that wearing gloves becomes important to keep my hands warm in addition to handling the documents.  And, of course, warm clothes to keep me warm…and the classy hat to keep my ears warm.

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Midterm Report

This week (actually, Monday, October 21) is Fall Break. For my colleagues who are teaching this semester, midterm grades are due, and, when I was at the Pennsylvania Historical Association annual meeting this past weekend, the main topic of conversation was how many papers everyone had to grade (no, I didn’t feel guilty that I didn’t have any to grade, and yes, I did mention I was on sabbatical this semester). It’s also the week that I must present a progress report—just like my sister the 2nd grade teacher and sister-in-law 1st grade teacher must do, except in my case it’s a progress report on what I have accomplished to date on my sabbatical. On Thursday, October 24, from 12-1, I will be making a presentation as part of Mansfield University’s Faculty Work-in-Progress Speaker Series: “Getting My Hands Dirty Doing Primary Source Research: Adventures in Organizing Church Records.” It definitely will be a work in progress, as I certainly haven’t finished organizing the records…or doing the primary source research. If you’re in the area, drop by Alumni 317 to see photos (I will be using PowerPoint in my presentation) and be entertained by what I have found. I promise not to pass around a collection plate for donations.

Because of the conference, I didn’t spend as much time playing with the records as I usually do. However, I have finally unpacked the last of the tubs (well, I had unpacked it previously, then repacked it…so now it’s unpacked again). This is the one with the really old stuff: photos of the first church (and its interior), church records in German (and English), membership books from the 1920s, etc. It’s the tub that has the materials that I used when writing the paper on the origins of Zion’s German Reformed Congregation that I presented at last year’s Pennsylvania Historical Association annual meeting. And it’s the tub where I do have to wear gloves when handling the bound volumes because of their fragile condition, especially the one with the baptisms, deaths, confirmation records, etc.
The original “bound” volume of the church register (Births, Marriages, Confirmations, Deaths, etc.)

DSCN1345 German Consistory (Church Council) Minutes

Overall, I am beginning to enter the “home stretch” of the records processing; the next step will be taking all the file folders and stacking them into piles for the different categories, then boxing them. While I’m at it, I plan to note which materials will be useful for writing the congregation’s history and which ones can be deposited in Lancaster sooner rather than later.

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Grateful for the Opportunity

This week, I continued plowing through the church archives, focusing on the materials that arrived last week.  As it turns out, most of them won’t have to go to Lancaster, as they are financial records whose legal retention has expired (I definitely don’t need to deposit tax returns from 1991).  So the world famous shredder (pictured in Hailey and Andrew Bartholomew’s 365 Gratefuls:  Celebrating Treasures, Big and Small) will get some more action soon.


 ImageAs I work with the materials, I am starting to think about how the records will be used when writing a history of Zion’s.  Some are quite obvious:  minutes of the Consistory (Church Council), treasurer’s reports, and church newsletters will help tell the story of how Zion’s operated as a congregation.  Records of baptisms, confirmations, membership, funerals—in other words, the records genealogists love—will show me how the size of the congregation changed over time.  “Losses” (i.e., members who transferred to other congregation) will demonstrate how the membership shifted over time as members moved to other parts of the United States—or, in 1968, followed one minister to his new charge.  Other records are not as obvious; as I sorted and filed the church bulletins, sometimes they had gems that will enliven what could be a dull story at times (however, I won’t provide a statistical analysis of a minister’s favorite hymns).



I also found these relics of the 20th century…


I am also finding that not only am I starting to think about potential research topics and the overall organization of a book, but I tend to stray from the task at hand.  One prime example is when I started filing the Consistory minutes for the 1940s, I noticed the name Ferdinand Thun as the translator for the first church constitution (one that probably is a lot more accurate than the one I did last year when researching my presentation at the Pennsylvania Historical Association annual meeting).  Thun was co-owner of Berkshire Knitting Mills in Reading, and he, along with his partner, Henry Janssen, were also vigorous supporters of Adolf Hitler.1  Thun and Janssen also had been investigated by the federal government in 1918, with their homes searched for German propaganda.2  So, while neither men were members of Zion’s (Thun did marry a daughter of one of the charter members of the church), somehow the church—which was extremely patriotic during World War II—also had connections to people who supported the Nazi Bund in Wyomissing during the Second World War. 



Board with photos of servicemen and women from Zion’s during World War II. My uncle Wayne is in the middle (5th row, 8th from left)


Processing the documents that arrived last week also was a bit sad.  I consciously know that the church has closed, that the congregation has ceased to exist, that Zion’s can no longer be the church home my mother remembers fondly, it didn’t fully sink in until I started going through the boxes that arrived last week.  Seeing church bulletins from 2011 (yes, you read that right) that celebrated the life of the church one last time brought about a sense of closure.  Reading the inspection reports prior to sale indicated the new owners probably would have to make some repairs, but the church building was in reasonably good shape given its age.  I was able to peruse the letters of transfer for the members, seeing where they found new church homes—ones that won’t be the same as Zion’s, but something that could serve their spiritual needs.  Looking at the financial records, however, made it clear that what happened in September 2010 was inevitable. 



[1] Philip Jenkins, Hoods and Shirts:  The Extreme Right in Pennsylvania, 1925-1950 (Chapel Hill:  University of North Carolina Press, 1997), 56.

[2]“Propaganda Hunt by Federal Agents,” New York Times, August 8, 1918.


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Now that all the materials have arrived…let the games begin!


This past Thursday (October 3), the Reverend Dr. Robert G. Aregood, the last pastor at Zion’s United Church of Christ, and his wife Barbara delivered the remaining boxes and tubs of materials for my sabbatical project.


The last of the records have arrived!

Some of the files will probably be shredded (the Evangelical & Reformed Historical Society doesn’t have a use for bank records for closed accounts), while others will be checked, placed in new files, and put into boxes for sorting.  Once everything has been placed into files (at least everything that can be placed in a file), then the next step begins:  organizing the materials into the categories established by the ERHS (see http://historyeducator.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/i-should-have-bought-stock-in-staples/ for a list of the categories).

One of the items in the most recent delivery is conveniently labeled The Practical Church Record.

It includes sections on Constitution (these pages are blank, because the most recent church constitution is in another location), Our Pastors (blank), Our Officers—Elders (blank), Officers—Deacons (blank), Record of the Baptism of Infants (1962-2010), Record of Confirmation (1962-2006), Members Admitted (1962-2009), Marriages (1963-2011), Losses (including dismissals and deaths) (1962-1997), Those Who Passed On (1962-2010), and Communion Record (1962-2000).  This is the last volume of church records for the congregation.  Receiving this volume was a bit bittersweet, because even though I know Zion’s closed in September 2010, receiving these records to organize for deposit made it final.

The new arrivals also included a variety of items that reflected not only the closing of a church (the church seal is now in my possession, to be included with other non-paper items when they are deposited at the historical society), but also commemorations of Zion’s contributions to the city of Reading (including a proclamation signed by the mayor).


More church bulletins have been uncovered in the boxes and tubs.  Minutes for the Consistory for the last few years are now in folders, waiting for arrangement.  Copies of letters of transfer (both to Zion’s and to another congregation), correspondence with the IRS (which apparently wanted its pound of flesh from a defunct organization), and letters to members following the church’s closure offering them assistance in choosing a new place to worship are among the items discovered in the most recent delivery.  It also included a CD with correspondence, financial reports, newsletters, bulletins, etc. that I could open on my computer (unlike the 3½” floppy disks also in the collections).

So, I’ve been plodding along, continuing to place records in files (such as 2010 Consistory Minutes), tossing duplicates into a pile (to be either shredded or sent to recycling, depending on the sensitive nature of the item), and making a mess in the garage where I am working (and in my apartment). Sometimes, I flip through the materials and encounter amusing items like this advertisement from a booklet published in the 1930s:

With the arrival of the last of the records, a sense of finality has arrived:  the last services have been held, the building has been sold, and I get to see closure to something that has been part of my family’s life for over 100 years—from my great-great-grandfather’s sister Matilda (Tilta) Guenther’s financial contributions in 1882 and 1883 to my mother and I attending the last worship service on September 26, 2010.  And, included in these records, are items related to my personal history.

The record of my transfer from Zion’s U.C.C. to Christ the Servant Lutheran Church after I moved back to Houston (they didn’t have any UCC churches where I lived).

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