By Chloe DiMario
As The University of Akron’s Spring 2023 semester comes to an end, so too does the “Acting Like A Hower” UnClass. Throughout the stress of finals week, our class has been busy finishing and reflecting upon our projects from this semester. These projects have all taken surprisingly different directions as can be seen in previous blog posts, and the same could be said for the
experiences each student has had.
For the final blog post of this course, I wanted to focus on the experience that students have had in an UnClass and how this structure made for one of the most memorable classes we have all taken. So I took a survey of my classmates.
Q1: Why did you decide to take this class?
There are many factors that determine who someone would take a class. In many cases, you will have peers of similar interests, backgrounds or majors in your class roster. However, we found that this UnClass was very different. Whether it be a curriculum requirement, a favorite professor teaching it, or a fun class that happens to fit into your schedule, this UnClass has gathered many different students.
Mat said that “I took this class with encouragement from Dr. Nunn. I had her for two courses in the fall where I mentioned having a love of acting and theater, and she thought I would find this course interesting- and she was right!” Mat and I have shared a course with Dr. Nunn before and hearing that one of your favorite professors is teaching such a unique style is a guarantee win for students. In fact, the class had a few other students that knew Dr. Nunn prior, but what about everyone else?
Some needed this class as a specific credit such as for Honors Colloquia Credit. CJ offered that, “I decided to take this due to an interest in the Hower family and it was recommended by Linda [Bussey].” CJ has already worked with Hower House and its director, and having that background made for an interesting transition into our class. Many students had diverse interests coming into this course and it is those interests that began to shape our outlook on the class.
Q2: Looking back on our first class in mid-January, what were you thinking coming into this class and what are you thinking as we finish it up?
First impressions can make or break a course for some students and my first impression of this course was to ask “why are we already doing work”. I truthfully had no idea what to expect from this class and it was a bit foolish of me to expect just another syllabi reading for our first day. As we dove head first into already scanned documents provided by Dr. Nunn, my excitement only
I wasn’t alone with my first day confusion as many students didn’t know what to expect. Mat claimed that “I went into this class with zero expectation. I had no idea what an UnClass was.” And Hannah agreed by saying “ The first class was very interesting because I had no other experience with an “un-class”. I was a little nervous about the lack of structure and free-flowing nature of the course work because I function well with deadlines and more firmly set parameters.”
This lack of class structure threw a lot of students for a loop and I and many other students were worried about our prior knowledge of the Howers as Karla stated, “I was thinking about how I had no idea who any of the people in the family were in relation to my peers who seemed to know a good bit about the Hower family and Grace Crawford beforehand.”
However this confusion did not stop us from pushing forward and enjoying this class to the very end!
- Karla: “Now as we finish up it’s interesting to see how much I’ve learned.”
- Hannah: “As we finish up, I’m very glad to have had this experience as it developed collaboration skills, as well as experiences to think about and approach research in new ways. I felt I had more freedom to examine ideas or leads that would come up, without having to worry about reaching a specific conclusion. Documenting the process of the research, even if it didn’t lead to a specific conclusion, was a valuable learning experience. and highlights the point that primary source research is fascinating .”
- Mat: “As we come to the end of the semester, I have to say I’m surprised at how invested I’ve become in this class, especially in the archival work, which I hadn’t anticipated at all.”
- Katie: “Now I am feeling confident in the work I have produced and excited to share and see my classmates’ projects.”
Q3: What was the most memorable item you found/scanned?
A big part of enjoying this class has come from all of the archival material we worked with. At the beginning of the class, a lot of us expected to be scanning letters or playbills or official documents, but our projects ended up utilizing a wide variety of documents from bank statements to photographs to advertisements and newsletters. This diversity made for interesting and memorable finds.
Melanie said that “I really enjoyed looking at the various membership lists and seeing the different names. Some of them were recognizable (Knight, Polsky, etc.), while others were not. Some of the earlier lists were handwritten on notebook paper, which to me demonstrates the group’s humble beginnings.” Finds such as these were a constant surprise throughout the semester that brought a strange sense of humanity into a class most of us were expecting to be rather technical. Kaden found that “My favorite thing that I found was this picture of a bracelet that Grace had made for her. It was red and the first artifact that I analyzed and was super cool.”
The little mementos from the Hower family and Weathervane really brought forward a story among dusty, old pieces of paper and creating those stories was one of the most enjoyable experiences from this class. An experience that may not be possible in a regular formatted class.
Photographs were another big part of the archival document process and we all found ourselves marveling at these little pieces of history captured on film. Hannah (along with the help of Mark Bloom from the UA Archives and Special Collections) found negative of the Dumas Players and said that “The negatives of the Dumas players were really memorable because these were largely hidden in an archival collection that’s not fully processed, and we had no other photographic images available to our group from UA sources. They also show that the Dumas Players were active later than what was originally thought by the earlier research done by Weathervane.”
Katie, upon reflecting on her favorite documents, summed up the experience of working with old photographs perfectly when she said that “I really enjoyed scanning the few photographs from some of the productions. Though not the focus of my project, I think telling stories through photographs is really intriguing.”
Q3: What was the most challenging part of working with these archival documents?
Although this class was full of high, enjoyable moments, it had its low points as well. Working with archival materials, regardless of how fun, is a strenuous and challenging process that takes patience and concentration. John claimed that one of the most challenging parts was, “The transcription because Grace’s handwriting is terrible.” This is a sad but real issue with archival materials. Journals and letters were often handwritten and if the person writing happened to have poor penmanship, then it can be a serious struggle to transcribe the text for others.
There’s also the issue of finding documents that you may need. Hannah ran into this issue during her research claiming that, “The most challenging part of my work with the archival documents was that there are gaps and dead-ends in what I’m trying to research. For example, I would find one document that would answer part of a question, but then there would be missing
pages, or only one side of the correspondence, undated or unsourced newspaper articles, etc.” I ran into a similar issue when looking at possible dates for items in the Hower collection. I would discover a document labeled one thing, and then find five other documents of different dates labeled the same way.
And, as is the case with the diversity of an UnClass, comes the challenges from a lack of experience. Kaden says that, “The most challenging aspect was interpreting the documents. Since I am a STEM major, it is not my normal area of focus. This has created a “barrier” because I wasn’t familiar with the processes that went behind archival materials.” It can always be hard taking a class outside of your major or skill set, but an UnClass with its open class design is one of the best ways to explore these new skills.
Q4: What was your biggest takeaway from this class?
UnClasses are designed to not be designed. The purpose is for the students to make their own experiences with guidance from a professor. The research, the projects, and the takeaways are all based on the student.
Kaden shows that he valued the experience of working outside of his major. “My biggest takeaway from this class was that it is cool to try classes that you normally wouldn’t take. I would have never signed up for this class because I have little interest in archival materials, however, now that I’ve taken a course like this, I would consider taking another.”
Melanie strengthened her researching ability. “This class reminded me just how much there is to research from one topic. From this class there have been three or four main branches of research, but then within the groups there are offshoots of additional research. With my community research, I’ve mapped out where members lived, but you could research each person (their lives, which Weathervane plays they performed in, if they performed with other playhouses, etc.), the neighborhoods themselves, and other things. The list goes on and on with what you could look at.”
And Hannah was reminded just how interesting and important doing archival research like this truly is. “My biggest take-away from the class is that archival research is very valuable, but not likely to be easy. You have to be willing to invest time and understand that what you find may lead to more questions than answers at first, but that you are likely to make valuable discoveries
along the way. You never know what treasure awaits.”
It goes to show how valuable these UnClasses are and how varied every student’s experience is with this class style. My biggest takeaway is that, despite the stress of working without many guidelines, I can and will find a way to make a fun and beneficial project using my work. This class has taught us all a lot during this too short of a semester and we hope you have enjoyed
keeping up with all of our work.
If you would like to learn more about our work, please explore the Hower Family Collections and if you ever have a chance, from the “Acting Like a Hower” UnClass, we encourage you to try an UnClass for yourself and experience the excitement for yourself!