Toward a Teaching Toolkit

Archival Postcard Close-Up


As a dance scholar, I actually spend a lot of my time thinking about teaching. While I am always interested in new pedagogical perspectives and advancements in classroom technology one of my core interests is in how legacies related to 20th century American dance are shared with students. Specifically, I am concerned with how teaching faculty engage the history of Black/African diaspora performance and aesthetics within that larger context and how the work of Black women dancers is taught. My own experience in teaching in higher education and liaising with others who do the same is that often, the nuances and complexity surrounding Black/African diaspora performance and aesthetics aren’t always thoughtfully engaged or carefully considered. In my experience, this has led to students assuming a perspective that suggests that certain legacies in dance – and even in the study of dance histories – don’t “belong” to communities of color in general or to Black dancers, choreographers and scholars in particular.

It’s been really exciting over the past few months, with my Dunham’s Data colleagues, to dream about what we might include in a teaching toolkit associated with the project. While chief among our concerns was creating a usable resource for educators across various learning contexts, we endeavored to make something that would help faculty and students consider how digital methods may be useful to the study of dance histories. To that end, we are excited to announce that a trial version of the first piece of the Dunham’s Data Teaching Toolkit is available! 

The purpose is to provide instructors with an easy-to-follow, two-part lesson plan, intended to support the following learning objectives:

  • To introduce students to archival research methods common in performance history
  • To introduce students to the international artistic legacy of Katherine Dunham
  • To provide students an opportunity for metacognitive reflection 
  • To foster interest in research at the intersection of dance and digital humanities

This first lesson from the Dunham’s Data teaching toolkit includes an introductory letter to instructors, a lesson plan including writing and discussion prompts, a bibliography for assigned and further readings, and selected archival materials from Southern Illinois University’s Special Collections, and from the Missouri Historical Society. The lesson plan is divided into two sections intended for those working with undergraduate students over the course of two 50-75-minute class sessions. Section I introduces Katherine Dunham and Section II focuses on archival exploration. 

We are especially excited to share this work in progress with our first beta testers who will be teaching during the Winter/Spring 2020 season and giving us substantive feedback with us about their experience with using it. Based on this feedback, we will release a final version of this pilot lesson for the 2020-21 school year.