Cara Caputo and “Tuberculosis Times”

We’ve highlighted faculty who require digital media assignments, but we also want to bring attention to the awesome work Marquette students do for these assignments. By showcasing our student’s creativity, you can see the different ways digital media can be used in the classroom and what students can learn from using it.

Cara Caputo is a sophomore who is double-majoring in History and Anthropology while minoring in Public History. Her degrees set her up for working in museums, where digital media is also playing a role in both art and curating. Her project, “In Times of Tuberculosis,” was created for Dr. Lezlie Knox’s “Black Death” history course. The assignment was to pick a disease that had impacted society in a particular historical time; research the topic; pick a digital tool to convey the information the student has researched and their argument; and, lastly, write a short paper that explains the argument, the sources used, and reflections on using digital media. Cara picked tuberculosis in the nineteenth century and Wordpress for the digital tool. Trying to decide between the two most popular platforms, Wordpress and Weebly, she met with Elizabeth Gibes who showed her the basics of each. Ultimately, she picked Wordpress, because “it looked more clean and professional and easier to separate subpages, therefore separating my argument.” So what was the problem with Weebly? “I didn’t like the drag and drop options, but it is nice that you can see what it looks like before you publish, unlike Wordpress.” Using Wordpress to write up her research and argument would have been enough, but Cara went further and decided to add some social media into her project.

Cara’s Wordpress Homepage

Wanting to show the reader how TB affected all aspects of life, Cara’s idea was to create a “lifestyle blog.” The blog focuses on the intersection between the spread of the disease and the “tubercular aesthetic,” the appearance of the diseased person. The pale and deathly thin appearance of women in particular became a fashionable look. To help highlight the intersection, Cara created an Instagram account for “high fashion” and a Twitter account for news on the spreading and possible cures of the disease. Using Instagram for a school assignment wasn’t actually a new idea for Cara: “I made an Instagram account for a high school History class on absolutism. I made accounts for Louis XIV, Suleiman the Magnificent, and Peter the Great. They got a certain number of likes based on the population of where they ruled and comments from advisors. It’s a cool way of showing all forms of research.” The photos from the Instagram account came a book containing photos and etchings from Harper’s Bazaar issues of the time. The news on Twitter came from the digitized London Times. “One problem with that was the links were from the library databases, so only those with Marquette accounts could see the articles,” Cara explained. While that can be an issue for making her site public, for the purposes of her class and assignment, this wasn’t a problem.

The Instagram account for Cara’s research: Tuberculosistrends

This project wasn’t even the first digital media assignment Cara did for Marquette. She was in the joint Theology and English honor’s classes with Dr. Deirdre Dempsey and Dr. Amelia Zurcher (check out our blog on Dr. Dempsey). For the class, Cara made two videos using iMovie and narration, so she’s worked on a few different digital media platforms in her two years at Marquette. I asked her how doing a digital project changes the ways in which she thinks and learns. She said, “It taught me how to be more concise about my research findings. I’m usually long winded and roundabout in my papers. When using digital media, you can’t use a lot of text. It’s not appealing and it’s not what the audience wants or expects to see. It also allowed me to use more visual aspects: photos, paintings, etchings, etc. In a typical research paper, you can only describe the visual. Here, I could make it the focus.” Cara is currently in Dr. Patrick Mullins’ “Applied History” course where she and her classmates have to create a companion website for Milwaukee County Historical Society’s exhibit titled, “Melodies and Memories: 200 Years of Milwaukee Music.” The students have met with Ms. Gibes and Raynor Library’s Archives and Special Collections “about the best ways to present the information and artifacts within the exhibit in a digital format on our website.” Cara seems to really enjoy being able to be creative with her research findings. She said that such assignments should be incorporated more into classes. “Everything is digital to us now and disciplines need to keep up with it. It teaches you to think creatively. We can use websites to communicate things you can’t in a paper.”