Partner Spotlight: Villanova University’s Lepage Center for History: “6 Steps to Historical Literacy”

NAMLE had a chance to interview Jason Steinhauer, Director of  Villanova University’s Lepage Center for History, here is what he had to say about The Lepage Center for History and their resource: “6 Steps To Historical Literacy.” 

NAMLE: When did Villanova University’s Lepage Center for History launch and why?

The Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest was established through a generous gift by Mr. Albert Lepage, and officially opened in January 2017. Mr. Lepage and the Villanova history department recognized an opportunity to bring more historical scholarship into contemporary conversations, in the hopes of having history guide decisions by leaders and help create a better society. For the past year and a half we have been working toward that mission.

NAMLE: What does Lepage do? What are its main goals? Main projects?

The Lepage Center seeks to bring historical scholarship and historical perspective to bear on contemporary issues. Topics we have tackled thus far include fake news, endless war, the environment, monument debates, the Middle East and the 50th anniversary of 1968. We do this through a range of programming, including events, briefings, online resources, workshops, fellowships, and our blog. Our goal is to create a greater historical consciousness among elected officials, industry leaders, and the general public.

NAMLE: What can you tell others about your new resource: “6 Steps To Historical Literacy? 

Fake News, false stories, misinformation, propaganda—it’s an important time to reinforce critical thinking skills and remind students and citizens not to accept information at face value.

This includes historical information. Today citizens learn much of their historical information from digital and visual media. Citizens should be able to ask smart historical questions, understand historical context, and recognize when a historical fact is being misrepresented or distorted.

Villanova University’s Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest has created a resource called, “6 Steps To Historical Literacy.” When readers find historical information, a historical statement, or a reference to historical fact in any online media, we encourage them to ask themselves these questions above and think critically about the information they encounter. Issued on the occasion of Media Literacy Week 2017, this resource is being made available as a free download for all educators, students and citizens.

NAMLE: Why is media literacy important to you?

Americans now spend 10 hours per day in front of a screen. For some children and students that number is even higher. We are consuming incredible amounts of media, and a significant percentage of its contents are historical in nature. That has an effect on what we know about the past, what we believe to be true, and how we study history. Historians have an obligation to be a part of these conversations on media literacy, and to ensure that we are continuing to provide historical analysis and perspective in new media forms.

NAMLE: What are the connections between the work of Lepage and media literacy?

So much of what people know about the past is now learned via media: television, documentaries, news media, social media, online searches and websites. As such the notions of media literacy and historical literacy are intricately intertwined. To help media consumers decipher the quality and accuracy of information about the past that they encounter online is absolutely a form of history in the public interest, and connects directly with media literacy. We hope to continue to foster connections with the media literacy community around the topic of historical information in the news and on the Web.

NAMLE: What makes Lepage stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about Lepage?

Our “History Briefings for Business Leaders” bring historians into conversation with the business community, bridging the worlds of academia and industry. It is a unique program that we launched earlier this year. Another unique aspect of the center is our name: we are the only history center dedicated wholly and explicitly to serving the public interest. We take that mandate quite seriously, and working toward the public interest guides all that we do.

We encourage you to visit our website to learn about our programs; check out our blog to read smart analysis by our outstanding scholars; and join our newsletter to stay in touch!

The views and opinions expressed in the Organizational Spotlight blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NAMLE or its members. The purpose of the Organizational Spotlight blog is to highlight our Organizational Partners and give them a place to share their reflections, opinions, and ideas.