by editor Phillippa Pitts

This year I kicked off a new project instead of pretending to have a New Year’s Resolution. Starting 2014 was like stepping onto a roller coaster anyway: finishing up at Tufts this spring and off to who knows where in a few short months! So, like so many of us, I started a blog.

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The blog is called The Tertiary Source Project. It’s an idea that sprung out of a semester-long Proseminar project. I was working on late 19th century and early 20th century postcards and their depictions of my favorite subject — war. (Not joking, I really do specialize in the intersection of art history and war.) I expected to find myself immersed in the visual language of the time. However what emerged as the really interesting theme were the thousands of miniature histories that these cards told.

They were snapshots by people with limited information about their present and only guesses, fears, hopes, and dreams about the future. To read them, you’d think that World War One would end in 1915 (it ended in late 1918). “Never forget” was emblazoned across images of a swooning Edith Cavell, who the world has forgotten. Suddenly the fifth-grade concept of primary and secondary sources flared to life with a passion I had never felt for it as a child.

What occurred to me, as I was building up my object labels, exhibit design, and lesson plans, was that I was functioning as more than a secondary source. I wasn’t just synthesizing information, I was creating the atmosphere, framing the questions, providing the stimuli and orchestrating the event. In a book, one can select information and craft the story, play with weight and font. But it’s nothing like the impact of a phyiscal or virtual exhibit. And that ability to framing the question, framed the discussion itself. As something a step removed from a secondary source, I playfully dubbed myself a tertiary source.

As a busy technologist, it didn’t take long for the idea to spiral. How often was I, in building the shells for secondary sources, acting as a tertiary source: imposing my choice of limitations, viewpoints, and information. Where does one turn for best practices in such things?

I’ve found a number of interesting blogs, a few great books, and some key thinkers to follow. But what really emerged as an answer was reflection and mindfulness. If we get into the habit of questioning, challenging, and brainstorming our tertiary sources then at least we give ourselves the opportunity to see and choose how we are impacting our message.

Classes at Tufts have been a great opportunity to have these discussions and to hammer home how much our peers can contribute. The interdisciplinary and diverse community was a major reason I came to this program in the first place! This blog has been a great place to continue these discussions, with our growing cohort of alumni and student columnists and readers. So I hope anyone interested will challenge and engage me, because that dialogue is exactly what makes us better at what we do!