History professor creates Victorian peep show project

Photo by Emi Zibaei

Amy Milne-Smith, a history professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, has created an innovative project using marshmallow Peeps in order to depict 19th century Victorian scandals.

“The Peeps are just a way to engage with the historical material without having to have artistic ability,” Milne-Smith said.

“I didn’t want them to waste time — making elaborate art displays — I’m more interested in them doing research about their topics.”

“The marshmallow Peeps are cheap and they’re silly,” Milne-Smith said.

“It’s a third-year history course called Crime, Sex and Scandal in Victorian England.”

“It’s a course that’s open to third-year [history] majors and non-majors, which is another benefit of doing a non-traditional assignment, because doing a research essay with no preparation might be daunting. I’ve always had the project and the course always does fill, the project is often not an attraction but is put off when they first hear about it because it’s more than anticipated because there is art involved,” Milne-Smith said.

The Peep-show is just one part of a multi-stage assignment. Over the years, an interactive online portion of the assignment was using a blog post, an addition that made the project more dynamic and interactive.

“Over the course of the year [students] work on the same project, which is investigating one crime and scandalous event,” she said.

“[The students] start by writing a blog post and they post on a website where you learn how to sum up a case briefly and in an engaging way.”

“[Students] also learned with this portion of the assignment with working with WordPress, blogs and present their research online which is a really useful skill going forward for our grads.”

There is no prerequisite for taking the course. Milne-Smith has had students from various disciplines participate. It is designed for individuals who want to learn the content.

“I know this past year I have had students from history which you would expect and English and [communication studies] students,” she said.

“I do design [the course] to make [it accessible] to anyone who is interested in learning about the Victorians and their rather strange ways,” Milne-Smith said.

The course itself has ultimately opened the eyes of those who took the course. In the Victorian era, they had their own version of a celebrity press which depicted various scandalous events happening in that era.

“[Students] get an insight into what makes the Victorian era unique and not so boring.”

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