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Games, Marvel, and Graphic Narrative Histories: Teaching History Beyond the Textbook and Monograph

Tuesday, April 30, 2024 4:30 pm - 5:30 pm

Panel Discussion


At the same time that calls for non-traditional histories have strengthened in the twenty-first century as social media and digital networking tools have expanded, the Covid-19 pandemic cemented a need for historians to expand our definitions of source material, historiographical methods, and pedagogical techniques in our research and teaching. Demands for more interactive, creative, and interdisciplinary history with digital components have expanded at the same time as calls by conservative politicians for white-washed history have grown louder. Our panel seeks to generate discussion—indeed, active audience participation—on how historians can remain committed to unearthing histories of systemic inequalities, celebrating racial diversity, and challenging white supremacy within a shift towards more accessible history. Can we encourage learning history innovatively, even when, as historian Sam Wineburg argues, it’s already on our phones? (Wineburg, 2018). And if the history we are learning on our phones is “disrupting” the field (Steinhauer, 2021), in what ways is this shaping pedagogy and historiography? Our roundtable offers various perspectives on incorporating graphic, digital, and even entertainment-driven histories into our research through interdisciplinary methods while centering histories of racial injustice and resistance. To begin, both Alyssa Sepinwall and Kera Lovell offer perspectives on pedagogy, showcasing specific examples of assignments in which students are tasked with applying critical analysis to representations of history beyond the textbook. Sepinwall will begin by discussing her senior capstone seminar “Non-Traditional Histories.” She will focus on how she teaches suppressed histories (including slave revolts) using graphic histories, film and video games, and how these formats help students think about the limits of traditional archives and of traditional forms of presenting academic history. Next, Lovell shares their techniques in applying critical race theory to historically-themed board games and graphic histories as a way to target the university’s game design and film majors. The presentation explores the strengths and pitfalls of creative critical thinking, using examples of screenwriting from their women’s history class as well as board game critique experiences from their public history classes. Finally Julian Chambliss bridges the divide between the classroom and the broader public. Chambliss will consider the recent turn toward “diversity” in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, its relationship to racial history and the opportunities afforded by the trans media experience for teaching and learning. Marvel Entertainment has pursued more inclusive depictions of identity. These efforts have met with criticism from the conservative and liberal voices. Nonetheless, while failure(s) define the public discourse, from an educational perspective, these efforts call attention to the ways structural inequality evolves over time, offers moments of revelation and periods of retrenchment. Taken together, we aim for the panel to generate discussion on how we creatively diversify our historical methods in ways that center historically marginalized groups. Sam Wineburg, Why Learn History (When It’s Already on Your Phone) (University of Chicago Press, 2018).

Popular Culture Public History and Memory Teaching and Pedagogy Survey

Session Participants

Dr. Kera Lovell, University of Utah, Asia Campus

Chair; Panelist

Dr. Kera Lovell (any pronouns) is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Utah, Asia Campus where she teaches courses on US history, women’s history, and global citizenship. Lovell earned her PhD in American Studies at Purdue University in 2017 and is currently working on her book project that traces an undocumented method of postwar urban protest in which activists challenged police brutality and urban renewal by insurgently converting vacant lots into parks. This research has been recognized with numerous awards, including being honored as a 2024 Dumbarton Oaks Fellow, as well as awards from the Graham Foundation, the Hoover Institution, and Purdue University’s Research Grant Foundation. You can find their research in a variety of outlets, including Women’s Studies Quarterly, American Studies Journal, Black Perspectives, and Gender Issues.

Dr. Julian Chambliss, Michigan State University


Julian C. Chambliss is a Professor of English and the Val Berryman Curator of History at the MSU Museum at Michigan State University. His research focuses on race, culture, and power in real and imagined spaces. His recent writings on comics have appeared in More Critical Approaches to Comics (2019) and The Ages of Black Panther (2020). His 2021 virtual exhibition, Beyond the Black Panther: Visions of Afrofuturism in American Comics, is available virtually through the MSU Museum. He is co-editor of Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men: Superheroes and the American Experience (2013), and Assembling the Marvel Cinematic Universe: Essays on the Social, Cultural, and Geopolitical Domain (2018). His comics and digital humanities projects include The Graphic Possibilities OER, an open educational resource focused on comics, and Critical Fanscape, a student-centered critical-making project focused on communities connected to comics in the United States. He also serves as faculty lead for Comics as Data North America (CaDNA), an ongoing collaborative project at Michigan State University that uses library catalog data to explore North American comic culture. His comic history exhibitions include Take Off! Comic Artists from the Great White North (2019), Comics and the City (2020), and Justice for All: Social Justice in Comics (2022).

Dr. Alyssa Sepinwall, California State University - San Marcos


Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall is Professor at California State University – San Marcos, and 2023 winner of the CSU-wide Wang Award for Outstanding Teaching Faculty. Sepinwall earned her Ph.D. in History from Stanford University, and specializes in French and Haitian history as well as depictions of history in popular culture. Her writings include the books Slave Revolt on Screen: The Haitian Revolution in Film and Video Games (Mississippi, 2021); The Abbé Grégoire and the French Revolution: The Making of Modern Universalism (UC Press, 2005) and Haitian History: New Perspectives (Routledge, 2012).