Culturally Responsive Teaching, Innovation, and Public Humanities

Photos from the Digital Delano Project

By Oliver A. Rosales

When I was first hired at the Bakersfield College Delano Campus in 2012, I had never actually spent much time in Delano.  As an alumni of Garces High School (Class of ‘98, Go Rams!), I recall visiting Delano as the local high school was on our regular football schedule in the then South Sequoia League.  Between 2005-2012, I completed my PhD in History at UC Santa Barbara, where during the doctoral research phase, I traveled across the country to multiple archives researching California labor and civil rights history.  When I approached the ABD Phase (All But Dissertation), I began presenting my work at academic conferences and attending sessions of other scholars working in the field of U.S. labor and civil rights history.  When the chance to work at the Bakersfield College campus opened up, I was excited because Delano had always been a recurring topic of conversation among scholars doing work on California labor and civil rights.  The legacy of César Chávez and the farm worker movement looms large in Delano and across the San Joaquin Valley; anyone studying Latino history in the twentieth century knows about Delano’s legacy.  After landing the job, I was excited to jump into teaching various history courses focused on the twentieth century, where I could align local history and oral history methods to illustrate to my students that “history is all around them,” often times within their homes or the collective memories of their families.

To somewhat of a surprise, many of my students knew very little about the history of the farm worker movement.  Many of my students, while their families may come from migrant agricultural backgrounds, stem from families of more recent immigrants from the 1980s forward, after the heyday of the farm worker movement had passed.  Still, in Delano, many of my students attended César Chávez High School or Robert Kennedy High School, not realizing that the naming of their school was a direct reflection of the history that occurred within their hometown.

For nearly a decade then I’ve practiced oral history methods with my students.  The design of these assignments has been a culturally responsive approach that taps into the rich histories of agricultural, labor, and migration within student families; historical themes so commonplace to my students regardless of racial, ethnic, or cultural background.  After practicing this method for a few years, however, I began to realize that more could be done in helping address a systemic problem within the region faced by students, a lack of traditional archives. 

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 2017 funded Digital Delano: Preserving an International Community’s History.  Part of their common heritage series, the grant was focused on expanding digitization efforts in rural underserved communities.  Through that program, Elizabeth Sundby (Delano Campus librarian) and I hosted a series of public events featuring writers and cultural stakeholder groups invested in preserving the history of international migration in Delano.  At these events, aside from creating a public humanities learning opportunity, we hosted digitization events where the public could digitize family historical artifacts.  This was a first step in creating the Digital Delano archive, which we have continuously grown since the grant was implemented. 

Digital Delano served as a spring board for subsequent grant opportunities.  From 2017-2020, Professors Andrew Bond (English) and Josh Ottum (Music) and I co-directed the NEH grant Energizing the Humanities which provided a three year interdisciplinary humanities program for faculty focused on the San Joaquin Valley.  Over 30 faculty participated in the program, having a chance to read and meet authors from diverse interdisciplinary perspectives all invested in writing about California’s Central Valley.  In 2021, the NEH awarded $190,000 to CSU Bakersfield for a Landmarks in American History grant, which will fund 72 teachers from across the United States to have a resident learning experience in Summer 2023 and visit local historical landmarks associated with California farm labor history.  As co-director and lead author for that grant, the ideas generated for the project stem directly from the oral history practices I’ve done at the BC Delano campus for a decade. 

I find my own learning is continuously advanced by embracing culturally responsive teaching in Delano.  I’ve become fascinated by the use of ArcGIS and geospatial technologies and its capacity not only to create new forms of digital archives, but also how technology can be used to visually map communities in new ways.  The intersection of the work I’ve done in Delano and ArcGIS technologies informs my approach to the Whiting Foundation’s Public Engagement fellowship.  This $50,000 grant is currently funding my professional development with ArcGIS technology, as well as providing teacher professional development and public humanities programming in the spring of 2023 related to local landmark sites in the San Joaquin Valley.  I am thankful to my students in Delano for enthusiastically engaging the history of their local communities, as well as to the Bakersfield College and Kern Community College District administration for always supporting faculty innovation.  I am hopeful readers of this blog will consider attending public humanities programs next semester, as well as embracing culturally responsive teaching and innovation in their own classrooms.  There are many opportunities for faculty to be a bridge between student learning, innovation, and stakeholder groups interested in improving educational outcomes across the Kern Community College District.


Author Bio

Oliver A. Rosales, Professor of History and former Faculty Coordinator of the Social Justice Institute at Bakersfield College, earned a B.A. in History at the University of California, Berkeley, M.A. in History at California State University, Bakersfield, and a Ph.D. in History at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is also a former Visiting Faculty at the Bard College Master of Arts in Teaching Program and Visiting Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Studies at Harvard University. He is contributor to The Chicano Movement: Perspectives from the Twenty-First Century; Civil Rights and Beyond: African American and Latino/a Activism in the Twentieth Century United States; and The Journal of the West. He served on the Nominating Board of the Organization of American Historians and is Board Chair with California Humanities.

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