December 8, 2015

The Internet: A New Realm of Primary Sources

Professor Alexander Thurston has added a new facet to his course on Christianity in Africa this semester. Through the Global Futures Curriculum Studio program, he has designed a unit on “Engaging African Pentecostals Online” in which students explore the myriad ways African Pentecostal organizations interact with followers on the web.

In his course, Thurston has students examine Christianity in Africa from its origins in missionary proselytizing in the colonial era to its present role in African culture, politics, and society. His students research the Pentecostal movement in Africa using a variety of academic documents and primary print sources.

To enhance students’ understanding of the topic, the fall 2015 class includes a unit looking at Pentecostal institutions in Africa using websites as primary sources, as well as other “media empires” such as television, radio, and social media. Thurston notes that the goal of higher education is to work with primary sources and, as more of these shift online, students need training to develop proper techniques for analyzing sources in this new medium.

The culminating project for students in the unit is drafting mock policy memos advising governments or organizations on how to engage Pentecostal groups online. One of Thurston’s primary goals is to “make the writing we do in higher education more diverse,” and to encourage students to examine the question “How do you engage a group like this?” In their final week, students will explore the broad media empires Pentecostal groups have established through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media. Thurston notes: “I hope we’ll be able to talk not just about websites, but about how all of these media relate to each other.”

Thurston is excited by the new opportunities and perspectives electronic primary sources have opened up for students. “We’re definitely getting into some complicated questions… I think looking at the websites, seeing what these communities are excited about… is good.”

As individuals around the world increasingly communicate using the internet and electronic media, this type of analysis and education only becomes more valuable. Through the Curriculum Studio, Thurston is helping to integrate a powerful new approach to electronic primary sources into the Georgetown curriculum.

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