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U Michigan-Flint Taps Local Makerspace for Learning History

The University of Michigan-Flint Department of History has purchased 15 passes for Factory Two, a makerspace facility a 10-minute walk from campus, that will allow students to go in and use the space's resources for their projects.

The makerspace includes a darkroom, a metal shop, a blacksmithing forge, laser and vinyl cutters, a soldering workbench and 3D, textile and flatstock printing. To gain access to the tools and work space, participants must first take how-to sessions to be able to check out the equipment.

U Michigan-Flint student Andleeb Baig pounds a rivet into existence the old-fashioned way. Source: University of Michigan-Flint.

U Michigan-Flint student Andleeb Baig pounds a rivet into existence the old-fashioned way. Source: University of Michigan-Flint.

The idea was kicked off by History Associate Professor Thomas Henthorn, who teaches a class that uses the Factory Two forge to allow students to learn blacksmithing firsthand. Those students learned how to use a hearth and an anvil and how to make tools such as rivets, spoons and s-shaped hooks.

"The blacksmithing is part of a unit on craft demonstrations and open air museums," Henthorn said in a campus article. "Students had to research and write a short paper on blacksmiths and their role in pre-industrial economies. They gave a presentation on blacksmithing skills that combined craft demonstration and the content of their research paper."

Henthorn is specifically the Wyatt Endowed Professor of Public History, a chair dedicated, he explained, to civic engagement through experiential learning and public history. And nothing says engagement more than the maker movement, he observed in a video about the use of the forge. "Community is the defining element of the maker movement, and as communities, makerspaces exemplify coworking, collaboration, teaching, learning and an open sharing of ideas."

Student Tabitha Robinson said that learning the ins and outs of blacksmithing added another layer to her education. "You almost get to a different reality," she said. "You can imagine more what the theorists were talking about. You are seeing it in real life."

She added that she could envision the makerspace being valuable for student groups who needed space to meet, make t-shirts, or use the equipment in some other way. "Factory Two is a nice, easy and local way to do it."

Funded through a university grant, the 48-hour passes are being managed by the main library's circulation desk and, depending on the project, can cover multiple people under a single pass. 

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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