Learning Lawrence’s history, block by block
In JOUR 302: Infomania, students used effective research strategies to uncover and share the deep and unique history of buildings in downtown Lawrence
Summer 2019 Edition
On the corner of Massachusetts and Eighth streets is Merchants Pub & Plate, a beloved restaurant that has become a staple of downtown Lawrence. However, back in the 1930s, this same location used to be a bank that was robbed by Clyde Barrow from “Bonnie and Clyde.” Farther down Massachusetts Street is a clothing store: Urban Outfitters. In 1870, that store was a residential building for a family physician, John Medlicott. There was a huge case involving Medlicott for committing a double homicide with morphine poisoning. He was found guilty and sentenced to hang, but his conviction was overturned.
Not a lot of people living in or visiting Lawrence may know these historical facts. At least not until the Block-by-Block project came along.
The project was created by Associate Professor Peter Bobkowski in the spring of 2017 for his class JOUR 302: Infomania. In Infomania, students learn how to find out information, use different sources, and evaluate whether the information is credible. Bobkowski was inspired by the One Block feature in New York Magazine and decided to recreate a version of that for his class. The project has been assigned every semester since then.
“A building will have a lot of records related to it — property records, business records, information about companies and individuals,” Bobkowski said. “Taking a building was a really good way to bring a lot of these pieces of information together and have students research them.”
Students are split up into groups and assigned to do research on a building in downtown Lawrence. Students do about half of the research online, and then they have to go out in the field to complete the rest. Bobkowski said that some resources such as city directories, phone books and newspaper clippings are only available as physical records, not online.
“We go to the Spencer Research Library, the Watkins Museum, the public library, and so it gets students out and researching in other places and talking to people who are interested in this type of research,” Bobkowski said.
His students said the class introduced them to a new method of doing research.
“I’m so used to doing all of my research online, so I never realized how valuable it is to go to a library and sift through old newspapers,” said Jordan Arnold, a senior from Lake Quivira, Kansas. “It really helps to paint a picture of what life was like then.”
When Bobkowski started the project, he wanted to find an organization that could provide a public platform for his students’ work. He reached out to Unmistakably Lawrence, the city’s visitor bureau that handles travel and tourism. The organization was interested because it wanted to promote historical tourism in Lawrence. A partnership was born.
Unmistakably Lawrence uses the students’ research on its website, and students get their work and names published on the website. Students also leave Infomania with useful skills that they take into their upper-level classes and professional careers.
Grant Heiman, a junior from Wichita, Kansas, took the class with Bobkowski and was his student assistant. Heiman edited and put together timelines from past students’ projects to be displayed on the Unmistakably Lawrence website.
“Going from having no experience with research to now spending my fourth semester on the project, I’ve gained practical knowledge vital to being a professional journalist,” Heiman said. “It lays the groundwork for research tools that are key for any professional communicator.”
The project was also submitted for a Travel Industry Association of Kansas Marketing award in the “Integrated Campaign” category. Not only did it win first place for Integrated Campaign among “large budget” destinations in Kansas, but it also won “Best in Show” out of all the marketing award entries.
Bobkowski plans on continuing the Block-by-Block project and partnership with Unmistakably Lawrence in his classes. Looking back on it all, Bobkowski is amazed at how far it’s come. “I knew it was a good idea and I was really excited. I couldn’t predict that it would go in this direction, but I’m glad that it has.”
– Angel Tran is a May 2019 graduate from Wichita, Kansas