That moment in the semester had arrived. You know the one: the point at which, having received their grades from the first assignment of the term, students were beginning to panic about their final writing tasks. Even though I, as a historian, write quite a bit, I sometimes find it hard to teach writing because it’s difficult to articulate the rules I inherently know. I also think that it can be tricky to teach in an engaging way. Because I can be a competitive person, I decided to teach my first-year students about writing through a contest of sorts. Continue reading
I am currently in the midst of grading midterms and the process, as well as a recent piece by Marc Bousquet at CHE, has gotten me thinking about undergraduate writing and the debate of its value kicked off by Rebecca Schuman’s piece, “The End of the College Essay,” in Slate back in December. I want to use my post today to lay out some thoughts I have been having about undergraduate writing in lieu of the debate these articles have occasioned. Continue reading
I don’t know about you, but my Twitter and Facebook feeds are overflowing with updates on how many schools, universities, and day care centers are closed today as the latest round of winter weather works its way up the East Coast. But some are open, with professors in the classroom trying to make headway on syllabi that are rapidly becoming useless as guides.
A recent conversation with Joe, Ken, and Michelle Moravec has me thinking about ways to use local history in a US survey course. Right now, Michelle and I have it easy; we’re both teaching in greater Philadelphia. It doesn’t take a lot of creativity to find ways to call out local attractions in class. (I can even display a map showing my campus smack in the middle of the Battle of Germantown.) But what about local history in general? How can we demonstrate that history is experienced in particular places, and that every place, at least potentially, has a history?
“Without Contraries there is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion,
Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.
Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing
from Energy. Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.”
-William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
I doubt that the mercurial poet William Blake had American historiography on his mind when he penned these famous lines from his most famous poem, but I am going to use them for such a purpose anyhow. And who knows—Blake was indeed known as a visionary. Continue reading
January has been a busy month for many of us here at The Junto, and we’re sure for many of our readers, as we have been preparing for the semester about to begin (except, of course, for Rachel, who will be grading first-term exams for weeks to come). Over the thirteen months the blog has been active, we’ve actually now written quite a few posts on teaching and pedagogy, and we’d like to point out a few highlights as you prepare your syllabi and first weeks of classes.
Primary sources form an important part of the assignments for any of my undergraduate classes. As with any set readings, some of these sources work more successfully than others. One source that has proven reliably successful is Henry Drax’s instructions on running a sugar plantation in seventeenth-century Barbados. Back in my graduate student days, I prepared an initial transcription of the instructions as a research assistant. Thankfully, my students don’t have to grapple with some of the more eccentric approaches to handwriting in the original copy, and can instead read the 2009 William and Mary Quarterly ”Sources and Interpretations” piece written by Peter Thompson. 
This week Framingham State University held its annual faculty professional development day (known on campus by its chronological moniker, January Day). As part of the day, I and a colleague in the English department put together a session on using social media in the classroom. What follows is an approximation of my half of the discussion, which focused on using blogs in a classroom setting. With the semester looming for almost everyone (though not, apparently, Rachel), it’s a good time to think about course syllabi, readings, and assignments. These sessions are aimed broadly at generating discussion among the faculty across disciplines about pedagogy, so I tried less to talk about how innovative I am (in some ways, not in others) but rather to provide a narrative of my experiences and raise a few questions.
I am still learning how things work in England. Prime example: a couple of months back, I referred to the place where one purchases delicious, delicious beer-battered cod and fries as a “fish and chippery” before a kind(?) soul on Twitter alerted me to the fact that it’s called a “chippy,” here. So perhaps it’s understandable that I still find it a little weird that my students are about to take their final exams. Continue reading
I think it’s important for historians to try to make connections with the present, not only because it more thoroughly engages students, but also because the past is not static. I haven’t always been great at explicitly drawing these parallels, but when the first day of the U.S. government shutdown coincided with my first Revolutionary America class, I sort of lost it. I thought to myself, “I have to go into class prepared to talk about how people in thirteen disparate colonies—some of whom disliked each other immensely—managed to get it together enough to rebel against Great Britain?” It’s no wonder I ended up showing a pop music video and comparing the Revolution to the bad breakup of a dysfunctional relationship. I assume that a teensy bit of pandering to students’ tastes didn’t hurt, either. Continue reading