I’d Like to Teach Students About, Some Teleology

If only Don had read Hofstadter on the paranoid style.

Like many of my friends, I’ve spent the past few weeks anxiously awaiting the series finale of Mad Men. I started watching a bit late, but caught up, and eagerly watched each week in April and May to find out how show creator Matthew Weiner would leave the stories of the main characters. And in the past few days, I’ve been mulling over the finale and in particular how it ended. Then yesterday, I realized that the finale of a beloved TV series actually has quite a bit to tell us (and possibly our students) about the omnipresent specter of teleology in the study of the past. [NOTE: Spoilers ahead, just in case.]

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When the Old is New

Sometime in the 1990s, NBC decided to promote its usual lineup of summer reruns with the tag line, “if you haven’t seen it, it’s new to you!” I’ve thought about that line occasionally since I started grad school, and came to it again this week as I’m working on syllabi (including, yes, a belated book order) for the fall semester. The problem I’m facing is a familiar one: how to balance the desire to engage in discussions of the newest work on a given topic—in this case the American Revolution—with the fact that they haven’t yet encountered some of the classic arguments.

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Teaching the Historiographical Intervention

HistoriographyLast year, my university shifted its policy on assignments, meaning that faculty members suddenly got the option to change extant assignments, make new ones, and alter the weighting of any of them. This was a big transition, given that in previous years assignments were set by the department and students in each of our three class years could expect similar assignments in their courses. As a result, I’ve been playing around with assignments of zero or very little weight to try to prepare students—especially first year students—for the sometimes daunting task of the final essay assignment. Whereas before there was one low-weighted writing assignment before the final essay was due, I now have the low-weighted writing assignment (it’s half the length it was in previous years), an unassessed research proposal, and an annotated bibliography worth 10%. I want to talk about one of the problems with this last assignment. Continue reading

Guest Post: Barton Price on Academic Support in the Survey Course

Today’s guest post comes from Barton Price. Barton is the Director of the Centers for Academic Success and Achievement at Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). He has taught courses in American history, religious studies, and history of rock and roll at IPFW. Price has a Ph.D. in American religious history from Florida State University. His research interests vary from religion in the American heartland to the scholarship of teaching and learning in religious studies and history. Here he offers some thoughts on teaching the U.S. History survey course gleaned from his administrative experience in an academic support center.

Price BartonThe start of another semester is upon us. It is a new opportunity to teach students about America’s past, to correct longstanding inaccurate assumptions about that past, and to introduce students to the ways of thinking like a historian. It is also an opportunity to foster student academic success. The introductory survey course is a venue for such accomplishments. Continue reading

Teaching Hipster History: Ending the Semester on an Ironic Note

Hipster GWConclusions are hard, I find, and no less so in teaching than in writing. Both at the end of a book and at the end of a course, really great endings add a bit of spice—something just new or unexpected enough to cast what’s come before in a different light, something that makes it exciting to reflect back across the material you’ve just learned.

I aim for student-driven discussions, and at semester’s end in previous seminars and discussion sections, I’ve struggled to coax students into producing the final chord that resonates in all registers of a course’s architecture. I’ve had students free-write (and then discuss) to summarize, as succinctly as possible, the change over time they’ve learned about in the course, and I’ve asked students to identify what one idea from the class they hope they’ll remember forty years from now. Both exercises have produced good-enough results. But since they didn’t ask students to see the courses’ material anew in any way, I’ve found myself wanting more.

But my students’ final discussion this semester was so invigorating that I just had to write a blog post about it. Continue reading

The Value of Storytelling: Recap

SABFAB9780615With just days left in the semester and students scrambling to finish papers and prepare for exams, I thought it would be a perfect time to reflect on an idea I raised in my first post here at The Junto. Back in September, I declared my intentions to assign the Librivox.org recording of Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno. The prospects of assigning audio content in a classroom situation seemed the ideal solution to unrealistic weekly reading word counts while doing to double duty of engaging students in early American history through storytelling. And then I got cold feet. Could I really make it mandatory for 37 students to sit back and listen to several hours worth of recordings simply for the pedagogical payoff of connecting them in a more real way to the nineteenth-century world inhabited by the slave ship Tryal and Captain Amasa Delano? As the semester wore on, and more and more students realized how long the recordings would take to listen to, my trepidation only increased. Continue reading

Guest Post: Teaching Toilets in an Age of American Ebola

K.A. Woytonik is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at the University of New Hampshire. In 2013-2014, she was a Research Associate at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. Her dissertation is a cultural history of the Pennsylvania Hospital in Early Republic Philadelphia.

PennsylvaniaHospitalWilliamStrickland-1A bevy of esteemed scholars across fields have established the devastating effects of early modern epidemics, from Europe’s plagues to the decimation of Native American populations in North America. Epidemics occupied the minds of colonists, who, depending on region and demographics, participated in prevention strategies including quarantine, the destruction of soiled linens belonging to sick individuals, days of fasting and prayer, and immunity-building efforts such as inoculation and changes in diet. In today’s academy, epidemics offer historians avenues of interdisciplinary discussion, as the impact of contagious disease can be read not only in the archive, but in literature, in artwork, and in archaeological findings.

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