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.

Continue reading

Skype in the Classroom: Applications for the History Classroom

skype-logo-open-graphDepending on whom you ask, the introduction of technology into the classroom is either a blessing or a curse. The proliferation of technology has provoked some good discussions, in addition to expletives involving use (abuse?) of Powerpoint slides in lecture. For one senior (non-UNH) colleague, who shall remain nameless, the mere mention of the word “Powerpoint” is akin to a bell ring for Pavlov’s dog, though with incarnadine face and froth at the mouth the outcome rather than drooling. Continue reading

Columbus Day video roundup

Pocahontas screenshotWe’ve covered Columbus Day here at the blog before. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to distill academic rage and indignation into something short, pithy, and easily conveyed to undergraduates. I tend to resort to YouTube clips when I’m feeling particularly shouty. So I’d like to issue a call: what videos do you use to teach Columbus Day (or other prickly issues)? Please include a link and a short description of the video + how you use it. Continue reading

Object Lessons

Iron Yoke Slave Collar John A. Andrew Artifact Collection, MHS

Iron Yoke Slave Collar
John A. Andrew Artifact Collection, MHS

Questions first ignited in a comprehensive exam room have an electric way of rippling through your whole career, whether you’re teaching in a university classroom and/or in the realms of public history. Take, for example, a standard query about nineteenth-century material culture: How would you tell a history of the American Civil War in five objects?

Continue reading

Guest Post: The Value of Storytelling

We’re thrilled to welcome as our latest guest poster, Casey Schmitt. Casey is a PhD candidate in History at the College of William & Mary, where she is writing a dissertation on the Iberian roots of seventeenth-century Anglo-American slave law under the supervision of Brett Rushforth. Casey holds an MA in history from the University of Utah, where she wrote an excellent thesis on the British Asiento, illicit trade, and the limits of empire in the eighteenth-century Caribbean. Her teaching and research interests center on the inter-imperial nature of the early modern Americas.

As a newly-minted ABD embarking on my first stab at teaching the early American history survey, I find myself buried beneath my own excitement for the material. No one warned me that the biggest obstacle to designing a course would be curbing my own unrelenting enthusiasm. Perhaps no part of that enthusiasm has proven more damaging to my syllabus than my passion for storytelling. Specifically, I approached teaching the early America survey with a litany of historical works of fiction and non-fiction that I wanted to familiarize undergraduates with: 12 Years a Slave, Benito Cereno, Poor Richard’s Almanac, Letters From an American Farmer, among many, many other titles. Before too long I was looking at a weekly reading word count over 150 pages. Yikes. Continue reading