A MOOC Confession

Peter Onuf rides into MOOCland

Peter Onuf rides into the world of MOOCs

I have a confession to make. I have been watching some MOOCs. I feel guilty about it, honestly, I do—not so much about the fact that I have been watching them, but more about the fact that I have also been enjoying them.

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Throw John Smith Off Ship

Spring is in the air in Southern California! Well, to be fair, this isn’t usual: it always smells like flowers in Los Angeles (when it doesn’t smell like poisonous smog or wildfire smoke), but recent much needed rain has definitely made the city seem more verdant. My students are sunken-eyed and groggy from midterms, but spring break is just around the corner. What better time to take stock of how a new course is going?

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The Great Writing and Editing Extravaganza of 2013

Writing extravaganzaThat 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

On Undergraduate Writing

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

Learning While Distracted

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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.

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Using Local History in the Survey: City Streets

digitalmapsofphillyrecent 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?

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Using Contraries in the Classroom: Thoughts on Choosing Reading Assignments

“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

As the Semester Looms

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.

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Teaching Through Primary Sources: Henry Drax’s Plantation Instructions

draxhallPrimary 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. [1]

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