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

A Tale of the Classroom: Introducing Richard Dunn’s Book to Undergraduates

Dunn Roundtable CoverRichard Dunn has written a big book. Normally, big books like Dunn’s are primarily meant for fellow academics, grad students who need to pad their comps list, and the super-interested general public. (That category still exists, right? Right?) For academics, these types of books influence two aspects of our scholarly life: our own academic projects and our classroom instruction. The previous participants in the roundtable have focused on A Tale of Two Plantations’s contribution to the former category, while I would like to focus my remarks on the latter. So I am going to skip the basic parameters of a book review—namely, identifying the key arguments and weaknesses of the volume—and focus on how this book can work with undergraduate students.  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

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