Putting the “Pop” into Popular History: Pop Culture Videos in the Classroom

Kanye West may not be ready to enter our historical surveys, but there are other pop culture references that deserve more attention.

President Kanye West may never become a reality, but I’d like to think he’d choose a Secretary of Education who’d endorsed creative pedagogy.

Kanye West’s presidential ambitions remind us that American history is full of fun surprises—even if most of them are short-lived and forgettable. Although it’s probably too much of a stretch to make the entertainment of #Kanye2020 relevant to American history—though Donald Trump’s candidacy perhaps proves that nothing is outside the realm of possibility—I do love to find pop culture references and videos and bring relevance to what students might see as staid topics.

I’m declaring this post a judgment-free zone so that I can be frank: I have a tough time keeping the attention of the freshmen students in my undergraduate survey class. But I have found that one thing that works well is video clips, and so I find myself drawing from youtube nearly as much as I do from powerpoint. Luckily, I’m a TV-show junkie, and so I have have a lot of background at my disposal. (Finally a way to justify my Netflix binges!) Indeed, my use of videos in class is one of the constant positives in my students’ evaluations, so I know it’s not just me who enjoys this approach. Continue reading

Digital Pedagogy Roundtable, Part 1: Students’ Access to Sources

This week, The Junto will feature a roundtable on digital pedagogy, in which we discuss our different approaches to using digital sources in the classroom. Today, Rachel Herrmann talks about the challenge of access. Jessica Parr, Joseph Adelman, and Ken Owen will also contribute.

A Wordle made from sources my undergraduates located for our in-class source-finding competition

A Wordle made from sources my undergraduates located for our in-class source-finding competition

Let me preface this post by saying that I’d hesitate to call myself a digital humanist; I don’t code or map or mine texts. As Lincoln Mullen pointed out a while back, however, digital practices exist on a spectrum. There are some things I do for my own research and in the classroom—tweeting, running my department’s social media accounts, using Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to chase up a footnote so as not to use up one of my precious Interlibrary Loan requests, and of course, blogging for The Junto—that digital humanists also do. These approaches have been helpful in my teaching for three problems related to access to sources. Continue reading

Graphic Novels in the Classroom

This week we’ve discussed the graphic novels as historical fiction, the strengths of using graphic novels to discuss fraught material, and complex process of adapting historical research to sequential art. We would like to end our roundtable discussing more broadly the possibilities of using graphic novels in the classroom.

The first strength of graphic novels is their novelty. Assigning works like Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner or Fetter-Vorm and Kelman’s Battle Lines is a surprise to most students. By not being another monograph or set of primary sources, graphic novels shake up a syllabus. This is good for students, who may be interested in exploring a subject in a more unconventional way, and for teachers, for it forces us to reconsider how to teach subjects we may have taught many, many times. This novelty also adds some additional accessibility for students who might be skeptical of reading more traditional assignments. Continue reading

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.]

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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