Teaching with Databases: An Early American Atlanticist’s Conundrum

SourcesDuring my three years of teaching in England, it’s become apparent that students in my American history classes spend a lot of time worrying about access to primary sources. As an undergraduate myself, I knew that upper-level assessment turns on the ability to find and analyze primary sources—that stipulation is no different in this country. What’s clear, however, is that whereas as an undergraduate I could go to the stacks and wander around until I had a pile of travel narratives, diaries, and monograph reproductions related to early American Atlantic history, that’s not necessarily the case here for students taking classes on early American history, Native American history, the Atlantic world, slavery, trade, and colonization. The costs of a Readex subscription, just for example, are too expensive for the library to justify when most students aren’t going to research early American newspapers. As a result, I’ve had to think hard about how to ease students’ worries about locating sources. Continue reading

“Early America” in The Open Syllabus Project

Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 9.39.43 AMThe Open Syllabus Project (@opensyllabus) has collected “over 1 million syllabi” in the hopes of determining “how often texts are taught” and “what’s taught with what.” They hope their project will provide “a promising means of exploring the history of fields, curricular change, and differences in teaching across institutions, states, and countries.” The OSP has released a beta version of their “Syllabus Explorer,” which “makes curricula visible and navigable in ways that we think can become valuable to authors, teachers, researchers, administrators, publishers, and students.” Intrigued that the project claims to have catalogued the assigned readings from 460,760 History syllabi, I went through the list to find the most assigned works of early American history. Continue reading

Can Class Participation Be Taught?

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Class participation has bothered me since I graded a set of midterm exams from my first solo-taught course. As I sat down to read through those signature blue books, I felt anxious about how my students would perform. Had they learned anything? Did the lectures thus far sink in at all? To gauge the potential quality of the exams, I scanned through some of the responses of my “better” students and felt fairly confident grading the rest.

At the end of the stack, however, I came across an exam that has stuck with me. The student in question had me worried all semester. Not only did this student refuse to participate in class discussions but she frequently looked irritated whenever I asked the class a question that wasn’t rhetorical. Continue reading

Teaching History Without Chronology

Most history courses follow a relatively simple formula: take a geographic space X, select a time span from A to B, add topics, and you’ve got yourself a course. It varies, of course, but works for both introductory courses, where you might survey the political, social, and cultural development of the people living in a geographic area, to upper-level courses with topical focuses. As a field whose primary concern is change over time, that formula makes sense. That consistency also means that students expect it from their high school and college history courses. And how else would you organize a history course?

I found out last semester.

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The Revolution Will Be Live-Tweeted

KillingStampAs many of our readers already know, this fall has marked the 250th anniversary since the protests against the Stamp Act, one of the earliest major actions of the imperial crisis that resulted in the American Revolution. Over the course of a year—from the first arrival of the Act in May 1765 until news of its repeal arrived in May 1766—colonists in the “thirteen original” colonies (as well as the “other thirteen”) passed resolutions, argued in essays, marched in the streets, forced resignations, and otherwise made clear their displeasure with paying a tax on their printed goods.

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Early America Comic Con: Drawing the American Revolution

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Chan Lowe/Tribune Content Agency

“Welders make more money than philosophers,” Marco Rubio said in a recent G.O.P. debate. “We need more welders and less philosophers,” he continued, proudly. It was a decent line from the presidential hopeful. But not long after these words echoed around the Milwaukee Theatre, it was shown to be a somewhat clumsy statement, not least when seen alongside figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (comparative wages: philosophers & welders). Thus over the days following Rubio’s line, it was caricatured, with one cartoonist picking up on Rubio’s wording. This G.O.P. presidential candidate is not alone: All of the 2016 presidential candidates, Democrat and Republican, have been caricatured. So, too, are their worldwide equivalents on a regular basis. Continue reading

The Wandering Essay: A Lesson Plan for Teaching Writing

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Image by Zazzle.com

Before I even started teaching I knew that one of the most difficult parts of the job would be teaching writing. It’s not that I consider myself a great writer; I know I’m prone to tangents, and I’ve never met a dash, comma, or semi-colon I didn’t want to use. It’s just that I find writing pretty intuitive. For informal pieces like this one, I tend to write the way that I talk, and for more structured academic writing my first drafts are pretty crappy—but they get written and then ironed out in my editing process. The takeaway here is that I’ve had to think hard about how to teach writing because the process of writing isn’t really one that I had to articulate before I had students. Knowing that many of you are almost ready to collect first essay assignments, I thought I’d talk a bit today about how we teach writing to students. My Wandering Essay lesson plan is one of the meanest, most productive approaches I’ve used because it makes clear the fact that writing is a process. Here’s how you do it: Continue reading