Guest Post: A (Pedagogically, Geographically, Historiographically) Vast Native History Course

 

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 7.04.48 PM.pngToday is the first day of Native American Heritage Month, and our guest post comes from Jessica Taylor, Assistant Professor of Oral and Public History, and Edward Polanco, Assistant Professor of Latin American History, both at Virginia Tech. A graduate of the College of William and Mary, Taylor is currently working on her first book manuscript, which examines Native landscape in the colonial Chesapeake. Polanco is a graduate of the University of Arizona, and his current book manuscript examines 16th- and 17th-century Nahua healing ritual specialists in Central Mexico. The following are keys to success identified by Taylor and Polanco in their development of a course on Native History at Virginia Tech.

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 7.05.00 PM.pngWorking through the first course proposal at a tenure-track job is intimidating, and more so when the topic is as enormous and fraught as “Native History.” To develop this course with care, we sought input and advice on and off campus as the process unfolded. These thoughts originated in a meeting between Virginia Tech’s Native students’ group, Native@VT, the American Indian and Indigenous Community Center on campus, and the Department of History. We wanted to share some of our ideas and strategies as we continue to develop our Native History class and advocate for a more visible Native presence on campus. This has put our Department’s and University’s commitment to diversity into action.

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“The Prospect and the Rarities,” a Case for the Early National Garden

“The Prospect and the Rarities,” a Case for the Early National Garden

In 1714, Louis XIV of France obtained a coffee plant from officials in Amsterdam.  The plant’s lineage as a direct descendant of the original tree in Java conveyed key elements of monarchical authority:  the demonstration of the king’s unique access to overseas specimens and his central position in the webs of information, exchange, and power.[1]  That spectacle of cosmopolitanism was on display in the palace garden and by extension the scientific garden established in Paris, the Jardin Royal des Plantes.  Construction of the Jardin Royal des Plantes was proposed by the king’s botanist and doctor, Jean Hérouard, and it streamlined the scientific, medicinal, and economic aims of empire that were prominent among European sovereigns.

My years of thinking about the place of commodities like coffee, sugar, and cotton within production and distribution chains meant that the garden, as both a universal and recognizable form, appeared again and again.  Over time, I’ve come across various kinds of gardens large and small, and I’ve often wondered about their usefulness in serving as an aid to learning, discovery, and as historical case studies. Though generally humble spaces, they hold out possibilities for looking at cultural tales, national flavors, and the circuits of consumption for the early national period of American history. Continue reading

Guest Post: Writing Alongside Your Students

Return guest poster Mairin Odle is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at the University of Alabama. She is currently writing a book, Skin Deep: Tattoos, Scalps, and the Contested Language of Bodies in Early America.

A few years ago, I was designing a new course, one that would fulfill a writing distribution requirement at my university. I knew I wanted to find ways to engage the class with the creative aspects of writing, not just the mechanics; I wanted to show my students how ideas develop, how revisions matter, and how classrooms could be collaborative spaces where we collectively care about our work rather than churn out assignments. So on the first day of class, I promised them (perhaps rashly) that I would write a final essay alongside them. Continue reading

Assigning the Unessay in the U.S. Survey

For the past several semesters, I’ve offered students in my US History to 1877 survey the option of completing an “unessay” in place of a traditional research paper. Like almost all of my pedagogical innovations, the “unessay” was borrowed and adapted from someone else. Emily Suzanne Clark introduced me to the concept of the unessay in a January 2016 post at Religion in American History (a more detailed description of the assignment is available here). As Emily notes, she in turn borrowed and adapted the idea from Ryan Cordell, who borrowed and modified it from Michael Ullyot and Daniel Paul O’Donnell. The core aim of the assignment is to free students from the constraints of the traditional essay and to spur them to think, research, and write (or not write!) more creatively. Continue reading

Do Objects Lie? A New Video for Teaching About Material Evidence

Is material culture as inherently untrustworthy? I was once at a conference roundtable where one attendee claimed that “Material culture is so elitist, just rich people’s stuff in museums.” Fortunately, a historical archaeologist in the room begged to differ, arguing that archaeology offered a rich record of people who did not necessarily leave written sources behind. When I recently required my students to analyze both a material and a textual source, they concluded that material sources were inherently more difficult to work with than their written counterparts. “Once I describe the object, there’s nothing left to say about it,” one student complained.

I’ve been hearing variations of this argument my entire academic life. As a scholar who both studies and teaches with material culture, I find this reasoning both fascinating and frustrating. Why do so many people, from scholars to students, consider material culture somehow a lesser form of evidence than the written word? Continue reading

A Survey of Assumptions

Screen Shot 2018-05-19 at 5.36.17 PMWith spring well underway, many of us are experiencing the satisfaction of marking the last grade on the final blue book of the semester, with an eye toward the approaching summer months and the freedom to work on our own research projects.[1] This makes it a foolhardy moment to entice Junto readers into thinking about teaching the survey, but it also presents an opportunity to reflect on our students and how their backgrounds should shape our approach in the classroom. Continue reading

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