Monographs in the Survey: Strategies for Writing Across the Curriculum

fountain-penI am fortunate that in graduate school, I had quite a bit of guidance in writing across the curriculum pedagogy. I have since taught approximately a dozen designated writing-intensive courses. Most history courses are writing-intensive by default, and many history faculty do find themselves teaching writing and research techniques. Here, I am focusing primarily on the strategies I use in survey courses, with a short list of monographs that I have found work well for this purpose.

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

Guest Post: The Value of Storytelling

We’re thrilled to welcome as our latest guest poster, Casey Schmitt. Casey is a PhD candidate in History at the College of William & Mary, where she is writing a dissertation on the Iberian roots of seventeenth-century Anglo-American slave law under the supervision of Brett Rushforth. Casey holds an MA in history from the University of Utah, where she wrote an excellent thesis on the British Asiento, illicit trade, and the limits of empire in the eighteenth-century Caribbean. Her teaching and research interests center on the inter-imperial nature of the early modern Americas.

As a newly-minted ABD embarking on my first stab at teaching the early American history survey, I find myself buried beneath my own excitement for the material. No one warned me that the biggest obstacle to designing a course would be curbing my own unrelenting enthusiasm. Perhaps no part of that enthusiasm has proven more damaging to my syllabus than my passion for storytelling. Specifically, I approached teaching the early America survey with a litany of historical works of fiction and non-fiction that I wanted to familiarize undergraduates with: 12 Years a Slave, Benito Cereno, Poor Richard’s Almanac, Letters From an American Farmer, among many, many other titles. Before too long I was looking at a weekly reading word count over 150 pages. Yikes. Continue reading

The Problem with Big Books; Or, Alan Taylor’s Biggest Sin

[Headlines are supposed to draw readers, right?]

TaylorOne of the first things I did after finishing my dissertation a couple of months back (other than sleeping for an entire week, of course), was reading Alan Taylor’s latest tome, An Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1776-1832 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2013), which recently won the Pulitzer Prize. (One could argue that Taylor’s biggest sin, other than the one I’m about to discuss, is hogging all the major book awards.) As one would expect given Taylor’s track record, I was floored by the book’s exhaustive research and lyrical prose. I made a mental note that this would be a great book to assign to students. Now that I’m prepping for this fall, when I’ll be teaching a Jeffersonian America course, I gave the idea more serious consideration. However, I soon realized the biggest problem, which more seasoned teachers probably already know.

The book is just too big.

Continue reading

On Assigning Undergraduate Reading

Student ReadingDuring my first year as a Teaching Fellow, I’ve done a number of pedagogy-related posts, covering student preparation, undergraduate writing, and lecturing. Having finished that first year, I have found myself thinking about different approaches I’ve witnessed to assigning readings. The question I have is: What is the best approach to assigning undergraduate reading? Continue reading

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