Roundtable: Democratize the Classroom!

This is the final post in our series on Teaching Amid Political Tension (read Part I, Part II, Part III). Today’s post is by Sean Trainor, who teaches history, writing, and professional communication at the University of Florida. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, TIME, Salon, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Junto, Early American Studies, and elsewhere. He co-hosts the weekly podcast Impolitic.

To be perfectly honest, the current age of turmoil has had a minimal impact on the content of my courses. Long before Donald Trump emerged as a presidential contender or Pepe the Frog became an absurd, menacing presence in Americans’ collective consciousness, I had been teaching a politically engaged curriculum that focused on the intersection of racism, sexism, inequality, imperialism, and jingoistic excess in American history. I had designed these courses as a kind of rebuttal to what I saw as the defining sins of American life, and insofar as Donald Trump gleefully embodies these sins, my courses have aged well in the era of his presidency.

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Roundtable: Historical Memory and Contemporary Politics

This is the third post in our series on Teaching Amid Political Tension (read Part I, Part II). Today’s post comes from Jennifer M. Black, an Assistant Professor of History and Government at Misericordia University in Dallas, PA, and Network Editor-in-Chief at H-Material Culture. She tweets at @blackjen1.

When asked to contribute to this roundtable, my mind immediately turned to a 100-level course I taught this past spring, “Turning Points in American History.” Though the course had been designed as a “greatest hits” of the US history survey, I decided that I wanted to interrogate the concept of memory as it relates to the Revolution, the Civil War, and more centrally, the shifting understandings of Freedom and Rights in the US. I intentionally chose materials that would trace these changing ideas over time and highlight the legacy of the Revolution in the Civil War, the 1960s, and our own moment today. Ultimately, I wanted to get my students to talk about the 2015 controversy that arose around the Confederate flag after Dylann Roof entered the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, SC and brutally murdered parishioners as they prayed. This, I hoped, would push them to consider the continued relevance of these moments—of history—for today. In forcing them to confront the ways the past still shapes our society and culture, I hoped they would be motivated to work towards a better future.

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Roundtable: Teaching History in the Trump Era

This is the second post in the series on Teaching Amid Political Tension (read Part I). Today’s post is by Gautham Rao, who is an Assistant Professor of History at American University. He is on Twitter @gauthamrao.

One day in my small undergraduate historiography seminar a few years ago, one student said something really offensive to another student. I can’t really repeat the offending sentence, but it involved a racist aspersion toward a student of color and the offender invoked the name of then-candidate Trump as he spat out the shocking utterance. I remember being so shocked at what I had heard, and the condescending way in which it was said, that I shrank from the occasion. Luckily, the student at whom the comment was directed was more than capable of standing up for herself and others. No matter, I went home that day feeling like I had failed my students. The feeling did not go away for a long time.

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Roundtable: Teaching with a Historical Sense and Respect

This is the first entry in our series on Teaching Amid Political Tension. Today’s post is by Tara Strauch, who is an Assistant Professor of History at Centre College in Danville, KY. You can find her blogging at Teaching United States History, and Centre Trail (where she will soon also have podcasts.) Find her on Twitter @historian_tara.

I teach at a small liberal arts college in Kentucky. Like many academics, I spend most of my time teaching, thinking about teaching, and mentoring. I genuinely enjoy my students; they are smart, thoughtful, engaged, and generally eager to learn new things. And while the past year has been an interesting one to spend on a college campus, my students haven’t seemed remotely surprised about the political, racial, and class tensions that have occasionally swept across campus.

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Guest Post: Dr. Strangehonor, Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Snapchat

Today’s guest post is by Honor Sachs, an assistant professor of history at Western Carolina University and author of Home Rule: Households, Manhood, and National Expansion on the Eighteenth-Century Kentucky Frontier.

image6Several years ago, I attended a seminar on digital pedagogy. I thought it might be worthwhile to explore new opportunities out there for social media in the classroom. It was indeed an eye-opening experience, though not in the way I had hoped. Seminar leaders regaled us with software package after software package filled with whistles, bells, alerts, gimmicks, everything, they claimed, one would need to connect with this generation of “digital natives” (their term, not mine.) Students these days spend so much time on social media, they claimed, that faculty need to learn to connect with them online in order to really engage. “Here’s a program that allows you to text your students!” “Here’s another that allows you to collect data on how much time your students spend on homework!” “Here’s a program where you can instant message your student and remind them to study!” Continue reading

Teaching Hipster History: Ending the Semester on an Ironic Note

Hipster GWConclusions are hard, I find, and no less so in teaching than in writing. Both at the end of a book and at the end of a course, really great endings add a bit of spice—something just new or unexpected enough to cast what’s come before in a different light, something that makes it exciting to reflect back across the material you’ve just learned.

I aim for student-driven discussions, and at semester’s end in previous seminars and discussion sections, I’ve struggled to coax students into producing the final chord that resonates in all registers of a course’s architecture. I’ve had students free-write (and then discuss) to summarize, as succinctly as possible, the change over time they’ve learned about in the course, and I’ve asked students to identify what one idea from the class they hope they’ll remember forty years from now. Both exercises have produced good-enough results. But since they didn’t ask students to see the courses’ material anew in any way, I’ve found myself wanting more.

But my students’ final discussion this semester was so invigorating that I just had to write a blog post about it. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHO March! You herald spring and blooms and sun!
But lest you fear a change too swift to speak,
I now present our tidings of the week. Continue reading