This is the second post in a roundtable about research inspirations. You can read the first essay, a guest post by Whitney Barlow Robles, here.
My dissertation on food and war, which became my first book project on war and hunger, originated at a crossroads between panic and personal interests. I was a sophomore, taking a class on the American Revolution, and the professor was walking us through the process of writing a final paper by requiring a paragraph-long research proposal, followed later in the semester by an annotated bibliography. We were at the point in the semester where research proposals were nearly due, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to write about. I remember discussing my growing sense of panic at swim practice with a friend, and vacillating between this sense of anxiety, and pleasant anticipation of dinnertime. I swam for the team friendships, and the fact that even bad dining hall food tasted good after a hard workout. As I speculated about our dinner choices, my friend interrupted me, observed that I was obsessed with food, and suggested that I write about it for my history paper. Continue reading →
As an undergraduate, I didn’t take many large survey classes, and apart from one class, even the surveys that I took were taught by one faculty member. Larger U.S. universities do have more survey classes (I know, because I was a TA for several of them), but most that I taught on were also taught by one person. That model seems to be less usual in the United Kingdom, so I thought I’d talk about monster team-taught classes, the role of convener in bringing (and then holding) these classes together, and what you need to know about them if you’re considering the British job market.Continue reading →
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.
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.
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.
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.
For many teachers in both primary and secondary education, the classroom feels like a far more tense place as we head back for the 2017-2018 academic year than it did just a year ago, thanks to what seem like tectonic shifts in America’s political and social landscape. American history has become ever more politicized as metaphors and analogies abound between contemporary politics and earlier eras and figures―the founding and Andrew Jackson among the most prominent.