A Detour into Medieval History

Thanks to enrollment-related course-schedule-shuffling, this fall I will be teaching a section of one of our world history surveys, “The Medieval World.” The rub: I am trained as a historian of 18th and 19th century US and Latin America. Welcome to the world of small-college teaching!

That’s me, toward the back.

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Don’t Blame Me, I Voted Farmer-Labor.

The Supreme Court’s majority opinion in the “Hobby Lobby”case, announced earlier today, is another decisive step in a process that had the potential to fatally undermine our democratic civil society. If you haven’t read the opinion, or Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s powerful dissent, you can find them here and here. In a nutshell, the Court ruled that Hobby Lobby could deny coverage for birth control for its female employees because as a “closely held” corporation, it possesses the right to freedom of religion. And since contraception is against Hobby Lobby’s “religious beliefs,” the company doesn’t have to play by the rules of the Affordable Care Act when it comes to covering birth control on employees’ health insurance plans. Continue reading “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted Farmer-Labor.”

Now I am Become Death, Destroyer of Dustbunnies

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything in these parts; I’ve been transitioning into my new position as the Director of our Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning over the last two weeks, with all that involves– new office, staff retreat, oodles and scads of planning. It’s been a rich kind of busy, in that what I’m doing has substance and is setting the table for-hopefully-a great upcoming year.
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United States History: Each Against All

If my exploding Twitter feed is any indication, plenty of people have had a chance to read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s brilliant, powerful, and persuasive essay “The Case for Reparations” in The Atlantic. If you haven’t, you should. I am convinced that it will ultimately be seen as one of the most important contributions to the national dialogue about race and power since DuBois. It’s that good, and a humble blog post such as this one cannot do it justice.

Among the many other things Coates got me thinking about, though, is a motif I’ve been kicking around in my head for quite a while now–a motif that rejects the progress-oriented, “emancipationist” paradigm in which US history is (sometimes) explicitly or (most often) implicitly conceived, articulated, and taught.* It’s a Hobbesian motif, and one that goes against what I like to think is my generally optimistic nature. Continue reading “United States History: Each Against All”

Death to the Content Dump, part deux: More Survey-Course Thoughts

In part one of my survey-course manifesto, I argued that the way in which historians in higher education approach the survey course–as a content-driven venture–is inadequate for the goals which I think college-level History courses ought to embody. In a climate where students have ready access to more information than ever before, we need to abandon the older paradigm of Professor-as-Sole-Purveyor-of-Content. And in relinquishing that mindset, I believe we need to also strongly consider jettisoning the standard pedagogical operating procedure of the history professoriate: the lecture.  Continue reading “Death to the Content Dump, part deux: More Survey-Course Thoughts”

Death to the Content Dump: A Survey-Course Manifesto

Lately, in preparation for my upcoming gig as Director of my university’s Center for Teaching & Learning, I’ve been immersed in the scholarly literature on teaching and learning. More than anything else, this immersion has affirmed my sense that in my native disciplinary land of History, we need to reassess (or–gasp!–ditch) the survey course. Now, this may seem counter-intuitive. The Id of my profession is yelling: isn’t this course where we serve our institutions’ core curricula? Isn’t it through the survey courses that we reach the most students? If we modify or scrap the survey, won’t college students become even more historically illiterate and thus bring about the collapse of all that is good and holy in western civilization? DOGS AND CATS LIVING TOGETHER! ANARCHY OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS!

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