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!

Continue reading “Death to the Content Dump: A Survey-Course Manifesto”

Postmortem: Spring Semester

One of the perks at my institution is a spring semester that ends before April does. It’s totally worth starting classes right after the new year, because central Iowa in May >>> central Iowa in January. As is usually the case at the end times, I find myself in a reflective mood–maybe more so this Spring, because I’m finishing my 10th year here, and we all know that bigger round numbers are more significant.  Continue reading “Postmortem: Spring Semester”