When Experts Are Forced to Talk to Outsiders

Teaching undergraduate students forces me to deliver narratives and explanations to people who do not share my professional assumptions about how the world works and the way history should be told. It challenges me to think about how I can retell old stories with a different vocabulary. In the process I might even learn something. This is especially likely to happen when students ask me questions or express strong feelings about a major event. I last noticed this phenomenon in the fall, when I had my students visit the Holocaust Museum and discuss their experience in the course’s online forum. I got to thinking about it again today because of an article about innovation in the New York Times last month. Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike, by Janet Rae-Dupree, points to the benefits that can accrue to experts when they open themselves up to the perspectives of outsiders. Continue reading

Historians Speak about the Profession

Producing Knowledge

Mills Kelly of Edwired responds to the notion that the historical profession is about writing and therefore about publishing in traditional academic print media:

It seems to me that the essence of scholarship is the circulation of knowledge and the discussion of that knowledge among both peers and other interested parties. How is knowledge circulated? Print, the Internet, a museum exhibit, film, radio, are all methods for circulating knowledge and all of them require some sort of writing–even if that writing doesn’t result in yet another monograph or journal article. Just as one example–this blog had more than 75,000 unique visitors in 2007. If I’m lucky, my book will sell 1,000 copies. So how is more knowledge circulated?

Teaching Survey Courses

In The AHA Guide to Teaching and Learning with New Media, John McClymer makes an interesting point about one major difficulty of teaching introductory history classes:

I routinely begin our explorations of topics by asking students to come up with questions. There are several reasons. The most important is that it legitimates confusion. All learning begins in puzzlement, but teachers and students routinely connive in the illusion that students understand the causes of the French Revolution and any number of equally complex developments. The first and second year students in my “Modern Europe and U.S.,1815 to the Present” do not. This is not a failure on their part or mine. A good undergraduate math student can learn to integrate equations in a Calculus I course. An equally good history student cannot master the causes of the French Revolution in an introductory history course.


This blog post originally appeared on Clio and Me on this date.

When Google Gets it Wrong

My wife is reading a crime story I got for Christmas and read over the holidays, Christian von Ditfurth, Mann ohne Makel. It’s sleuth, Josef Maria Stachelmann, is a historian of the Third Reich. Wonderful read, if you know German. Anyway, my wife asked me about the Hossbach Protocol that Stachelmann is supposed to give a talk about. My memory failed me, so I took the easy way out with Google. Bad idea.
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