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Category: Teaching

Teaching Notes: Synthesis and Process

The main assignment for my graduate survey of modern Europe this summer was to write an essay that incorporated all of the assigned books and most of the assigned articles. I conceived of this assignment because of a similar one that I had had to do as a graduate student that I found especially productive, if difficult. (See “Learning to Synthesize History” on my old blog.) The essays my students wrote fulfilled or exceeded my expectations in some cases, but there were others that did not go as well as… Read more Teaching Notes: Synthesis and Process

Reflections after Class

One of those questions came up in class tonight with a group of MA students discussing Peter Fritzsche’s Life and Death in the Third Reich (Cambridge, MA, 2008), a question where I grow perhaps too animated, maybe conveying impatience, even arrogance, or, if I’m lucky, simply passion. What was the difference between communism under Stalin and nazism under Hitler? The differences are stark, but there’s that pesky word “socialism” and the collectivist rhetoric that is so easily conflated or confused with “collectivization,” never mind the existence of economic plans, mass… Read more Reflections after Class

Requiring Students to Use Chicago Style (or Turabian or Whatever)

While talking in class tonight about forthcoming papers, I heard from several students that many of their professors haven’t cared which system they used, as long as it was clear and they could retrace the student’s steps if necessary. That’s also long been my implicit attitude, even though I ask students to follow Chicago or Turabian and I correct their papers accordingly. Lately, however, I have come to think that teaching a specific style is actually important, even if I have done little more than point students in the right… Read more Requiring Students to Use Chicago Style (or Turabian or Whatever)

Editing and Consumption History

Since I began my editing job a little over a year ago, I have begun learning a little about a lot of history that I had previously never experienced. While my editing has included a variety of smaller projects as diverse as the interests of the institute’s fellows and recent alumni, my main area of responsibility is editing a new series on consumption history. Two volumes are under contract, and a third will be very soon, but I’ve been forcing myself to sit on my hands and not go into… Read more Editing and Consumption History

The Politics of Identity and How We Learn History

There is an interesting article in yesterday’s New York Times about how Texas is changing the content of its American high school history textbooks. Instead of taking potshots at its clear abuses of history, however, the author locates it in a broader context of history curricula and identity politics over the past few decades. See Sam Tanehaus, “In Texas Curriculum Fight, Identity Politics Leans Right.” Kevin Levin of the blog Civil War Memory thinks that the focus on textbooks in this newest episode of America’s culture wars misses the point,… Read more The Politics of Identity and How We Learn History

History without Reading

In “History without Reading,” Jim Cullen talks about a dirty little truth: a lot of students in our courses do not read, but we teach the courses as if they had done the reading, thereby only making things worse, because the students are getting nothing out of their classroom time. He suggests that it should be possible to teach history and historical thinking in such a way that we do not assume that the reading has been done. One reason students do not read, he says, is that we teach… Read more History without Reading

History 100 Again

I have been pretty happy lately with my approach to George Mason University’s required History 100 (Western Civilization); however, chronological confusion in many exams last semester made me long to try a textbook again. I might live to regret the attempt, since the course is only one semester long, but I have decided to try the abridged version of Mark Kishlansky et. al., Civilization in the West (Penguin Academics). Trying to squeeze everything into the syllabus was much harder this way, even after skipping the first 200 pages of the… Read more History 100 Again

Plagiarism Again

I had no plagiarism cases this fall. Maybe it is because I had an unusually ethical group of students, but it probably also had something to do with analysis they did based on short documents instead of books commonly discussed on the internet. With few exceptions, there were no answers to be found on the internet, though I took some chances with the inclusion of A Doll’s House in some questions. Even then, I did not let students focus on Ibsen’s play, but instead forced them to relate it to… Read more Plagiarism Again

Contemporary Political Rhetoric and Teaching History

Earlier this month I did a post on my Hist 100 blog that might be of some interest to readers here, “Contemporary Politics and History.” My audience was primarily freshmen in their first semester at university, most of them too young to have voted in the last election: I have said this in class, but it needs repeating here: Our contemporary American political discourse about socialism and nazism has absolutely nothing to do with those terms and phenomena in actual history. While we are not in class to talk about… Read more Contemporary Political Rhetoric and Teaching History

What Having a Socialist Nazi in the White House Means for the Classroom

I am probably not alone when I say that I have a hard time taking GOP “socialism” rhetoric seriously. The same goes for right-wing attempts to equate Obama with Hitler. Apparently, however, I need to keep this rhetoric in mind when planning my classes, for it has entered my classroom in an unexpected way. In a blue book essay about totalitarianism this summer, one student explained nazism in terms of “socialism” and “big government.” There was no political intent behind these statements. The student simply drew on the language of… Read more What Having a Socialist Nazi in the White House Means for the Classroom

Miracle Workers by Taylor Mali

I know my university history teaching and my work with adults learning to speak English is different than what Taylor Mali does with high school students, but I can still relate to his poetry about teaching. Maybe it’s because I often have teenagers in required courses. But maybe it’s because there’s something more fundamental to the craft, no matter who or what you are teaching. Here’s a piece he posted to his YouTube channel this year: This post originally appeared on my old history blog, Clio and Me, on this… Read more Miracle Workers by Taylor Mali

A Different Approach to History 100?

George Mason’s Hist 100 courses are supposed to cover Western Civilization in one semester. To manage this Sisyphean task, I switched from a chronological to a thematic approach. While this makes sense from an analytic point of view, covering themes seems to alienate some students, because the themes appear in the foreground, not the events and personalities. Moreover, the themes tend to bridge larger periods of time. With “Religion and Society,” for instance, I cover the Investiture Conflict, the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, the Wars of Religion, the Scientific Revolution,… Read more A Different Approach to History 100?

Is College Worth It?

In “America’s Most Overrated Product: the Bachelor’s Degree,” Marty Nemko argues, “College is a wise choice for far fewer people than are currently encouraged to consider it.” Looking at my plagiarism rate from last semester and considering the number of students at George Mason University who fail the mandatory History 100 survey simply because they do not show up or turn in their work, I have to admit that he has a point. He argues that high school students in the bottom half of their class should think twice before… Read more Is College Worth It?

A New Personal Record in Plagiarism Cases

I had a new personal record in plagiarism cases this semester: eight. With ninety-seven students total on my rolls at the end of the semester, that makes a little over 8%. To be absolutely clear, I am talking about open-and-shut cases. The burden of proof is on the professor, as it should be, so I never report any honor system violations based merely on my suspicions, no matter how strong they might be. Some of the cases stem from this semester’s new bibliography project. In the past I had tried… Read more A New Personal Record in Plagiarism Cases

Online Forums: Blackboard and Wikispaces

My Western Civ courses last winter and spring had some mandatory discussion components. Students had to visit the Holocaust Museum and talk about their experience online. I had them do the same with two old movies as well. (They chose from a list I had given them.) Both assignments went pretty well, except for a couple students who thought they only needed to copy and paste someone’s words from an online movie review. The other downside to the assignment was assessment. Blackboard gives precise statistics for each user, so it… Read more Online Forums: Blackboard and Wikispaces

Lessons from the Classroom

Last winter and spring I had my students write Wikipedia articles and then monitor those articles to see what edits other people made. The point was to give them a firmer appreciation of how this online resource works, so that they would understand its strengths and limitations. The Wikipedia projects were of varying quality, but I wasn’t unhappy with them. The student feedback at the end of the semester also showed that most of them learned the lesson, though a few were excited to be exposed to this resource for… Read more Lessons from the Classroom