Ghosts

I don’t think that I was aware that I had a teaching philosophy until I had to write one. Part of that came from the fact that in graduate school, I have been exposed to a certain kind of historical teaching, and had not really considered why professors were making certain decisions vis-a-vis their curricula. Now that I am designing syllabi of my own, I am struck by how many different directions one might go in, to teach something as basic, say, as British history. Do I assign new, but possibly unproven books, or classic texts? How do I balance the kinds of histories that I like – mostly social – with other approaches? How many, and what kinds of writing assignments teach the most without overloading students?

For undergraduates, I find that I am trying quite hard to create a connection with the past, and to lead students to consider people and events in the past not as denizens or artifacts of an unreachable foreign land, but approachable and accessible. In turn, students come to think about the past neither as a dull series of truths nor as a simple procession from cause to effect, but as deeply contingent and complicated as the world today.

While looking at the super-granny photospread, I came across these images by Russian photographer Sergey Larenkov.  

Larenkov takes old WWII photos and “carefully photoshops them over more recent shots to make the past come alive. Not only do we get to experience places like Berlin, Prague, and Vienna in ways we could have never imagined, more importantly, we are able to appreciate our shared history in a whole new and unbelievably meaningful way.”  This is an incredibly elegant visual representation of what I try to do in class, and although the conceit seems as though it might become hackneyed with overuse, I wonder if and how I might use images like these to help students better understand their connecdedness to the past.

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