Open(ish) letter to the University of Chicago

This morning, I received an alumni survey from my alma mater, the University of Chicago.  At the end, there was a section for extended comment.  Since I indicated in the survey that I highly valued my education, the connections I made, and the mission of the institution, but that I had no plans to give in the future, I thought I should explain myself.  Here’s what I wrote: I used to donate to the University…

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Teaching reading notes

When I was in college, a friend of mine made a joke that he couldn’t read novels without a pencil in his hand, because he was so used to note-taking his philosophy books. My father is a professor, but I don’t remember ever seeing him read a work of fiction, and always remember him having a manuscript to work on in his spare time. One of the goals of the historical methods class at CSUF…

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Teaching theory in history (part two of some) – or – In Theory podcast meets Typhoid Mary

Big theoretical concepts can help us to see the world in new ways.  Big theoretical concepts can help us  see historical events in new ways.  This is especially important for methods classes like the one I am teaching now, since these courses seek to bridge the gap between history as a set of stories that someone else tells, and history as a practice that students themselves can engage in.  We want students to leave these…

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Teaching theory in history (part one of some)

I’ve recently had conversations with several colleagues about teaching theory in history.  As a discipline, we’re not as obviously theory heavy as some of our compatriots in the social sciences, and much of the theory we use is grounded, or embedded in assumptions we make about sources, voices and narrative.  Given the importance, but relative invisibility of theory in history writing (and given that students – especially new majors in historical methods classes – are…

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Safe Spaces in the Life of the Mind

The University of Chicago recently sent a letter to incoming students which has made me – for the first time – embarrassed to be affiliated with my undergraduate institution. This letter (as Kevin Gannon has noted) seems to be equal parts pedagogical statement and public posture.  It certainly needs to be understood in terms of evolving debates about college campuses, academic politics and student life. I, however, want to address it from the perspective of…

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Streamlined Grading with Linked Documents

First comes the start of the semester; then comes grading; then comes the inevitable wondering about how to make grading less of a chore. I realized a few years ago that much of my dislike of grading came not from an aversion to reading student work, or even to writing comments. Rather, for me, it came from navigating the systems that meant that I was spending more time collecting, archiving and returning student projects than…

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Looking Back on Davidson

In May of 2016, I taught the last section of my last class as Davidson College’s digital studies postdoc. In this final meeting, students in my “(Histories of) Gender and Technology” class presented projects that ranged from artistic engagements with gender in Kanye West lyrics, to gendered norms in cooking, to quantitative analyses of gendered affect on Twitter. These projects were exciting. They were deeply engaged with historical scholarship on gender and technology, but also…

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Re(cursively)-conceptualizing Atlantic History

Next semester, for the first time, I get to teach an Atlantic history survey.  I’ve taught a lot of courses that think Atlantically, but never one which has the Atlantic as a specific subject.  Looking back over the syllabuses I designed when I was on the market, I realized that I was subject to the (common, I think, but hopefully increasingly uncommon) trap of too-often letting British imperial history stand in for Atlantic history.  So,…

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Students designing classes, you say?

Last semester, inspired by Caleb McDaniel and Tim Burke‘s student-designed courses, I let students design the content of my Death in the Digital Age course.  Then I wrote a post about it for EdSurge. Here, a few months later, is the text of that post. Last semester, I ceded control of class to my students. I didn’t just give them room to speak. I asked them to design the syllabus, the assignments and even the…

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An agentic moment

This week I assigned Jeff McClurken’s article on Omeka and “productive discomfort.”  I’ve had students read this article before, and while the resulting conversation was interesting, the article has never before resulted in the kind of robust debate about discomfort, barriers and technology that came out of the reading response blog posts for today’s class. I could summarize, annotate and curate their posts, but (drawing on Andrew Rikard’s recent argument about student agency) I thought…

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