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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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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Classroom RPGs

As we near the Thanksgiving break, and as my students get increasingly stressed about final papers and exams, I’ve tried to lighten up (mostly Thursday) classes with role playing exercises.  It can be a bit of a gamble, since they rely so much on the students really committing to personifying historical characters, but so far it’s been quite a bit of fun – even if one of my students did call me on the worksheet…

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(Live(ish))blogging the survey

First, a long digression: I got to sit down with reps from Gale today for about five hours to talk about all of the tools they have for teaching.  Among some other fun things, we were able to test drive Artemis, which will eventually aggregate some? many? of Gale’s primary sources (or, what Gale markets as primary sources – a lot of things that aren’t sold as primary sources, like literary criticism, could still be…

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NARA does online gaming

I’m a little late to the game with this, but I was really happy to find that in 2012, the US National Archives moved into the online gaming world and into the itunes store, with apps like DocsTeach (online here). DocsTeach is, on the face of it, a fantastic idea.  It centers the idea that a considerable part of historical learning comes through the analysis of primary sources, and seems to try to build activities…

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Pedagogy, performance and the MOOC

Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) is a term that’s always struck me as a little tongue-in-cheek, aiming for hyperbole before we’ve even figured out the best ways to use them.  I also think that the term is useful because it’s fun to say – I’m taking a MOOC at the moment on strategies for information visualization, and simply being able to say “IVMOOC” on a daily basis has made the process that much more fun. …

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Dream course

Despite the stress, one of the perks of being on the market is that I get to spend entire days sitting around and thinking about dream classes – not dream students, or dream institutions – but the classes I’d teach if I had all the leeway and resources in the world.  It’s tremendous fun, and means that I occasionally stumble across brilliant and compelling work I’d not previously had a chance to explore.  Today, that…

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