The new semester is looming and my classes begin on Tuesday at 12:30. This semester I will teach three courses, and I am thinking about running a "Teaching Thursday" feature on the blog which recounts my adventures in educating the finest undergraduates (and graduate students) on the Northern Plains. This semester I'll teach:
History 101: Western Civilization: Beginning of Time to 1400. I am slowly transitioning this class from a "traditional" Western Civilization style class to a World History type course in anticipation of a gradual move toward World History in our department. Since I am dealing entirely with "pre-industrial" societies the transition to a World History type format is somewhat less challenging. Patrician Crone's almost venerable text Pre-Industrial Societies will serve as my guide as I try to put the civilization of the Mediterranean in a broader context. Since I teach the course at night and it meets only 1 day a week, I have worked gradually to develop a more robust online component for the class. It is also a big class (100+) without recitations or discussion sections. To make up for this, I break the class into groups of about 25 and assign them short discussion questions focusing on the analysis of primary source readings. These discussions are conducted online via a threaded discussion. In theory this will give the students a chance to interact with a smaller group of their peers, respond to their classmates interpretation of texts, and encourage a kind of "collective intelligence" in their reading of the primary sources. This is, of course, best case scenario. Since I require one discussion posting from each student and it must be 10 lines long, worse case scenario is that the students are required to write a very short essay each week. Complementing the threaded discussion, I am going to attempt a Weekly Wiki component in the class. I will make available a Weekly Wiki page for each lecture (and perhaps for each primary source reading) where the students will be encouraged to develop weekly class notes, highlight certain themes in the course, and propose test questions. It's another study in collective intelligence which will encourage the students to pool their understanding of the material and produce some kind of synthetic summary. We'll see how this works. Here is the syllabus.
History 240: The Historians Craft. Named after Marc Bloch's significant little work on the writing and study of history, this course is required for all undergraduate majors. The course has two components. One part is a cursory introduction to historiography and the historical method. Generally speaking students have received some introduction to these topics in their mid and upper level history course already. The second part of the course is a research seminar. I allow the students to pick any topic that they want and provide them with structure for writing a research paper. The goal is for them to develop a more systematic approach to research and writing. This will ideally serve them will when they have to write the capstone paper that all history majors are required to write (History 440). I am using for the first time, Jenny Presnell's The information-literate historian : a guide to research for history students. This little (and relatively inexpensive book) has some good, practical advice, and is particularly strong with regard to the use of the internet and other digital tools for historical research. My hope is that this will help bridge the gap between the more digitally savvy students and those less comfortable with internet and library searches, research databases, and e-texts of various descriptions. The goal of the class is a 15 page paper and a 15 minute "professional" style presentation. Here is the syllabus.
History 502: Graduate Historiography. This is the required historiography class for all graduate students in history. It's a pretty standard course with the usual units on major historical movements (Annales School, British Marxists, New Cultural History et c.) and related phenomena to the field of history. Since the University of North Dakota's M.A. in History is designed as a two-year program and most students take this class in the first semester of their first year, I usually encourage them to see the big picture readings in this class as a key component in building a historiographic background for their M.A. Thesis. The final assignment in the course is a preliminary prospectus for their M.A. which explores their own specialized research with larger historiographic trends in the discipline. The only nod that I will make toward "innovation" in this class is I will run as an experiment a Twitter feed. If enough students are willing to join, it will help keep the class in contact with one another (and this is especially useful in helping the students share books). I also hope to encourage students to post questions to the Twitter feed as they read. These questions will help to introduce the readings at the beginning of our weekly meetings. Here is the syllabus.
All the syllabi are in "beta" still, but will need to be finalized by the end of the week. I hope to report on my various experiments in these courses in this very space over the next 16 weeks...