You may remember that (given my luxury of small classes and this term just one section) I have my survey course students vote in the first week on topics to explore in greater depth. Most of them have never been asked this question by a professor: what do YOU want to learn about in this course?
This year I added a slight twist (mainly to avoid having the focus of every unit become “the war that happened during this time period” – which has happened to me before) and I gave them not only a variety of topics but grouped them according to interpretive “lenses,” each of which could only be used for one time period. The matrix was made up of topics I think would be engaging for survey students, or which I’ve run units on before. It looked like this: (click to enlarge)
Here’s what my students and I will be focusing on this term –
Unit 1 (1875-1900) = Gender, i.e. Victorian masculinity and femininity in the Gilded Age (think Age of Innocence)
Unit 2 (1900-1930) = Military, i.e. Imperialism, Spanish-American War, through World War I
Unit 3 (1930-1954) = Economy and Labor, i.e. Depression & the New Deal
Unit 4 (1954-1980) = Media and Popular Culture, i.e. TV, Top 40, and Music of the long 1960s
Unit 5 (1980-present) = Race, Ethnicity and Identity, i.e. “post-racial” America, immigration policy, and the new face of America
We’re just about to finish the first unit and I think it’s helped to have a specific focus for the era. Each unit has a primary source workshop day, and for this one they worked in small groups with sources that illuminated ideas of gender in the late 19th century: such as mail order fashion catalogs, dime novel cover images, etiquette manuals, DuBois’s Paris Exposition photographs, suffrage cartoons, Nebraska homesteaders, and of course: Mustaches of the Nineteenth Century. The goal is to give them confidence with using primary sources to address questions of historical perspective/ interpretation – and hopefully some specific sources they can draw on when they take the unit exam. So far: so good.