Like Katie, I am teaching the first half of US Women’s History this fall, and I couldn’t be happier to be doing so. This is by far my favorite course to teach, and not least because it was in a women’s history college classroom that I myself figured out that I wanted to become a historian. As a student in that class (with Alice Kessler-Harris, to give credit—or blame, I suppose—where credit is due), I remember feeling like a light bulb had gone off. History was important. Doing history could be exciting. Those are impossibly big shoes to fill, but it’s fun to try. I love this class: I find that the students tend to self-select into women’s history, which is starting off on the right foot, and then of course we get to talk about some of my favorite people and struggle with some of the most important questions about the past. I was looking over those old notes last year before teaching my first class, and realized that it had been ten years almost to the day from the beginning of the semester when I was on the undergraduate side of the room. That felt really important. It was the first time I’d taught my own lecture course, and I was pretty happy with how it went. This year, though, I only have about thirty students in it, so I’m looking forward to trying out some new things and getting the students more involved. I’ll be talking about some of those experiments on here as the semester progresses.
So far, we are off to a great start. We’ve been talking about colonial New England this week, and today covered the trial of Anne Hutchinson. I framed the class around the question of what difference gender made in Hutchinson’s history. She is often held up as a proto-feminist, and I wanted to challenge my students to think about whether this really makes sense. I followed the advice of a colleague and invited student volunteers to act out the trial transcript before our discussion of it. I really liked doing this. Hearing her words aloud is different than reading them on the page, and I think that it helped some of the students get a sense of what was important and interesting about this moment in time. It opened up a very productive discussion of the trial and the ways that being a woman did and didn’t matter for Hutchinson and those who criticized her. My research is on religion, and so the themes that came up today (how some women were able to claim authority through religious arguments, and how religious arguments could also be used to restrict women’s roles) are all things we’ll be returning to in the coming weeks.
The other class I’m teaching this fall is an interdisciplinary social science course called Social Science Approaches to the American Past. This is part of the distributional requirements here that are supposed to teach students how social scientists think. I try to do what we all do in our courses: teach the students to be critical readers. One major goal I have in that class is that students will come out it as better consumers of information about history. I want them to be able to think about what kinds of sources someone was using when they made their claims, and to think about how those sources may have structured their argument. We’ve got a few big projects planned in there, too, so I’ll be telling you all about how those go in my future posts.