Agency, Counterfactuals, and “Utopias of Past Time”

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.—The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, Karl Marx…

Mixtape Assignment in the Classroom

Every semester I try something new in the classroom. Sometimes this may involve adding activities such as the fish bowl, working in the archives, or having students write on the board to generate ideas. I take these assignments and tweak them as I go along because, as we know, every class is not the same.…

Peer Review and the Graduate Colloquium

Last month I described how portions of individual class meetings in my American Civil War Era graduate colloquium are dedicated to the art of professional writing. Students are required each week to prepare a three-page critical review of the latest readings, an exercise in relative uniform consistency that teaches graduates how to think about structuring…

Teaching Writing to STEM Students

Last spring, I taught two courses that attracted a lot of STEM students. History of medicine always holds appeal for future doctors and my death in America course drew more aspiring engineers and chemists than it did aspiring historians. This was a very different experience for me, as I was used to having most of…

The End Days are Nigh! Where to End the US Survey?

The clock is the real ruler of the history survey. One can begin a semester with a million different goals that involve deconstructing narratives, incorporating historiography, or flipping the classroom. By late April and early May, some of those dreams are stripped from us, especially when we look at the calendar and realize we only…

Talking about Methods

This semester, I am teaching a course titled “Social Science Approaches to the American Past.”  It’s in one of the interdisciplinary programs on campus, with the stated goal of teaching students how social scientists think.  This has been an interesting challenge for me as a teacher and a historian (particularly a historian who leans more…