The title of this post is a little misleading. I’m actually building a course, and have run into some thorny questions.
This fall I’ve agreed to offer a course I haven’t taught before; an upper-level seminar on the American West in the 19th century. As I’ve conceived it, the course will cover roughly 1803 (the Louisiana Purchase) through the so-called “closing” of the American frontier in 1890. As for what will unfold between those bookends, it’s largely up to me.
I want my students to read both primary and secondary sources, to discuss them, and to produce a significant research project at the end of the semester on a topic or idea of their choice.
I’ve been refreshing myself on the historiography, looking at other peoples’ syllabi and reading lists, etc. in order to plan the nuts and bolts of the course. What I’ve found is that there are an infinity of ways to approach this (or any other topical) course in American history, and there isn’t much consensus on the best way to do so.
So, perhaps as a way to provoke a conversation, I thought I would pose some of the basic course-designing questions I’ve dealt with to you all, and hopefully learn from your experiences.
1. When you design new courses, do you organize them along conceptual, thematic, or chronological lines? How do respect various groups and perspectives without privileging one over the other, or losing sight of the larger narrative threads?
2. How do you select and assign readings? What makes for “good” and “bad” reading assignments or class discussion?
3. What’s the best way to assess student involvement and progress? In other words, how do you keep them accountable and involved in a seminar-type setting?
4. Are there better or more original ways to encourage a large research project than simply requiring a paper rooted in primary and secondary research?
Thanks in advance.