Tag Archives: Teaching


28 Feb

The recent controversy in Oklahoma over the teaching of Advanced Placement (A.P.) U.S. History has brought lots of heat among some. It has also, though, brought some thoughtful reflections from Robert Tracy McKenzie, historian at Wheaton College, IL.

McKenzie is a self-described theological and political conservative. (He left a prestigious post at University of Washington, a state-sponsored institution of higher education, for one at Wheaton College, a much smaller but evangelical Protestant-sponsored institution of higher education.)

His blog reflections on the Oklahoma controversy are measured and thoughtful–and they might surprise at least some, given his self-description. As a historian and a fellow Christian, I commend them to you: WHAT IS HISTORY FOR? MORE THOUGHTS ON THE A.P. HISTORY CONTROVERSY | Faith and History.

Digital History Center

12 Sep

A while ago I shared a link to The Invasion of America digital map by  Claudio Saunt. Now Marc Parry at the Chronicle of Higher Education has a full story on the Digital History Center and historians Saunt and Stephen Berry. This is the new digital direction of historical research and dissemination: Digital History Center Strives to Connect With the Public – Research – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The New History Wars

2 Sep

WASHINGTON — WITH the news dominated by stories of Americans dying at home and abroad, it might seem trivial to debate how history is taught in our schools. But if we want students to understand what is happening in Missouri or the Middle East, they need an unvarnished picture of our past and the skills to understand and interpret that picture. People don’t kill one another just for recreation. They have reasons. Those reasons are usually historical.

So begins James R. Grossman of the American Historical Association in a New York Times op-ed today. I find myself saying, “Hear! Hear!”

You can read the entire piece not hear but here: The New History Wars – NYTimes.com.

Never Teach a Class Outdoors and Other Key Lessons I Have Learned

2 Jun

Historian Robert Zaretsky at The Chronicle of Higher Education has come up with “a Decalogue of sorts” of what he has learned “in my quarter century of experience.” After my own quarter century, I can resonate with many of them, at least … although, as I have said elsewhere (“Wisdom, Vanity, and ‘Lessons’ from History” in a pdf linked to this page), I am a bit skeptical about “lessons”–at least historical ones … and, calling students by their first names hasn’t been a problem for me for grading …

Never Teach a Class Outdoors and Other Key Lessons I Have Learned – Commentary – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Lost in the Past

23 May

You can’t fix stupid, as the comic line goes; but you don’t have to teach it.

So notes journalist and historian Timothy Egan in the New York Times. Egan–author, among other things, of the fine biography of Edward S. Curtis, obsessive photographer of American Indians, as noted earlier on this blog–is considering how U.S. “opinion leaders, corporate titans, politicians, media personalities and educators,” not just students, have “a serious national memory hole” about the past.

In short, we all need to work a bit more intentionally at studying the past.


Read Egan’s entire op-ed here: Lost in the Past – NYTimes.com.

Academic Research and the Public

15 May

Western Washington University historian Johann Neem is listening to some of the public conversation about humanities academics. Is public funding for scholarship in the humanities worth it? In other words, if a general reader doesn’t read it, is the academic history article worth funding (or doing)?

(While I have not received public funding for any research, I have a stake in this. I’ve just published a book for a general audience, but the bulk of my published work is specialized.)

Neem would answer, “Yes, it is worth doing, and funding.” Amen, I say.

Read his cogent essay at Inside Higher Ed here.


Historians association and four doctoral programs start new effort to broaden Ph.D. education

20 Mar

Today the AHA is announcing a $1.6 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for association and four doctoral departments to start on the kinds of reforms that could change Ph.D. education in the field. The departments — at Columbia University, and the Universities of California at Los Angeles, Chicago and New Mexico — are using the funds to try specific changes in their programs, while the AHA will continue to encourage reform nationally.

James Grossman, executive director of the AHA, said that the effort has multiple goals. One is to relieve the extreme pressure on those competing for a limited number of faculty jobs. But another is to see the placement of Ph.D.s in business, government and the nonprofit world as an achievement in and of itself, “widening the presence and influence of humanistic thinking” outside of academe. To achieve both of those goals, he said, programs need to change. And the experiments starting in the four departments may offer models.

Inside Higher Ed goes on to discuss this encouraging initiative:

Historians association and four doctoral programs start new effort to broaden Ph.D. education | Inside Higher Ed.

Talking To or Talking Past Each Other in Progressive Era Iowa?

11 Mar

I am delighted to introduce to the world–well, the digital world–a new site created by 4 of my students.

The site is Talking To or Talking Past Each Other? | Woodrow Wilson, the Society of American Indians, and Progressive Era Iowa. It is the result of an assignment I made in my Progressive Era and Reform course.

The course was short–only 8 weeks. From the teaching side of things, it was a challenge to know what major assignment to make, other than reading and exams. There was little time for extensive research. The library folks here–in this case, most notably Greta Grond, Systems and Reference Librarian–have suggested Web 2.0 projects, for which they are happy to provide support. That is, have students construct web sites about substantively-researched topics critically considered. In other words, move students from web consumers to creators of web content that is something other than entertainment, opinion, or even Wikipedia.


Loess Hills, Iowa.

I am an old dog (Doug), but I do try to learn new tricks. I had Aaron Nash, Jordan Reinders, Jenna Ripke, and Cassandra Westpfahl build a site (with Greta Grond’s digital oversight) presenting and comparing two Progressive era events in Iowa: candidate Woodrow Wilson’s Sioux City speech in 1912 and the annual convention of the  Society of American Indians in Cedar Rapids in 1916. (The 1912 presidential campaign was a 4-way race that highlighted progressivism. The Society of American Indians was the first significant pan-Indian organization; its members were arguably “progressive” and “assimilated” Indians.)

I’m delighted with what Aaron, Jordy, Jenna, and Cassie came up with. I hope you will find their site worth taking a look at. Not only can you go directly to their site, per the link at the top of this post, you can also find the link here at Northwestern College’s Digital Commons, which is taking shape bit by byte.

Sample of integrating U.S. history with theology?

7 Feb
His240 Progressive Era and Reform, 2-7-14

His240 Progressive Era and Reform, 2-7-14

Today in class, I had what seemed an inspiration … or was it? I found a construction-paper bunny lying near and underused overhead projector. The reading was from a primary documents collection on the election of 1912. I had an in-class assignment for them to write about: compare the Theodore Roosevelt speech which ended with “We stand at Armageddon, and we battle for the Lord” with Woodrow Wilson’s speech which used “Give us this day our daily bread” to talk about wages and other things threatened by unchecked monopolies. Compare these two speeches theologically.

Then the “inspiration”: the Easter Bunny (above in photo) is asking the comparative question …

It was an inspiration, wasn’t it? (Well, the Easter Bunny amused the students as they were working on the question …)

*Cell phone photo courtesy of Emperor Dan, aka Dr. Dan Young.


22 Dec

When teaching on the importance of historical context, I often enlist the help of a movie that many of you are likely to watch this Christmas season. I have in mind Frank Capra’s holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life. Hollywood rarely aids the life of the mind–and in truth, the movie’s theology is really messed up–but when it comes to the importance of historical context this film gets it right.

So writes Wheaton College historian Robert McKenzie in his latest post. For his helpful case about It’s a Wonderful Life and the importance of historical context, see here:


Exploring the Past

Reading, Thinking, and Blogging about History

Enough Light

"In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't." - Blaise Pascal

Lenten Lamentations

Preparing to Participate in God's Mosaic Kingdom

The Text Message

Discoveries from processing and reference archivists on the job

john pavlovitz

Stuff That Needs To Be Said

Wirelesshogan: Reflections from the Hogan

"History is the record of our loves in all their magnificent and ignoble forms." Eugene McCarraher

The Way of Improvement Leads Home

"History is the record of our loves in all their magnificent and ignoble forms." Eugene McCarraher

the way of improvement leads home

reflections at the intersection of American history, religion, politics, and academic life

The Pietist Schoolman

The website and blog of historian Chris Gehrz

Reformed Journal: The Twelve

Reformed. Done Daily.


by Alex Scarfe


Thoughtful Conversation about the American West

Northwest History

"History is the record of our loves in all their magnificent and ignoble forms." Eugene McCarraher

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