Not Just One Damned Thing After Another: Thoughts on the Art of Teaching History

In the past, I have had the privilege of working as a graduate teaching assistant for a diverse group of courses and under a broad range of teaching styles. Above all, my teaching philosophy rests on my belief in the importance of education for the development of critical analysis, empathy towards others, and human potential.

Teaching History

With regard to teaching history, I believe that it is vital to not only help students gain a thorough knowledge of historical information, but to also push them to develop the skills necessary for historical thinking. Thus, my approach challenges students to think like historians. To this end, it encourages them to unravel the connections between continuity and change, as well as to think more deeply about how we know and represent the past.

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Historical Research: Philosophy and Practice

To borrow from Joyce Appleby, I consider myself a practitioner of “practical realism.” I appreciate post-modern theorists’ suspicion of supposed essential universal truths; however, I still strive to obtain a degree of professional objectivity in my reconstructions and interpretations of the past.

Joyce Appleby
Joyce Appleby

In general, I investigate the interplay between language and ideas, particularly in the realms of religion, politics, gender, and the law. My current research examines the dueling civic ideologies embedded in the conflict over the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in order to shed light on the gendered ideas that have influenced social initiatives, political positions, and legal philosophies. In total, my work seeks to explore how the construction of ideas through language helps to create communal identities and values.

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The Backstory to the Stubborn Persistence of Sex Discrimination in America

 

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Forty-four years ago, when Shirley Chisholm became the first woman, and the first African-American, to seek the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, critics dismissed her campaign as quixotic. Today, Hillary Clinton could become the party’s flag bearer, surely a moment of triumphal progress. But, the journey from asterisk to possible nominee has not stopped male commentators in the media from criticizing Clinton for shouting too much and for smiling too little. As well, Clinton, a former First Lady, Senator from New York, and Secretary of State, has had to face condemnation from media outlets for not being inspiring enough. Then there is last month’s attack ad from Republican presidential hopeful, Donald Trump, that reduced Clinton to an annoying barking dog who is too weak to protect America’s national security interests. The ad not only dehumanizes Clinton, but it also reinforces a discriminatory attitude that women are unfit for leadership positions. This mindset, moreover, has long played a principal role in the shaping of American society, as it is of a piece with earlier judicial and political opinions that limited women’s rights on the basis that women were too feeble to exercise civic independence. In Mackenzie v. Hare (1915), for example, the United States Supreme Court not only upheld the Expatriation Act of 1907, an act that made an American woman lose her nationality status if she married a foreigner, but it also proclaimed the centuries-old belief that women needed men as their protectors to be “an ancient principle of our jurisprudence.”

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Breaking the Silence: The Historiography of the Haitian Revolution

 

“Why am I just now learning about the Haitian Revolution, especially in a modern European history course? Is it really that significant?” She was a young student. Although I cannot fully remember, I think she was a freshman. I stared back at her desperately trying to pretend that I was not frantically searching my brain for a clear answer. The problem was not a lack of answers; on the contrary, the problem was an overflow of ideas. It was my first semester working as a teaching assistant for a course on the history of modern Europe. At this stage, I still thought that as the instructor, I was supposed to know everything and anything at any given moment. In these early days, my discussion sections felt like twice-weekly pop quizzes.

Returning to the young student, I cleared my throat, broke my silence, and insecurely delivered what I prayed was a satisfactory answer. Gazing at her inquisitive eyes and feeling the other student’s predatory stares, I explained how the Haitian Revolution is significant to our understanding of the French Revolution.[1] I continued: “The Haitian Revolution signals the inconsistencies within the French Revolution.” Gaining a little bit more confidence, I turned the question back to my class exclaiming, “The Haitian Revolution makes us ask, ‘was the French Revolution about liberty and equality or was it about private property rights?” I finished: “It makes us question the nature of revolution, or if there is even a nature that can be indentified.” Realizing I was getting a little carried away with my own thoughts, I turned back to the student. She seemed satisfied since she now had some discussion points on the Haitian Revolution to include in her midterm exam. While my student was satisfied, I was not. In all honestly, that was the first time I had ever studied the Haitian Revolution and I began to wonder why the history of the Haitian Revolution appeared to be such an obscure topic.

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Revolutionary Style: A Review of Caroline Weber’s Queen of Fashion

For decades, scholars have attempted to capture the circumstances that led up to the French Revolution. In The Coming of the French Revolution, for instance, Georges Lefebvre explains the causes of the French Revolution with a socioeconomic interpretation. In particular, Lefebvre argues that the rising dominance of the bourgeoisie produced the political turmoil of the revolution.[1] In other works, scholars, such as Francois Furet, Robert Darnton, and Keith Michael Baker, underscore the importance of political ideologies and culture for understanding the causes of the revolution.[2] Still others historians, such as Timothy Tackett, contend that the ineptitude of the royal family also helped to bring about the war. Tackett, for example, insists that the salacious and careless actions of the royal family before and during the war undermined the public’s perception of the family as a symbol of sacred authority.[3]

Similar to Tackett’s analysis, Caroline Weber also draws attention to the significance of the royal family in Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette Wore to the Revolution.[4] The central aim of Weber’s study is to show how Marie Antoinette used the appeal of court fashion to exert political power. Through a comparison of Marie Antoinette to her famous ancestor, Louis XIV, Weber argues that the queen “identified fashion as a key weapon in her struggle for personal prestige, authority, and sometimes mere survival.”[5] In all, Weber concludes that Marie Antoinette fought her political adversaries with style.

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