Kick-Off Conference

At History21’s Kick-Off Conference on August 16-17, 2019, we discussed how best to think about teaching introductory college world history courses.


Conference Participant Contributions

(Click on participant name to download contribution.)

Art Arrieta

Comprehensive surveys are impossible and counterproductive. Thematic approaches, with cross-regional comparisons are better. Connection to contemporary issues is crucial (e.g. migration) for engagement. Field trips (IRL or virtual) can provide an effective  basis for group exercises.

Bob Bain

This is an unedited transcript of the keynote address Dr. Bob Bain gave at the H21 launch conference. In it, he describes past attempts to address and reform history education, and their results. He describes how recent changes in conditions and technologies may have made it possible for collaborative projects to have a greater impact now than in the past.    He also describes some of the most recent research into how students learn history, and what makes some teachers highly effective.

Lendol Calder

Let’s learn from past efforts to improve pedagogy. Let’s rethink what is “introductory” about “introductory” college history courses. Let’s have clear goals for what students know, value, and be able to do. Let’s avoid the illusion of “coverage” by tying the “Big Questions” to specific cases and materials through metanarratives and stories.

Shane Carter

College history courses need to be relevant to students to connect and engage with them. For young people today this means facing the roots of their existential climate crisis, as well as personal stories that show how core world historical issues (e.g., Columbian Exchange, slavery) can equip them to contextualize themselves in their personal, group, and global heritage.

Cate Denial

We love History; but most of our students don’t, despite our best efforts. We love content and often try to pack it into them. It doesn’t work. What does work is skills. I treat my students as historians from day one. Sources trump texts anyday: finding, analyzing, synthesizing, and telling stories from them. We also need to bear a thought for their emotional, physical, and living security, then they can be better students.

Ed Dickinson

While it may be impossible to conceptualize coherent patterns/trends over the long term, teaching even a smaller chronological chunk of world history requires instructors “to maintain an entirely sovereign conceptual stance” and to select and interpret events from that perspective. Using or writing a textbook from that stance allows class time to focus on “thinking like a historian,” specifically the distinctive angles of historical analysis and the importance of contextualization.

Audra A. Diptee

Most surveys have relatively few History majors. For the rest, this may be their last formal encounter with History. To engage them, we need to stop ‘defending’ the value of History and start showing it, by complicating current issues (e.g. slavery reparations) with historiographical debates, methodological issues, and theoretical frameworks; then having students use historical tools to hone their critical analytics.

Trevor Getz

New ideas for courses and materials are great; but without trying them out with students and determining what is effective in connecting with them and achieving pedagogical goals, we are teaching blind. Assessment can be misused, but we have to try, test, revise, and share our ideas and experiences with colleagues if we are to fulfill our responsibilities to our students and be proud of ourselves as teachers.

Jim Grossman

Research shows that introductory courses are often a barrier to college success, rather than a gateway. We need to understand who our students actually are, rather than complaining about the ways in which they are not ideal; this means further research into their nature and learning methods. This means a shift towards active learning and skills development.

Steve Harris

One of the core features of world history is its openness to a multiplicity of views and frameworks.  It also faces challenges, some unique and some standard to the discipline.  These challenges create the burden that world historians have to justify the choices we make in what we teach.  This paper proposes some justifications in the form of a set of beliefs that could form the basis for designing a world history course or a collaborative structure such as the H21 project.

Alan Karras

Most students are unprepared for college and are uninterested in an academic career (and, usually,) History. We need to start with where they are, now. The keys are: relevance, contextualization (often using themes or theories), and recognition of their global diversity. These provide the environment for skills direction; we can’t afford to do ‘recall’ anymore.

Liz Lehfeldt

Coverage doesn’t matter. We can develop students’ communications skills in combination with connecting them with the past in a personal way and with the larger issues in their lives. Be transparent with students about what we are trying to accomplish with our course.

Laura McEnaney

There is a great deal of research and many projects that can guide instructors in teaching the US history survey.  Yet, it’s unclear how professors can become able and regular users of this literature.  There is no professional development at the college level.  This paper proposes proposes some early-stage ideas about the structural possibilities for one approach to professional development.  Project 13 would offer faculty PD on the premise that the Freshman survey is essentially year 13 of students’ history education.

Laura J. Mitchell

What does a “first-year” history course mean? Most students in such courses are upper-division non-history majors with different needs/interests than early/potential history majors. We need to use stories to build personal connections between history, students, and their larger, non-historical interests. We need to recognize that community college contexts are therefore different than in four-year schools.

Nicolas W. Proctor

What does a “first-year” history course mean? Most students in such courses are upper-division non-history majors with different needs/interests than early/potential history majors. We need to use stories to build personal connections between history, students, and their larger, non-historical interests. We need to recognize that community college contexts are therefore different than in four-year schools.

Milton Reynolds

Why is a critical understanding of history an essential 21st Century skill?  Our modern civic discourse is balkanized and polarized, and these different understandings represent real challenges to democracy. Students need to know that history is messy and to gain the skills to be able to hold different, often competing ideas and evaluate them.  Teaching them these skills requires pedagogies of engagement that help them to hold tension, honor multiple perspectives, and see those understandings as assets.

Maryanne Rhett

In other disciplines, the move from high school to college is marked by increased complexity; college history needs to shift from repetition and detail to uncertainty, complexity, and deconstruction. Too often we treat students as if we don’t trust them with these intellectual challenges. How can move away from textbooks/coverage and give students the skills of the historian’s craft?

Bennett Sherry

Introductory world history courses can be made useable for students—especially non-majors—through tool-building. This involves modeling the tools, integrating them into assignments, and scaffolding of many small assignments from world-historical thinking through the completion of a digital project.

Jesse Spohnholz

Students need to own their own learning.  How can we help them to do this? By generating opportunities for them to discover for themselves that world history is critical to them.  One approach is to allow them to pick parts of world history that connect to their interests, passions, and identities.  But there is no one solution.

Heather Streets-Salter

Connecting students to historical individuals and their lives enables them to relate at a personal level and to move across different historical scales. Short primary sources are ineffective; using longer pieces of literature (usually not from Western males), promotes connection and historical contextualization. Students need to understand the relationship between history, memoir, and fiction,  as well as how the literary piece arose.

Molly Warsh

Thematic coherence is important; I’ve focused on commodities and used that both in class and as the basis for assignments. Students respond to engaging with physical things, particularly their things, to launch an inquiry into those things’ history. I also use shorter textbooks, split class discussions, and frequent short assignments to keep them connected with the material.

Merry Wiesner-Hanks

Using contemporary social concepts can provide an engaging theme for a world history course. One example is “intersectionality,” which connects a comprehensive set of identity categories and incumbent social power. This enables us to view history through student’s eyes and connect them with comparable issues from the past.

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