Monday, February 2, 2015

Syllabus for U.S. History Since the Civil War (Erby)

Once again, I’ve avoided assigning a textbook this semester. I constantly wrestle with whether this is a good or bad thing. I tell my students that history is all about interpretation and debate. I feel like textbooks contradict this by providing an overly-neat, packaged narrative that elides questioning. And, as Kerry points out, they’re so expensive. Plus, I’d prefer students spend what I know is a limited amount of time they have available for reading with sources that are more interesting than a textbook. On the other hand, without a textbook, they are entirely dependent on me for the narrative I know they are all hungry for. Not to mention there are some really good textbooks out there ( I, too, like Roark, as well as Foner, and the new Hewitt & Lawson text from Bedford). This semester, I directed them to an open-access text on the web as an optional reading. One of my intentions is to have them assess this text’s coverage of certain events or periods we will have covered in particular depth using mostly primary sources, but I’m already not sure we’ll have the time for that. I’ve actually assigned zero books this semester. This is not altogether out of character of me. In my survey-level classes, I tend to favor using a variety of short, digitized sources that represent a variety of viewpoints. But I do usually assign at least one book. This semester I’ve gone for a novella available online (Abraham Cahan’s Yekel) but I worry that having students read a book online is not at all the same as having them read an ACTUAL book. Finally, if anyone is familiar with my usual syllabi, which list the topics to be covered every. single. class. period., you’ll notice that this one is far less detailed. That’s because I honestly don’t know yet what topics we're going to examine. I'm trying to be flexible and remain willing to sacrifice some content for depth and active-learning strategies.