More Teaching Panels at the 2018 AHA


Mike Davis, one of our correspondents at the 2018 annual meeting of the American Historical Associationchecks in with some reflections on three panels on teaching history.  Read all of Mike’s AHA 2018 posts here. –JF

I attended three panels at the AHA conference on Friday (Day 2), each one engaging with issues relating to historians and their relationship with the broader community.

The first was a sales meeting for Pearson’s new Revel “interactive learning environment,” billed as an alternative to traditional online and physical textbooks designed to meet 21st century students where they live by letting them engage with ADA compliant audio, video, primary sources, and other learning techniques. While I found Revel engaging, I felt particularly empowered by the number and diversity of faculty present for the talk. Junior and senior faculty from high schools, community colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and comprehensive state universities all turned out for the opportunity to learn better ways to engage with their students.

The second panel: “The Culture Wars of the Texas K-12 Schoolbooks” dealt with Texas K- 12 schools and the efforts by both AHA members and their community allies to both build Mexican-American history studies programs and defend those programs from a hostile state legislature eager to heavily regulate – or outright abolish, any programs that encouraged “nationalism.” The panelists emphasized how the anti-Mexican historiography the state had considered was not simply immoral; it was also bad history, omitting decades of recent Mexican-American historiography. Having used this scholarship myself in the classroom, I was particularly looking forward to this panel and I was not disappointed.

I was particularly pleased at how the panelists – Emilio Zamora (taking the opportunity to present as two of the attendees had been unable to attend thanks to the inclement weather) and Carlos Blanton – emphasized that the focus of their work was on promoting critical thinking and student engagement rather than simply promoting ethnic pride. As they pointed out, this work benefited not just students from a particular ‘minority’ – but all students who get the opportunity to learn the contested nature of history and the way various disempowered groups have fought for power inside historical narratives.

The last panel I attended today was “Teaching the Master Narrative: American History Textbooks in the 20th Century”, a panel inspired by the scholarship of Kyle Ward (Minnesota-Mankato) that looked at the changing (or unchanging) ways various key moments in the “master narrative” of American history have appeared in secondary schools. The University of Miami’s Michael Horton looked at Columbus, offering his audience an interesting antidote to usual Whiggish notions of “historical writing improving over time” by looking at the historians of the 1920s and 1930s who were actually quite critical of Columbus and his career. In the same vein of anti-Whiggishness, Michael Kniesel at Kent State looked at the Boston Tea Party in high school textbooks – finding no particular improvement in accuracy in the way textbooks have discussed the Tea Party from the early 20th century. American teachers are reluctant to paint figures from the American Revolution as economic terrorists – despite the historiography in recent decades leading that way.

Finally, Lindsey Bauman looked at the way textbooks in the 1950s dealt with slavery – finding that textbooks generally relied on Ulrich Phillips’s master-centered economic history when telling the story of slavery. Bauman’s research showed that even as historiography in the academy moved beyond Phillips’s white-centric and white supremacist take on the history of slavery, school textbooks continued to directly use arguments and evidence from a work published some thirty-five years earlier even by the 1950s.

This was a good day – and it left me with good thoughts for my own panel presentation tomorrow. I look forward to seeing readers at the Early Career Lightning Round at 10:30AM on Friday.

AHA Dispatch: “Historians Behaving Badly”

Mike Davis is back!  See his previous AHA 2018 posts here. In this dispatch he summarizes a panel on professionalism in the discipline (or lack thereof!).  –JF

I attended two sessions on Thursday.  I wrote about a session on community colleges here. The other session I attended focused on community engagement and community building, inside of history programs. “Historians Behaving Badly”, chaired by LSU’s Suzanne Marchand and made up of UC-Riverside’s Thomas Cogswell, Chapel Hill’s Lloyd Kramer, and Northwestern’s Sarah Maza. (Princeton’s Jeremy Adelman was detained by snow), avoided the sexy scandal-mongering its title might suggest to engage with ways faculty members might build respect and collaboration with each other. Speaking anonymously through each other (the panelists exchanged papers to avoid violating confidentiality), the panelists reminded their listeners that the historical profession is under siege and that divisions inside the historical community only serve to undermine it.

More generally, the “Behaving Badly” panelists engaged with how historians have worked against each other – ranging from issues of misrepresented research, mistreated students, outright discrimination (in the speech read by Suzanne Marchand for Jeremy Adelman) to the talk read by Thomas Cogswell that dealt with issues of personal sociability ranging from falling asleep during seminars to the strategic use of electronics to avoid social engagements with other faculty. All lamented the lack of shared social space in the modern academy, and hoped for a revival of closer academic communities.

In addition to collegiality inside departments, the panelists engaged strongly with the great academic power imbalance – the job search. Though some had stories of the “divaesque” behavior of applicants, all agreed that the problem was generally not applicants (who at worst are usually not trained in the art of application) but departments that abuse their power relationship over applicants in a variety of ways, with each panelist taking turns sharing horror stories about which they’d heard or had personally experienced.

The panel closed with a discussion of electronic harassment, gender politics, and the need for faculty to avoid the “bystander effect” in interactions with each other and our students. We model good behavior as part of our role in promoting the public good – and part of that role is intervening when necessary.

During the first day of the 2018 AHA I attended an engaging set of panels, one that left me feeling energized for both the rest of the conference and the coming winter semester.

AHA 2018 Dispatch: Teaching History in Community Colleges

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We are pleased to have Professor Mike Davis writing for The Way of Improvement Leads Home this weekend from the floor of the annual meeting of the American Historical Association.  Davis teaches at Northwest Florida State College. He is a scholar of American history with a focus on the politics and culture of 19th century America. His most recent publication is a history of the Anti-Masonic movement in Thetford, Vermont. His current project is a history of the National Christian Association (1868-1983)Enjoy!–JF

On Thursday, January 4, 2018, I attended a panel titled “Teacher, Historian, Scholar: The Professional Identity of Two-Year Faculty.”  It focused on (among other things) the role that two-year faculty should play in the community outside their classrooms. A recurring theme among panelists Paul D’Amboise (Vermont CC), Nathaniel Green (Northern Virginia CC), Elizabeth Bryant (Houston CC), and Tony Acevedo (Hudson County CC) was community engagement, both inside and outside the classroom.

Paul D’Amboise pointed out that two-year college faculty are uniquely placed to be a bridge inside the historical community between K-12 educators (who might have more pedagogy), four-year college faculty (who might have more content), and museums and historical societies.

Furthermore, the preponderance of surveys and the growing number of students beginning their careers at two-year colleges make two-year college historians the ‘fulcrum’ of historical education – the front-face of the historical academy and the best way for scholars to get a feel for the general public’s knowledge of and engagement with history. There are no better scholars for teaching skills of critical thinking and citizenship to the average American.

Reversing typical expectations for community college faculty, Nathaniel Green argued for CC faculty to embrace research – making the case that the best way to promote student confidence, success, and satisfaction is to give them the understanding that their community college faculty are professors of history rather than just teachers of it. A scholar with an active research agenda is a scholar making vital contributions to their field, suggested Green, meaning that said scholar can show students that their learning is just as important, and their institution just as ‘real’, as their counterparts at four year institutions.

On the subject of promoting student engagement, Elizabeth Bryant took a pedagogical route, suggesting that faculty adopt the role of “learning manager”, explaining the term as faculty abandoning the idea of disseminating information and becoming masters of strategies to ‘promote understanding’. Community college students are too diverse in their backgrounds and college preparation for anything less, given that many lack the support systems or personal freedoms of students at the four-year college level. On that subject, she led the panel in championing “growing relationships” outside of the classroom, reminding those in attendance of just how diverse the role of community college faculty is.

Finally, Tony Acevedo reminded us of two “facts of life” of community college faculty ] they tend to be happy and satisfied with their jobs and their strong focus on teaching, but concerned about the issues of professional isolation (as they tend to work solo or in small groups), poor conditions (5-10 course teaching loads are not uncommon for community college faculty), and in general how the tension between teacher and scholar is particularly difficult for faculty members working at institutions that may give no weight to the latter at all.

Moderator Mark Smith’s promotion of disciplinary mastery led us into a final discussion of themes that felt familiar to scholars at any institution – declining enrollment, poor treatment of adjuncts, the increasing need to teach learning strategies to products of an era of standardized testing, and other crises that afflict both two-year and four-year institutions. It was an engaging discussion for this author, a teacher at a two-year institution, and a rewarding one – as career paths for Ph.Ds change amid broader evolutions in the nature of higher education, it’s reassuring to know that the American Historical Association is engaging with the interests of two-year faculty.