Teaching

“Without our stories, we are incomplete”

- Neil Gaiman

I think of myself as a historian-storyteller.  History is, to me, an ongoing series of narratives- not just a disconnected litany of names and dates – and we are the sum of the stories that we tell. History is never carved in stone, it is about interpretation and argument; it is, in fact, the greatest of all arguments because it determines who we are. Nations rise and fall on the edge of history. Our greatest glories and most horrible crimes are linked by our historical DNA. As we craft history, we choose the narratives that fit our needs, and our needs change with the times.

In the classroom, my goal is to pull students into these stories through music, artwork, comics, literature and film clips. In telling the story, I try to illustrate the complexity and the relevance of the past. A good history course should, of course,  foster critical thinking.  To that end I am always trying to find new ways to bring history to life, but as a general rule  I employ the Socratic method – questioning students throughout the narrative in order that they may work out key connections on their own. In the end,  I believe good historians spend more time raising questions than answering them, and I believe that we should question everything we encounter in class.  I hope that by emphasizing a highly narrative approach students will be more engaged, will share in some of the endless excitement that I find in my chosen topics, and ultimately will be prepared to use history to explain the basis and context of contemporary social and political problems. For me, it is never just about reciting the small memorized details.

Those who teach learn twice, and I believe a successful teacher is enthusiastic, believes in lifelong learning, and works to create a community of engaged students. In a philosophical sense I want students to leave my courses as better, more sophisticated,  thinkers with an improved capacity to communicate their thoughts in a clear and cogent manner. I also hope they will also exit as more engaged citizens, possessing a new found appreciation for history – a better understanding of the foundations of their own world, of national and global issues, and, hopefully, of themselves, newly cognizant of the presence of the past and of their place within this amazing human story.

And I hope they have a little fun. Because history is.