Summer Intensive and Accelerated Masters

Downtown Mt. Pleasant

Downtown Mt. Pleasant

Tuition goes up year after year, but several jobs still require graduate level education. The history department has a solution that will save students time and money -- the Summer Intensive MA. The Summer Intensive is just what it sounds like (truth in advertising!); it offers a way for students to complete the requirements for a Master of Arts degree by taking courses in the summer. If you have not taken any classes at the Masters level, you can complete the thirty-hour degree in three summers, two if you are willing do some additional coursework during the academic year.

For undergraduates who are planning ahead, the news gets even better. If you know you want to earn a Master’s degree, you can enroll in the Accelerated Master’s Degree program and earn up to twelve hours of graduate credit while still an undergraduate.  You pay for the credits once but you count them twice, once for your Bachelor’s and then again for your Master’s.  If you combine the Accelerated MA with the Summer Intensive, you can finish your degree in two summers.

What does this look like? Well, say you are an education major. Once you have finished your BA and lined up a job, you stay in Mt. Pleasant for six weeks in the summer to begin your masters. Then it is off to your first year on the job.  The following summer you return for another six weeks of coursework and you are done!  The Accelerated MA/Summer Intensive combination gives you the best of both worlds.  You go on the job market without a grad degree but then have an MA in hand in as little as one year after graduation!

Summers are intense but they are fun, too.  Dive into cutting-edge scholarship one day and head to to the Lakeshore or a national park to do field work in public history the next.  Analyze primary source material or debate a history classic in the morning and then hone your teaching skills with a course on game-based learning pedagogy in the afternoon.  

The Summer Intensive plan allows you to save time -- you would either avoid taking two full years away from a job to be in school or be able to progress faster than slowly taking a course here or there as your job allows -- and it saves you about $7000 overall. If you have questions about the program, direct them to Dr. Kathleen Donohue, Director of Graduate Studies.

Maps as History

1988 Road Atlas, Rand McNally

1988 Road Atlas, Rand McNally

By Jennifer Vannette

I love maps. I've always been drawn to them. I spent many hours as a child happily entertaining myself by studying the road atlas on long car trips. Maps tell stories and offer all sorts of interesting little rabbit holes down which to get lost. They can also help teach history in a visual, dynamic way.

With so many new digital archives available, we now have access to maps of nearly everything we might want to teach. The David Rumsey Collection, the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas, the Newberry Library Map and Cartography Collections, and Stanford University Spatial History Project are excellent resources available for historians.

John Pickles, a geographer with interests in social power and maps, suggests:

maps have the character of being textual in that they have words associated with them, that they employ a system of symbols within their own syntax, that they function as a form of writing (inscription), and that they are discursively embedded within broader contexts of social action and power.

Teaching with maps not only can help students visualize the trade routes of the British empire, the westward expansion of the US, or the ways religions spread, maps can also be used to teach primary source analysis. Students can learn to interrogate what the map depicts, who made the map, why they made the map. Other questions suggested by the National Archives lesson plans include: "What did you find out from this map that you might not learn anywhere else?" and "What other documents or historical evidence are you going to use to help you undertand this event or topic?"

Maps help us orient history in time and place. Visualizing space can be very powerful.

In Defense of History: A New Blog Feature

Paul Revere sounding the call. Boston.

Paul Revere sounding the call. Boston.

The blog is changing. Even historians can stride purposefully towards progress!  If you go up to the Newsworthy tab, you will notice a drop down menu with two options: News & Happenings, which has all the announcements you are familiar with finding under Newsworthy, and the new In Defense of History.

In Defense of History is where you will find links to different resources that discuss the importance of studying history and the usefulness of a history degree (or more broadly liberal arts/humanities). The collection of articles features people such as entrepreneur Mark Cuban stating that liberal arts is the future or The Harvard Business Review echoing the sentiment and arguing that innovative thinkers come from the humanities. David Kalt, the founder of Reverb.com penned a piece for the Wall Street Journal saying that he was wrong to believe he need computer science people exclusively to build his business. He wrote, “A well-­rounded liberal arts degree establishes a foundation of critical thinking. Critical thinkers can accomplish anything.”

While we need to apply our critical thinking skills to our own field and question whether or not we are effectively communicating the importance of historical studies to our universities and the broader public, we should also remember that it’s not all doom and gloom. There are many people who understand our abilities and want to have us on their team.

So, when you need a dose of inspiration, an injection of optimism, or resources to boost your argument, you will find a growing archive under In Defense of History. Feel free to pass along suggestions for the page. Send links to cmichhistoryblog@gmail.com

Navigating the Crisis: Set a New Course

By Jennifer Vannette

The crisis of the humanities has been a long lamented point in the academy. As we well know at CMU, budget shortfalls are balanced on the backs of history programs, which then have to cut courses and new hires. As other programs send us fewer students due to their own restructuring and society deems the study of history less important, universities have begun to require fewer credits in history. Additionally, many people view history as less useful to their futures. It’s easy to get discouraged.

The latest issue of Perspectives on History (May 2017) offers two articles addressing the challenges of and failures regarding teaching history. David Pace, in his piece “The History of the Classroom in an Era of Crisis: A Change of Course Is Needed,” begins with the clarion call that “in a ‘post-truth’ age of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news,’ historians must ask fundamental questions about our public roles,” and he argues that we have a moral obligation to defend the institutions of democracy. Pace promotes a change in how we teach history, being sure to move away from memorization and towards reasoning and critical analysis. This is not a new idea, and many historians have already made that shift at the college level. But, Pace, notes that we have a tendency to blame students lack of preparation for college rather than reshaping courses to address the needs of the student body we have.

 The numbers are startling when it comes to fail rates. The companion article in Perspectives, “Many Thousands Failed: A Wakeup Call to History Educators” by Andrew Koch, complied data on 28,000 students from 32 different institutions over the course of three academic years spanning 2012-2015 who were enrolled in a US history survey course. The data showed that about two-thirds of the students earned a grade of a C or higher. But, looking at the demographic variables, the research team saw that race, family income level, gender, and status as a first-generation college student were indicators that predicted the success rate of students in a history class: “…the likelihood of earning a D, F, W, or I grade is lower for Asian Americans, white, and female students who are not first generation, and do not receive a Pell Grant. It is higher, and sometimes significantly higher, for every other demographic group.” And, the failure in one introductory course, like a US survey, increases the likelihood of dropping out of school.

 Koch also criticizes past methods of teaching history. He sees promise in active-learning strategies. But, additionally, he implores historians to take an active role in preventing the negative outcomes for disadvantaged students. Inequality in society predicts inequality in learning outcomes, and we have an obligation to intercede.

Both articles also express worry that part of the fail rates are due to a lack of diversity in the narratives communicated to students. Even though historians have produced a great body of literature that addresses class, race, gender, ethnic studies, religion, and many more interesting facets of humanity, many minority students are not finding themselves represented in the survey courses. We’ve adjusted how we talk to each other as academics, but we are faltering in communication of the rich body of history to students and the public.

Pace and Koch acknowledge the lack of willpower at institutions to make changes, particularly when the results are unknown. We need to try something new, but a university rarely wants to be the first to use an untested method. The work that goes into changing course offerings can be daunting, but there are resources available and a network of historians working on educational research. Change can happen – Yale recently announced that through their efforts of revamping their history major courses and requirements, history is once again the top major at the university.

Both authors offer good starting points for the conversation, and they indicate that we need more creativity. We perhaps need the political determination to challenge the norm (should I say sacred cow?) of historical survey courses. Even when historians have tested new methods, we still cling to the survey lecture structure. Consider the example of how the game-based pedagogy Reacting to the Past has been typically used. The game focuses on one particular historical experience during a discussion section while the chronological survey continues with lectures during two of their three meeting times.

Some historians have begun to approach courses, even university required surveys, with a thematic approach. This can be difficult to do; it’s hard to relinquish the chronology. I know when I taught US Since 1945, although I organized the lectures by themes, I made sure to also balance that with a chronological structure. I’m not sure I went far enough. We have the ability to cover a broad sweep of history while focusing entirely on a single theme. Course examples from the American Studies program at Canterbury in the UK are quite exciting, for example, The Invention of America: Texts and Contexts from 1670 to the Present; Rise of the American Colossus: US Foreign Policy, 1898 to the Present; or, Banned Books: A Literary History of the US. Can we pique student interest better by focusing on a particular theme rather than trying to cover everything that happened over hundreds of years?

As historians, we know that we are relevant to the conversations that consume society today, and as Pace pointed out, we perhaps even have a moral obligation to do all we can to defend our institutions. With the fail-rate data and the layers of bureaucracy that must be navigated to make changes, it's easy to want to just stay the course. But there are positive signs. Even with STEM promotion, many technology business leaders have said that they seek people with the skills historians have and can teach. (Here. Here. And here.) The work of a course change is daunting, and there are no guarantees. And, still, we should engage in new ideas and try new methods for engaging our students – even if it means killing the sacred cow.        

The Pedagogy of Hope: Continuing the Conversation

Brittany B. Fremion

Editor's Note: This is a follow-up post to last week's The Pedagogy of Hope.

The roundtable I participated in at the American Society for Environmental History conference at the end of March focused on ways instructors find hope in environmental history narratives in their courses. And I certainly work to incorporate research I present and learn about at conferences into my classes. In an effort to bring what I learned at this particular gathering to a wider audience, I offer this follow-up post.

My roundtable, “The Pedagogy of Hope: Teaching Hope in the Environmental Classroom,” featured instructors in environmental studies and history programs. Each presenter brought a unique perspective and strategy for finding hope to the roundtable. Jim Feldman from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh frequently checks in with his students after discussing particularly taxing topics in his environmental studies course. He works hard to engage current events and demonstrate to students that sustainability is “not a narrative of decline, it’s a narrative of hope.” Sarah Hamilton, now at Auburn University, talked about a course she taught at the University of Michigan in 2014, wherein students developed an environmental history of Detroit. By working directly with community leaders and members, her students recognized the significance of community action groups and the power of individuals to bring about change locally. The collaborative endeavor increased student empathy and demonstrated that “change is ongoing and they can be a part of it” (check out the course website: https://detroitenvironment.lsa.umich.edu). Amy Kohout uses post-apocalyptic fiction in her American environmental history course at Colorado College. Her use of Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, for example, creates opportunities for the discussion of hopeful narratives and what fiction may do for the study of history: it presents “the wide range of possible futures.” Finally, George Vrtis from Carleton College assessed the state of the field and its historiography, pointing out that while “hope is a feeling, not an intellectual enterprise,” it is important to kindle hope to help students understand the environmental challenges we face. He contended that there are hopeful narratives in environmental history and that instructors can identify them by designing discussions that encourage students to find themes that inspire them. 

Finding hope in environmental history—or any field, really—is important. Hope drives interest and cultivates passion, which in turn provokes a response. I took my first environmental history course as an undergraduate at the University of Saint Francis, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The instructor, also my advisor, assigned William Cronon’s Changes in the Land and William Ashworth’s The Late, Great Lakes. The class, and these books in particular, made a profound impression on me. I learned about the transformation of the American landscape both before and after European settlement, and the “death” of Lake Erie in the 1960s. I was astonished that the field rose out of the environmental movement in the 1970s (in fact, these activist roots are what first drew me to environmental history). I became interested in environmental issues, joined the Sierra Club, and helped establish a nature preserve on campus for Earth Day. I went to graduate school, first for a MA in history and then a doctorate. Now I teach my own environmental history class. The point is, I channeled any anger and despair I felt about the environmental present in 2003 and translated it into action. In turn, I have found hope (see previous post).

Following the short presentations by roundtable participants, audience members contributed to the conversation by bringing insight from their own experiences. Some of the questions they raised include the following, which I leave to you:

1)    How can one find hope in global environmental histories or histories typified by more tragic narratives? (I’m thinking of histories like Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts.)

2)    Is there danger in overemphasizing hope? (This question was prefaced by the revelation that a prominent historian once told a student that “environmental history is depressing, so it should be.”)

3)    What other strategies enable instructors to teach empathy and hope?

Active Politics is the Study of History*

By Trent Wolf (Class of 2015)

I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science, and since then, I have worked as a legislative assistant to State Representative Frank Liberati in the Michigan Legislature. Politics can be understood as simply a web of interconnected relationships: connections between legislators or between elected officials and voters, for example. In practice, no piece of legislation is passed in a democratic system without relationships being established between politicians, just as no elected official wins their campaign for public office without building and maintaining relationships with voters. The difficult, and nuanced, aspect is untangling all of these relationships through using the same skills historians use to untangle the hidden realities of humanity’s past.  Using this lens, politics can be viewed as history unfolding in real-time.

The most obvious, and potentially less direct, application of my studies in history would be simply understanding the historical context to the reality we live in today—something I believe too many in our society go without. Public policy and politics are intrinsically intertwined with our historical past. Basic understanding of historical facts impact the way in which laws are written and also influences the way in which politicians talk about their ideas and project those ideas to the public. Additionally, historical understanding, or lack thereof, directly defines the ways in which constituents perceive politicians and their ideas.

More directly, though, by employing the research skills learned through studying history—such as source analysis, aggregating analyzed historical data, and effectively communicating the story that data illustrates—I was able to develop a important set of skills that I use every day to be effective at my job.

For example, when performing historical research, secondary sources are used to provide context to a given topic and primary sources—such as speeches, letters, songs, poems, illustrations, and memoirs—are used to gain a better understanding of a topic, which allows a researcher to expand upon the known historical record. Similarly, in public policy and politics, we use secondary sources to frame societal problems and policy solutions, such as data on income inequality or school performance. Then primary sources, such as constituent communications, firsthand political information from elected officials, or forms of support from stakeholder groups, are combined with the secondary source information to gain a broader understanding of an issue and how it might be solved.

With this in mind, the same skills of thoroughly vetting sources and knowing that multiple perspectives must be gathered to gain a credible understanding of an issue or topic are directly used in both politics and history. For instance, in the same way historical research should not be told through the lens of one historical figure, one document, or one perspective—in politics you must also gain as much primary source perspective as possible to be able to effectively craft policy and campaign messaging. Additionally, I fully believe that individuals who study history properly are able to gain a sense of “open-mindedness,” or are more able to objectively analyze the information they are researching, which is sorely missing from our political system that has been ravaged by partisan hyperbole and ad hominin attacks.

I credit all of my experiences as a student of history for where I am today. In so many ways, those experiences have become directly linked to who I am as a working professional trying to better the world in which we all live as well as an individual and the way I view the world. In both history and politics, critical thinking and analysis as well as being able to think in new, creative ways are key to being able to contribute to the historical record or pass legislation.

*Polybius, The Histories, vol. 1

History Matters: The Skills I Learned

By Emily Lint (Class of 2015)

Today, like most days, I thought about my time spent in history classes at CMU. I am currently halfway through my first year teaching at West Senior High School in Traverse City, MI. I teach economics. When I accepted the job in Traverse City near my family at the school where I student-taught I was thrilled. At first I wasn’t sure how my history training would apply to teaching Economics, but not too far into my first planning day in a hot classroom in the late summer I realized I would have plenty of opportunity to use my history training teaching economics. I learned far more than content from my history professors at CMU, and the non-content skills kicked in right away.

CMU’s history department made me a better thinker. I learned that historical events do not exist in a vacuum. Context is everything. I learned how to think about topics in their place in the grand scheme of things.  My experience with examining different angles of historical topics translates into my teaching every single day. I try my best to make sure my students understand concepts with context and can see how to apply what they learn to their lives every single day.

CMU’s history department made me a more well-rounded person. In my American history classes especially, I learned the story isn’t as simple as I had been told. When you’re telling the story of people, there are always lots of perspectives to consider. Likewise, every kid has a slightly different perspective and different set of experiences they carry with them into my classroom. Remembering to consider other perspectives has helped me get to know the dozens of kids who pass in and out of my room every day. 

CMU’s history department made me a better public speaker. As my time in the program progressed the classes got smaller and smaller and the opportunities to sit back and listen became fewer and farther between. Eventually I was forced to speak up. Small class sizes, accessible professors, and great content helped me become more comfortable speaking out. In my own classroom, I try to emulate those professors who brought me out of my shell. Incorporating elements of “sticks and carrots” that got me to talk in college into my own classroom has allowed me to witness the blossoming of students who offer incredible insight to classroom discussions every day.

Finally, CMU’s history department made me a more confident person. Every experience tackling original research, working on projects with professors, attending conferences, and presenting my work made me feel more and more confident with my ability to take on the world. Standing in front of 33 teenagers for the first time was less intimidating because I had already stood in front of far more people than that. Teaching content was less scary because I knew how to tell a story (even if it turns out the story is about economics). So much of what I feel comfortable doing today comes from the confidence instilled in me throughout my time with CMU’s history department.

I am grateful for so much about my time with CMU’s history department. The life lessons and skills I picked up along the way are the gifts from the CMU history department that I am most thankful for.

 

Adventuring in England

Wesley at his ancestoral home

Wesley at his ancestoral home

By Wesley Reynolds

Over the past five months, I have enjoyed my time studying at Newcastle University in Newcastle, UK. I have had the amazing opportunity to see the four corners of England -- not just the cities but the picturesque landscapes of rural England. I have fallen in love with the countryside, and through it, England’s people, national characteristics, and habits have seeped into my consciousness. Newcastle has turned out to be the perfect location for learning about England. It’s close to everything.

I am staying with a family just south of Gateshead (Newcastle’s sister city) in a little stone farmhouse; the perfect inspiration for higher learning. Bus fare is more than worth the opportunity of being introduced to England through the eyes of a traditional English family with connections both to Oxford and Cambridge Universities.

My host family is distinctive from the mining Geordie vernacular culture of Newcastle, but, for me, this has been an excellent match. They have instructed me in the finer social arts of inculcating an English sense of reserve, eating and drinking properly, posture and gestures, and even have helped me develop a southern English accent. There is a wonderful church and seminary here with many linguists, scholars, and people with real servant hearts. I have an amazing new home for study!

In addition to course work, I have been able to focus intently on my research on London coffeehouses. I visited the first coffeehouse in Oxford, and spent two weeks at the British Library in London and the National Archives in Kew investigating various primary sources. Accessing archives in England is an experience all of its own! Maybe for another post.

Most of all, I am enjoying the time I have off campus and discovering the culture. I am immersing myself in "old England”: Northumberland castles and farmland, the Lake District, York, Durham, Oxford, London, rural East Anglia, and pastoral Somerset. The Lake District is the most dramatic and inspiring landscape I have seen. It is a land of rock, fern, and waterfall; wild and unkempt, but still close to the mortal heart, with gradual shifts in lighting and subtle textures. The daylight in England touches the green grass with a golden hue and the moderate temperatures and frequent rains impart a certain gentleness to the country. Some of my favorite moments have been among the sheep meadows of Hexham, Northumbria; jumping over stone stiles and running along country paths. Passing along the Great Western railway through Bath and Bristol into the more gentle southwestern hill country of Somerset, I had the opportunity to stay in my old family ancestral manor house of Cothelstone. The red stone and soil seems now a part of me, and I will never forget awaking to a far green country spread out below my stone-framed, latticed window. In the southeast, the land is flatter and more suited for tillage. I stood on the runway from which my grandfather lifted off with his B-17 bomber in the Second World War. Up to Scotland sometime this semester!