Reflections on Teaching a Class on the History of Globalisation

1 06 2012

AS: At this university,  as in most British universities, the lecturers are required to write up a statement at the end of the academic year assessing how well each class went. Here is the statement I wrote about my History of Globalisation module. 

 

It has been a tremendous pleasure to deliver this module to our first-year history students. After the final exam, several students told me that they regarded this module as “superb” and a radically different form of historical education than what they had experienced at A-level.

One student said that she now follows business and political news very closely and that her entire perspective on politics, economy, and the media had been changed by this module. Previously, she hadn’t known what a Chancellor of the Exchequer was. I was extremely happy to hear this remark, especially as it came from one of the stronger students.

In a sense, I was very lucky in that there were many “teachable moments” in the news this year that I could reference in my lectures. (This is the silver lining of the current economic crisis, I suppose). These references allowed me to point out parallels between contemporary developments and the economic-historical phenomena that are the core themes of this module. I certainly believe that the crisis in the Eurozone made my students more interested in the history of the gold standard than otherwise would have been the case. Students also seemed very interested in learning about the Great Depression of the  the 1930s and the lost generation they produced.

In our weekly seminars, I always tried to keep the discussion focused on the assigned readings, rather than tangential issues related to present-day politics. However, I noticed that there were vigorous discussions on the module Facebook page about contemporary issues (such as the future of Greece in the Eurozone) in which students were citing and applying concepts taken from the seminar readings.  Students will be able to apply the knowledge gained from this module in their future modules. These discussions were typically on Monday evening. I required the students to watch a documentary on the lives and times of the economists Keynes and Hayek. I was very happy to see from Facebook that a student shared a link to the online version of this documentary with friends who are not students at this university. In the last few months of the module, I enjoyed watching the students’ passionate debates about the merits of such things as the welfare state and the WTO. I was also happy to see that the students could discuss emotionally charged topics such as the legacies of Empire or the economic history of the slave trade in a respectful and scholarly manner. That’s excellent.

My experience is that most of the seminar readings I set at the start of the year were appropriate. They generated good debates.  A few were perhaps over the heads of these first-year students, so I plan to modify the reading list next year.

This module embodies the principle of research-led teaching. Several of my past and forthcoming publications deal with globalisation. I didn’t assign any of my existing publications as seminar readings this year because they aren’t directly relevant to the core themes of this module. However, by January 2013, when I offer this module again, I should have publications in print that are directly relevant to the core themes of the module and thus suitable for inclusion in the reading list for the seminars.

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