My Teaching This Week – 29 Feb 2012

4 03 2012

In my history of globalisation class, our seminar readings were designed to introduce students to the concept of Varieties of Capitalism. The readings generated a pretty good discussion. I was somewhat surprised by the fact most students said they preferred laissez-faire over greater government involvement in the economy.

In my US survey class, I gave a lecture on the Second World War. In seminar, we discussed a podcast in which historian David M. Kennedy spoke about how US society was transformed by the war.

Sean Kheraj on Teaching and Footnote Checking in the Digital Age

15 02 2011

Sean Kheraj has posted some great ideas about how we can use the proliferation of online primary sources to help students to be more critical of the interpretations offered in secondary sources.

In the old days, tracking down a primary source to see whether a historian had accurately represented and correctly interpreted the content was very labour intensive. One had to copy down the bibliographic details from the footnote, find a library that had the source in question, and then do your comparison. Needless to say, this was far too much work for an undergraduate reading a scholarly article for a weekly seminar.

Technology has changed this. As Kheraj writes:

Given the terabytes of digitized historical primary sources now available online through fantastic repositories, including Early Canadiana Online, American Memory by the Library of Congress, and Internet Archive, historians could also attempt a similar experiment with “scientific history”. Alongside our footnotes, we could provide hyperlinks to the direct sources… This semester…. I asked my students to first read the following article:

Dick, Lyle. “Nationalism and Visual Media in Canada: The Case of Thomas Scott’s Execution.” Manitoba History no. 48 (2004): 2-18.

In this article, Lyle Dick discusses the visual representation in Canadian newspapers of the execution of Thomas Scott in March 1870. For the benefit of non-Canadian readers, I should explain that this execution had profound political consequences for French-English relations within Canada.

Kheraj states that:

Dick argues that the image published on the cover of the Canadian Illustrated News on 23 April 1870 had a profound impact on central Canadian perceptions of Riel and the Métis resistance. This image galvanized English Canadian opposition to Riel’s efforts at Red River and motivated calls for his arrest.

I then asked students to consult a couple of sources Dick uses directly from the Canadian Illustrated News, which have been digitized by Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec:

“The Red River Difficulty” Canadian Illustrated News, 15 January 1870, pgs. 1-2.

Canadian Illustrated News, 9 April 1870, pg. 358, columns 1-2.

Canadian Illustrated News, 23 April 1870, pg. 385.

We then compared the 1870 articles to Dick’s arguments and sustained a very engaging discussion about the role of visual media during the Red River resistance.

I would imagine that the point Kheraj was trying to communicate to his students was not that Dick’s representation of this image was wrong, but that it is possible to interpret a given primary source in multiple ways.

Although this example comes from a class on Canadian history, this technique could be adapted to the teaching of many different types of history.

Digital history empowers undergraduates and, indeed, all students of the past by making primary sources more readily available to the masses. The key thing is to provide the intellectual training so that people can handle the flood of new material.