Tag Archives: pedagogy

  • Encountering History through Primary Sources: Medieval England

    As we prepare for this year’s International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, Michigan, we reflect on the significance of our immensely popular series of primary source texts: Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures. The series, edited by Paul Edward Dutton, has now reached twenty volumes, and has made it possible for instructors to design new and innovative medieval history courses. To mark the publication this season of the new edition of Medieval England, 500-1500: A Reader, and to celebrate the contributions of the RMCC series, we are pleased to share the following post by Katherine Allen Smith on the joys of teaching and learning through primary sources.

    As a first-semester undergraduate, my favorite class was a 100-level history course on “England from Julius Caesar to Elizabeth I.” The class struck that perfect balance between big-picture and personal narrative, and our professor had a knack for telling stories that were memorably sad (Orderic Vitalis’s father leaving his eleven-year-old son in a Norman monastery), dramatic (remember the ailing Richard the Lionheart directing the Siege of Acre from his silk-draped litter?), or gross (think William the Conqueror’s corpse bursting during his funeral at Caen). He lectured from an ancient notebook, turning its onion-skin pages so carefully as to imbue them with an aura of mystery. We freshmen mostly listened and tried to write everything down, the bolder of us asking questions. (As one of the shyest students in the class, I rarely raised my hand, though I was often puzzled by the discrepancies between the pronunciation and spelling of so many English place-names, not to mention the intricacies of medieval currency.)

    This course helped me see that doing history could be as exciting as detective work—like Inspector Alan Grant tackling the mystery of the “Princes in the Tower” from his hospital bed in Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time—and awakened me to the existence of primary sources (a foreign concept to many American high schoolers of my generation). These firsthand accounts were a revelation to me. You have to admit, it is pretty incredible that we can eavesdrop on sixteenth-century court gossip via ambassadorial communiqués, or peruse Henry VIII’s personal household budget (and, by the way, you would not believe the quantities of meat and fish he and his courtiers consumed). At the end of that first semester in college, I declared a History major and spent much of the next three-and-a-half years learning as much about the past—in particular, about the medieval and early modern centuries in Europe—as I could.

    The further I’ve gotten from my undergraduate experience, the more clearly I can see the immense value of the critical reading and research skills I gained at college, but also how much I missed out on. In four years of studying history, I learned a great deal about kings and wars, the growth of political institutions and legal systems, but relatively little about the 99% of people who were excluded from power in the past. The vast majority of the historical actors I encountered were men, though at the end of my college career I took a fabulous class on premodern private life which fully integrated women’s experiences (using the groundbreaking first edition of my co-editor Emilie Amt’s Women’s Lives in Medieval Europe: A Reader, published by Routledge in 1993). My college self’s view of what constituted a valid historical source was also quite narrow, being confined to things like chronicles, legal records, letters, and speeches; certainly I had little sense of how one might “read” archaeological findings, works of art, or literature as primary sources.

    Graduate school opened my eyes to social and cultural history, to considerations of how variables such as race and ethnicity, gender, social class, and age intersected to shape the experiences of historical individuals, and to the ways in which material culture and literary works could illuminate the past. When I began teaching my own courses, I was eager to expose my students to a multiplicity of historical perspectives, and to share with them the excitement of encountering the past through a wide range of primary sources. I began building classes around the innovative primary source collections that were coming out in the 1990s and early 2000s: Michael Goodich’s Other Middle Ages: Witnesses at the Margins of Medieval Society (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998) formed the basis for a class on the experiences of marginalized groups in medieval Europe, and I was so taken with Jacqueline Murray’s wonderful Love, Marriage, and Family in the Middle Ages: A Reader (University of Toronto Press, 2001) that I created a course with an identical title just so I could teach it. In the years since I discovered Murray’s reader, I’ve developed several courses around UTP’s Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures series: Alexander Callander Murray’s From Roman to Merovingian Gaul and Paul Edward Dutton’s Carolingian Civilization have provided foundations for courses on Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages; the first and now second edition of The Crusades (edited by S.J. Allen and Emilie Amt) has seen me through a dozen iterations of a course of the same name; and since 2006 I have been using the first edition of the Medieval England reader in my class on England from the Romans to the Tudors.

    Working with Emilie on the second edition of Medieval England: A Reader was great fun because it allowed me to revisit that class where I first discovered my love for history, and to add new sources that I think will delight, intrigue, and move students. It was also a real challenge, since we were eager to retain the strengths of the reader’s first edition. Published in 2001, it was notable for its inclusion of many different types of texts representing the experiences and perspectives of medieval English women as well as men, members of different socio-economic classes, and a range of political and spiritual viewpoints, as well as for its incorporation of lesser-known sources alongside old standards of English political and legal history. We aimed to preserve these aspects of the collection while expanding its chronological breadth and incorporating new sources that would offer instructors the possibility of teaching thematically and encourage students to draw comparisons over time and get creative with sources. In the end, we produced a second edition in which fully one-third of the material is new. Here are some of the highlights.

    Recognizing that most surveys of English history begin before 1066, we crafted a new first chapter to highlight key events and institutions of the Anglo-Saxon period from c. 500 onwards, and allow students to assess the impact of the Norman Conquest on the English. Many new sources are meant to work in conjunction with retained sources to elicit questions about continuity and change: readers might trace the concerns of rulers and subjects over several centuries, compare wills made by Anglo-Saxons with those of late medieval Londoners, or trace the evolution of attitudes towards English Jews. We were also keen to include examples of new genres that historians have used creatively in recent years, such as household account books and proof of age inquests, which give a sense of the texture of daily life in the Middle Ages. Finally, the second edition highlights the potential of non-textual sources to shed light on the past, and encourages readers to put texts into conversation with other forms of evidence. We hope you and your students will enjoy juxtapositions like an account of twelfth-century siege warfare with the plan of a contemporary Norman castle and Polydore Vergil’s account of the Battle of Bosworth with a description of Richard III’s recently rediscovered burial.

    This is just a small taste of the new material in the second edition of Medieval England: A Reader, which was just published this semester. For my own part, I am very excited to begin teaching with it! Now, back to working on my syllabus….

    Katherine Allen Smith is Associate Professor of History at University of Puget Sound.

  • Adventures in Blogging: Doing Public Anthropology in the Twenty-First Century

    To mark the publication of Adventures in Blogging: Public Anthropology and Popular Media, author Paul Stoller takes to the medium of blogging (again) to provide some background on the purpose of his new collection as well as the importance, at this particular historical moment, of anthropology and the sharing of anthropological knowledge.

    Our troubled world is in desperate need of anthropological insight.

    We are today witness to widespread political dysfunction, social disintegration, and ecological devastation. In the near future, this set of cumulative processes is likely to produce massive social dislocation, cultural chaos, and political disruption.

    Will we be able to survive the ravages of human-induced climate change?

    Our times require anthropological intervention. Anthropologists have long been the guardians of core social values. Since Franz Boas, we have been more than scholars who seek to unravel the mysteries of the human condition. Indeed, throughout the history of the discipline we have been advocates for social justice who have critiqued the scourge of racism, ongoing social inequality, and persistent ethnic and religious intolerance.

    Adventures in Blogging demonstrates how we can use anthropological insights to find our way through the turbulence of contemporary social life. In my research among the Songhay people of the Republic of Niger I had the great fortune of being the apprentice of a great healer, Adamu Jenitongo. He was a short, slight man who lived in a grass hut at the edge of the town of Tillaberi. What could such a man, whose title was sohanci, teach me—us—about living in the contemporary world?

    He taught me a great deal about the vicissitudes of life. He impressed upon me the value of slow learning. When I asked him about the sohanci’s central obligation, he responded without hesitation.

    “I am the spiritual guardian of this place,” he said. “If someone abuses their authority or subverts our core values, I use power to set things straight.”

    Above and beyond his reservoir of knowledge and practice, the sohanci is first and foremost a keen observer of social and political relations. Anthropologists are also keen observers of social and political relations. Like the Songhay sohanci, we, too, attempt to use our knowledge to make the world a better place. In these troubled times, it is crucial that we engage in one of anthropology’s core obligations—cultural critique—an informed, sustained, scientifically rigorous, and public assessment of our social and political life.

    In Adventures in Blogging, I try to show how this media format is a particularly powerful way to practice contemporary cultural critique. Originally published in The Huffington Post, the entries in Adventures in Blogging are short, punchy, and accessible texts. Taken together, these blog posts, which cover a six-year period (2011-2017), show how anthropologists can use this form of social media to produce a sustained cultural critique that underscores again and again the following values:

    1. Climate change exists and failure to recognize this fundamental fact condemns our children to climatic hell;
    2. Income and social inequality are not socially sustainable and failure to rectify them is a historically proven prescription for social and economic devastation;
    3. Corporatization will ruin the university;
    4. Ignorance is our enemy and hate has no place in society;
    5. Science is our friend and a pathway to the future; and
    6. The quest for well being is the source of human resilience.

    This list, of course, is far from exhaustive. In Adventures in Blogging, I have much to say about “fixing the truth” in our media, about manipulating false images and narratives for economic and/or political gain. I have much to say about how fewer and fewer people read books and/or articles. I have a great deal to say about the cluelessness of our public officials. Adventures in Blogging demonstrates how a socially mediated and sustained cultural critique is a powerful way to construct a strong alternative to social, cultural, and political dysfunction.

    In the end, this book is a clarion call for the next generation of anthropologists to become cultural critics. We need your sustained, rigorous, and accessible insights to mark a path to a better future. We need you to share your knowledge in the public sphere. Indeed, in the classroom Adventures in Blogging can be read as a guide for doing the important work of twenty-first-century public anthropology.

    Paul Stoller is Professor of Anthropology at West Chester University.

  • European Union Governance and Policy Making: A Canadian Perspective

    To mark the publication of European Union Governance and Policy Making: A Canadian Perspective, the editors, Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly, Achim Hurrelmann, and Amy Verdun, reflect on what led them to produce the first textbook on EU politics designed specifically for students who are unfamiliar with the EU, many of whom are from outside the EU.

    Achim Hurrelmann: “One thing that I found fascinating in producing our textbook is that our book is itself the product of European integration, having been edited by scholars who grew up in three different EU member states: Emmanuel in France, Amy in the Netherlands, and myself in Germany. And of course, the book also reflects on Canada as the country where we all moved to teach European politics, and which welcomed us with open arms. You both came to Canada about twenty years ago, ten years before me. How was it to teach your first courses on the EU?”

    Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly: “When I started teaching, we actually did not focus on the EU as much as on Western European politics. At the time, we used a text that focused on four European countries and the construction of the European Community and the European Common Market. Because the European construction is so much a project in the making, it is hard to understand and follow how it is progressing. As a result, the process of European integration is really obscure for many people outside of the EU. What I found fascinating was to approach this textbook on the EU from that perspective, which is also our students’ perspective. Being in Canada, and having less exposure to EU politics than most of their European counterparts, our students have a knowledge gap. Hence, having the view of an outsider peeking into the European project, I thought, was just a wonderful idea.”

    Amy Verdun: “My experience was similar, and this is how the idea for this textbook was born. I first had the idea fifteen years ago, when I started coordinating a course on the EU that was multidisciplinary. I thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to have a book specifically for this course?’ Then, as EU scholars in Canada started to cooperate more with each other through various projects, the broader contours of what such a book might look like started to emerge. In September 2009, I approached the University of Toronto Press with the idea for this textbook and they were immediately interested. I invited Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly to join me as co-editor. In May 2010 we organized a workshop in Victoria, BC where we presented the first versions of the chapters. In 2015 we invited Achim Hurrelmann to join us as the third editor.”

    Achim Hurrelmann: “In addition to the three editors, our contributors include many leading scholars from the EU studies community, which is very vibrant and active in Canada, but also exceptionally collegial. In this sense, producing this book was really a collaborative endeavor. It was not difficult to get our contributors to buy into the main objectives of the book.”

    Amy Verdun: “For the longest time, our shared experience with EU textbooks was that they were not really ideal for students whose primary experience has been outside the EU. Most textbooks are quite detailed and provide comprehensive overviews of its history, theories, institutions, governance, and policy making. We thought that a book that reduces complexity, hones in on the key issues, and does not demand much prior knowledge would be great for the courses on European integration that we teach here in Canada. We also chose a writing style that was very ‘light’ on references and refers instead to a list of references for further reading at the end of each chapter. Also, each chapter compares the issue at hand with what the situation would be in Canada—which as a federal state has some overlapping features with the EU polity. Furthermore, we have organized the text around three major themes: that the EU was created on the ashes of World War II in order to prevent another war; that the EU today has considerably more powers than a typical international organization but it falls short of being a state; and that the legitimacy of the EU is increasingly subject to debate. With all of these features, we hoped to be able to provide a text that students from outside the EU would find more digestible.”

    Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly: “The core of our project is a text that allows students to learn about the EU with the added feature that it is written from the perspective of, and in comparison with, Canada. In each chapter, we provide a text box that details a similar process or policy in Canada. This provides students with direct references to another federal state, giving students an insider-view of the European Union from-the-outside.”

    Emmanuel Brunet-Jailly is Professor and Jean Monnet Chair in Innovative Governance at the University of Victoria.

    Achim Hurrelmann is Associate Professor at Carleton University.

    Amy Verdun is Professor at the University of Victoria.

  • Adventures in Blogging: Bringing Anthropology to the World

    For World Anthropology Day, we asked Paul Stoller to share his thoughts on the urgent need for a more public anthropology, as well as his ideas about blogging as one particular way to reach that public. Paul’s forthcoming book, Adventures in Blogging: Public Anthropology and Popular Media, will be available in April. Read an advance excerpt here

    We live in troubled times. In North America there is a wholesale assault on science, which, following longstanding practices, produces “inconvenient truths.” These truths stand in stark contrast to “alternative facts,” a patchwork of “big lies” that create a tapestry of untruth on media and social media. Taken together, these untruths have created an alternative universe of meaning. In this alternative universe, up is down, fiction becomes fact, and the truth, the ultimate objective of science, no longer matters. We are fast entering a seemingly limitless Orwellian space in which conspiracy theories are used in the blunt exercise of power that trumps the quest for truth and wisdom—the foundation of scholarship in the world.

    You can’t fight big lies with small truths.

    In this distressed environment, it is time for scholars, guardians of inconvenient truths, to meet their fundamental obligation: to produce knowledge that makes life a little bit better for us all. Although the pursuit of wisdom has long been the central obligation of scholars, we now live in a different climate than in years past. Most anthropological insights, for example, have been conveyed by way of scholarly essays and/or monographs. These texts have usually adhered to a strict set of rules. In science you are expected to present your findings and analysis in the bloodless prose of plain style. In so doing, we have let the power of our findings and our analyses—the facts, if you will—speak for themselves in an abstract and inaccessible language. For some time now, the persistent presence of deadly academic prose has meant that the public has little, if any, knowledge of our rigorously derived insights—insights that are important in the contemporary battle for truth.

    How many people, for example, know about important anthropological insights regarding climate change, racism, the re-emergence of Social Darwinism, the nature of religion and belief systems, the linguistics and cognitive science of propaganda, or the courage and resilience of peoples from what the American President has referred to as “shithole” countries?

    Not many!

    It’s true that anthropologists are waking up to the political and epistemological realities of a socially mediated world. An ever-increasing number of anthropologists now convey their slowly developed insights in documentary film, in drama, in poetry, in museums, and in media installations—all accessible ways to spread anthropological insights about a wide range of issues of social, economic, and political importance.

    I am one of many anthropologists who have felt the need to go public. In 2010, I realized that very few people had read what I had laboriously written in a narrative style designed for a broad audience. Despite my best efforts I understood that fewer and fewer people had the inclination to read anthropological works, including, of course, my own books and articles. I didn’t think it wise to abandon my professional writing, but felt compelled to blog anthropology by transforming complex ideas into simply stated and crisply written posts of 750 to 850 words.

    Could I do it?

    At first it was difficult to simplify tried and true academic prose, but after some false starts I found my blog rhythm and moved forward.

    I pitched an idea to HuffPost.

    They signed me up.

    I’ve been blogging anthropology ever since. In eight years of HuffPost blogging, some of my posts have spread far and wide in the blogosphere where readers liked, favorited, shared, and re-tweeted them. In some cases, 50,000 to 75,000 people would read my posts, meaning that the blogs had informed them of anthropological insights about US politics, the practice of social science, trends toward corporatization in higher education, critiques of shallow media representations, and narratives about the texture of human wellbeing.

    These days there are increasing numbers of scholars who are blogging anthropology. Most of them write skillfully about more or less anthropological subjects—especially emerging topics in archaeology and biological anthropology. In my blogs, by contrast, I have tried to bring anthropological insights to newsworthy events—the Presidential campaigns of 2012 and 2016, the dysfunction of the US Congress, the anti-intellectual war on science and social science, climate change, superstorms, and social dislocation. In the blogs, I make sure to highlight examples of apt anthropological concepts and demonstrate the wisdom non-western knowledge.

    I wrote Adventures in Blogging to show—rather than tell—anthropologists how they can use the medium as a powerful tool for mass education, a platform that connects disparate audiences. In this way, the book underscores how blogging anthropology increases cross-cultural understanding in a globally inter-connected world.

    Blogging anthropology is a different way of sharing anthropological knowledge.

    In today’s world, it’s a difference that makes a difference.

    Paul Stoller is Professor of Anthropology at West Chester University. He has published 14 books, including ethnographies, biographies, memoirs, and novels, and is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Robert B. Textor Award for Excellence in Anthropology. In 2013, King Carl XVI Gustav of Sweden presented him the Anders Retzius Gold Medal in Anthropology. In 2015, the American Anthropological Association awarded him the Anthropology in Media Award. He lectures and conducts writing workshops in the United States and Europe.

    This piece is cross-posted on our Teaching Culture blog.

  • One in a Thousand: One Hundred Years Later

    One hundred years ago, Eddie McKay, the WWI flying ace featured in One in a Thousand, was shot down and killed. To commemorate his life and death, and the publication this year of Eddie's story in an innovative new microhistory, author Graham Broad discusses how he was compelled to research, write, and publish Eddie's story. To learn more about Eddie McKay, you can of course get your hands on a copy of One in a Thousand, but we also urge you to check out Eddie's account on Twitter: @AEMcKayRFC

    I don’t believe in such things, but if I did, I’d say that Eddie McKay was pursuing me.

    About fifteen years ago, when I was a TA in the Canadian history survey at Western, I was asked to give a guest lecture about Canada in the First World War. It was my first lecture and I was quite unsure of myself, but I knew that the lecture would be more meaningful for the students if I told them about someone from their own university who had been killed in the war. The campus had no First World War cenotaph—it’s a long story—but I found Eddie's name in an old book about Western’s history. I looked into his story briefly. He was a rugby player who became a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. Perfect.

    I spent a few hours in the university archives looking for a picture of him to no avail. I left, stretching and yawning, rubbing my eyes, and paused to glance for a moment at a nearby display case. And there was an old and yellowed photo of Eddie McKay, wearing his rugby team uniform, looking straight back at me from the pages of a scrapbook about Western’s sports history. I alerted the archivist. “That’s weird,” she said. “I flipped to that page at random this morning.”

    Odd things like that happened again, over a decade later, when I decided to write a book about Eddie, like the time I took my laptop to the local market for a change of scenery. Sipping coffee and writing, I looked down for a moment at the top of the table. Somebody had etched “Eddie” in it. So that was weird, too.

    Again, I don’t believe in that stuff, but Eddie McKay does haunt me in a way. I can’t really claim to know him. Even if he had survived the war, it’s improbable that I ever could have: he would have turned seventy-eight the year I was born. Would I have liked him, or would he have liked me? He was athletic and a soldier. I am bookish, uninterested in sports, and unmilitary. And it would be incredible if he did not share many of the commonplace sentiments of his own age that rightly find no place in our own. Yet something about him compelled and still compels me inexorably. I’d mention him once a year when I guest lectured, and later in my classes when I started to teach. Then in 2007, I persuaded my senior seminar to do a little class project about him. Together, we gathered material about his life, at least the stuff we could get locally, and placed a commemorative marker for him on campus. I pass it often. My wife, who works at the university, can see it from her office window.

    In 2013, I hashed out an idea with Natalie Fingerhut, the Higher Education History Editor at University of Toronto Press. A biography, of sorts, of Eddie McKay. Could it be done? I dunno, I said. I’m not sure if there’s enough material. What the students and I had gathered in 2007 provided no more than a sketch. Even better, she proposed. It would really be two biographies: the story of Eddie McKay and the story of how I wrote that story—or failed to write it. A pedagogical microhistory.

    So, I committed biography, as they say. Sort of. I was able to locate only about six documents relating specifically to Eddie’s life prior to his twentieth year, for example, so the “biography” was pretty much confined to the last three years of his life when he was a student and soldier. Moreover, the experience of thinking my way through things I had taken for granted, such as how I went about doing history, why I believed the things I discovered about the past were probably true, laid me bare. Oh, back in the day I had taken the obligatory theory and methods courses, and I had wandered the thickets of “theory” over many hours of beer and argument with classmates who were convinced that there was nothing in this world that we could be convinced about. But I had always believed that, for all the interventions of the post-modernists, the core methodology of the historical profession hasn’t changed much over the years. We write about more things and often take a broader perspective, but fundamentally it seems to me that most historians do what historians have been doing for a very long time: they gather evidence to tell stories and make arguments about the past.

    My book, One in a Thousand: The Life and Death of Captain Eddie McKay, Royal Flying Corps, is the story of a promising young man who was killed in a terrible war. It is also the story about how I struggled to learn what I did about him, how I came to certain conclusions—however tentative—about him, and how I dealt with gaps in the record and the mysteries I couldn’t resolve. Where is he buried? Who was the mystery woman who inquired after him when he failed to return from his final patrol? What was in the envelope, addressed to him, that was never sent by the President of UWO in 1917? The book serves as an entry point, then, for students wanting to learn more about historical theory and method. It’s possible to skip the methodological discussions and read the book as biography alone, but it’s my hope that readers who come for the history will stay for the historiography.

    Eddie McKay was killed in action the day after his 25th birthday, 28 December 1917. For the past two years, I have been tweeting significant events in his life from @AEMcKayRFC. You can follow him there. In a future blog post, I’ll ruminate some about how I learned to stop worrying and love the tweet.

    Graham Broad is Associate Professor of History at King's University College at Western University and the author of A Small Price to Pay: Consumer Culture on the Canadian Home Front, 1939-1945 (2013).

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