This year's "Textbooks and Teaching" section examines
efforts to expand the teaching of college-level history courses
beyond traditional classroom formats and boundaries. K-12 social
studies classes have long included excursions to local museums and
historical sites to help make history "come alive" for younger students.
What, we wanted to know, is happening at colleges and universities
to deepen students' appreciation of, and connection to, the past?
What, we wondered, are the best practices in modes of teaching history
that move us "outside the box"?
Upon posting a call for papers, we quickly discovered
the abundance of energy and experimentation among historians teaching
in institutions of higher education. Some faculty had left behind
the traditional lecture/discussion format to create new collaborations
and learning communities; others had physically moved their teaching
beyond the four walls of their institutions; still others had found
ways to empower their students to create and "authorize" new "texts"--from
oral histories to material culture. Some efforts were unabashedly
activist, making explicit connections between academically based
community service, social change, and the study of history; others
stressed engaging students in writing history for, and sometimes
with, new audiences. Reports came from beginning instructors and
distinguished senior professors, from community colleges and flagship
research institutions, from large schools and small, and from both
urban and rural environments. What all shared was an evident commitment
to participatory education and to the cultivation of a passion for
"doing"--not just reading--history.
We present here twelve reports from the field, demonstrating
the astonishing vitality and range of innovative teaching. The reports
describe service learning, community-oriented public history projects,
collaborative research seminars, and traveling classrooms that educate
head and heart. Topics include the use of material culture and electronic
resources in history courses and the destabilization of classroom
authority that historians confront when they move away from traditional
formats. In these case studies, first-year students find their way
into new historiographical frameworks while advanced undergraduates
thrive as researchers and publishers. Clearly, no one size fits
all in these new approaches to teaching. Most impressive is the
ability of inspired faculty to collaborate with students in the
creation of new engagements with the past. Here is evidence of the
success of historians who, with imagination and perhaps audacity,
connect their students to both real and "imagined" communities.
As John Dewey wrote in 1916, the purpose of the study of history
is "to enrich and liberate the more direct and personal contacts
of life by furnishing their context, their background and outlook."
Our reports suggest that teaching outside the box can accomplish
The syllabi posted here are intended as supplements to the "Teaching
and Textbooks" section. The Journal of American History
has neither reviewed nor edited the content of these syllabi. They
have, however, been reformatted for display on the Web.