April 19, 2008

Sketching a course 5

Framing questions as stuff, habits, and experience
Probably the most powerful intellectual experience I had as an undergraduate... or rather the most powerful explicit design of a course I took in my major (history) ... was a course on late medieval/early modern Europe taught by Susan Stuard. She structured the entire course around a single question: what accounts for the rising economic and political power of western Europe by the end of the Renaissance? Each week's reading was a famous piece of European historiography that had a different answer: technology, a reaction to Muslim control of the Mediterranean, an early industrial attempt that failed, the Hanseatic cities as a crucial cluster of merchants, etc. As we accumulated a critical mass of readings, the members of the class began to have much more extensive, in-depth debates about European history, historical explanations of change, what constitutes sufficient evidence, how to shape strong arguments, and so forth.

As I think back on this course and a few others with similar designs, the intellectual experience was a shared one. In other courses, I had my epiphanies and wonderful moments, but this particular class became a cohesive group. Sometimes that's just the dynamic of the particular collection of people involved, idiosyncratic and unrepeatable. But Susan Stuard's framework of the course (as well as the way she ran discussion) was absolutely integral to the development of the class dynamic.

Listen to this article
Posted in Teaching on April 19, 2008 5:13 PM |