We believe that students and faculty alike – no matter their major, minor, or division – will benefit from an encounter with Miami’s institutional and community history. By encountering Miami’s history within a classroom, students in engineering, business, healthcare, English, economics, biology, political science, global studies, foreign languages, education, comparative religion, art history, political science, social work – and many, many more majors – will develop the ability to think critically about the world around them and the forces shaping it.
Weave the Story: Teaching Old Miami/New Miami
Describing the origins, experiences, and learning outcomes of the 2021-22 Faculty Learning Community “Weave the Story: Teaching Old Miami/New Miami.”
Why University Instructors Should Learn About Their Institutional History
What responsibility do faculty have in understanding and disseminating the histories of the places where they teach? Campus-wide conversations on an institution’s history and traditions can build a shared sense of culture as well as improve the learning experiences we provide to our students.
A Faculty Learning Community on Miami’s History
Our Faculty Learning Community (FLC), “Weave the Story: Teaching Old Miami/New Miami,” was based in our commitment to engaging in a campus-wide conversation on Miami’s University’s history and traditions.
The American residential college is often depicted as a kind of detached oasis: a place students move to temporarily in order to immerse themselves in their studies and prepare for entry into the “real world.” Such narratives, of course, ignore the experiences of so-called “non-traditional students” (who are a growing majority of those who attend college nationally) and overlook the fact that universities are very much embedded in place and have their own histories that extend beyond the traditions and lore touted as part of an institution’s brand.
When we were hired as faculty at Miami, we cannot recall ever having received resources or instruction about Miami's history and traditions. In order for an institution like Miami, now almost two decades into our institution’s second century, to sustain itself, and to grow its own sense of self within the city of Oxford, the State of Ohio, and beyond, we believe this must change.
We believe that an honest and sustained campus-wide conversation on our history and traditions will build a sense of solidarity to be shared by faculty, students, alumni, and staff as well as enhance the instruction and history we can provide to our students. Thus, in our FLC, conducted during the 2021-2022 academic year, Miami faculty from across the humanities, arts, and sciences came together to consider how incorporating the history of Miami into our classes could enrich our students’ understanding of place, prompt more meaningful engagement within their local community, and better achieve learning outcomes in our respective fields.
Building an Instructional Resource on Miami’s History
How might faculty engage students in local and institutional history across the curriculum to enrich their educational experience at a residential university? Our FLC set out to explore this question and provide potential solutions.
The Work of the FLC
This FLC built upon years of meaningful research by our colleagues, such as the many initiatives of the Myaamia Center, the important archival and public work of the University Archives, and the multiple volumes of Miami history penned by faculty.
Miami University, 1809-2009: Bicentennial Perspectives (Miami University Press, 2009), a volume edited by History Professor Curtis W. Ellison, was our touchstone text for the first semester of this year-long inquiry. As we worked through the book, we developed critical questions and possible classroom activities to engage each moment in Miami’s history. In the second semester, each faculty member built upon this knowledge and skillset to author specific assignments and curriculum interventions in their own fields.
Research indicates that an educational institution that invests in honest conversations on history, tradition, and culture improves student retention and faculty morale (see, for example, Macneil, Prater, & Busch, 2009, “The Effects of School Culture and Climate on Achievement,” International Journal of Leadership in Education, 12, 73-84; Paperson, A Third University Is Possible, University of Minnesota Press, 2017).
In the experience of several of the participants who taught elements of the work developed in this FLC, students reported more profound learning outcomes and a shared sense of investment in Miami’s community as a result of their experiences.
Implementing an Instructional Resource on Miami’s History
As part of their year-long odyssey of learning together, members of the FLC created assignments for adoption by faculty in their own courses.
The assignments we present here were written with wider possible adoption in mind and hopefully function as launching pads for faculty to explore how to incorporate place and local history into their own courses.
At the conclusion of each assignment, we reflect on our pedagogical approaches and what we hope colleagues from across the university might take away.
We hope that this is not merely the summation of our work with the FLC but a starting point for a broader campus resource on how to, in the words of Miami’s alma mater, “weave the story” of this institution into our classes.
This project encourages student study and reflection on a mural painted by Miami professor Edwin L. Fulwider for the “M-Room” (now the Heritage Room) in the Shriver University Center. Installed in 1963, the mural features a sweeping narrative of Miami history–and Miami lore–told through flat figural forms. Students will study Fulwider’s career and connection to Regionalism and mural painting before diving into primary sources relevant to the specific commission.
In this project, I share a lesson in which students analyze the ways in which gender has been represented in writing in first year English composition in the 1950s. In my own research as a historian of writing instruction, I’ve begun an archival study on an annual publication of composition student writing that has been published at Miami University since 1949. In the very first issue, I stumbled across a powerful essay by student Mary Jane Hughey, entitled “Why I Dislike Men.” This essay was a satirical response to James Thurber’s “The Case Against Women,” which Hughey had been assigned to read in her composition course. Hughey’s essay offers a blistering critique of the sexism and entitlement of the heterosexual cisgender male Miami students she had encountered – one that in some ways still resonates today.
Throughout its history, Miami University played a significant role in Oxford (Butler County) given its ongoing usage of community resources and its work with the local government to develop the village and, later, the city. Often, this usage is diverse, with the institution drawing its energy needs from different resources on campus including timber, coal, steam, and geothermal energy. Miami’s campus conversation acknowledges the ways in which the campus and students contribute both to the use of environmental resources and thus climate change. As a result, there have been initiatives aimed at debating – and often reducing -- Miami's impact, preserving natural resources, and making sustainable/ "green" choices.
Even before offering its first courses, Miami’s administration, faculty, and students understood their shared academic efforts as important to the shaping of the region, nation, and world. This project pays attention to the university’s training of future missionaries and its changing interpretation of its purposes as an institution. Miami students have been missionaries in every era of our history, but never was the missionary impulse as significant as in the nineteenth century, a time in which the university took seriously its evangelical role in shaping the future of our world.
In recent years, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other major media outlets have covered institutional responses to incidences of dating and sexual violence on university campuses. At Miami University, Title IX coordination, handled through the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity partners with student organizations and community members to raise awareness of sexual assault, sexual misconduct, interpersonal violence, and sexual harassment resources. Even a cursory glance at campus reports, news coverage, and social media accounts – like “@dearmiamiu” on Instagram – would suggest that the work to address student and community experiences remains ongoing.
FLC Members and Acknowledgments
- FLC Co-Facilitators
- Annie Dell'Aria (Art)
- Nathan French (Comparative Religion)
- Elena Albarran (History)
- Sasha Bellman (Media, Journalism, and Film)
- Stephanie Danker (Art)
- Jason Palmeri (English)
- Carrie Sharitt (Biology)
- Cameron Shriver (History)
- Carolyn Slotten (Family Science and Social Work)