My Approach to Teaching and Learning
When I teach the introductory survey course in modern American history I often start with a magic trick. I point to some student in the room and say “I’m going to tell you the name of your high school American history teacher.” I pause a few beats for dramatic effect and then I announce “Coach.” In nearly 30 years of teaching I haven’t once been wrong. The point of my little trick is to start a discussion of the difference between studying history at the high school level (Coach generally didn’t do a good job), and studying it in college. Many of my students start with an expectation that history is a matter of memorizing a set of facts — names, dates, places — and then spitting them back at me. Facts, I tell them, are the building blocks — what we build with them constitutes the real work of historical understanding. Not merely what and when, but why and to what effect. This means introducing students to how historians do their work and giving them opportunities to do that kind of work themselves. I provide them with historical sources and then we work to make sense of them; I also give them the chance to find historical sources on their own so they can experience what “doing” history entails. My goal in teaching history is not only to convey what we know about the past but how we know it as well.
My Teacher-Scholar Journey
Most students enter college having had some exposure to the scientific method in high school. Very few of them, in my experience, have an understanding of the historical method. Ask them where you learn about history and most will say “in the book.” Ask them where the information in the book came from and you’ll likely get blank stares. Over my years of teaching, I’ve realized that the best way to engage students with the historical method is to give them chances to do that work themselves. That, in turn, has led me to focus more of my teaching on placed-based and project-based learning. By focusing on projects which demand original research students experience the excitement (and frustration!) of doing real historical work. By focusing on place-based projects students have access to the raw materials of history close to hand. One recent example of that approach came when I taught our department’s capstone course. The project undertaken by the class was to create a history of Miami University using objects in the university’s museums and collections. First, students had to read what other scholars had already written about Miami’s history. Next, they had to decide what themes and issues those scholars had overlooked. Then they had to figure out how to use objects as historical sources. After choosing the objects they wanted to write about, students produced essays which “read” these objects and put them in historical context. The result of all this work is the book “The History of Miami University in 40 Objects” which was published at the end of 2022.
Knowledge is Power
“What I most enjoy about teaching at Miami is the extent to which I am able to experiment with new methods and to try out new ideas with students who are keen to try new things too. I have the flexibility to explore things that I think students will find interesting or which are driving my own scholarly interests at a given moment. I think my scholarship has enriched my teaching but I know beyond a doubt that teaching Miami students has enriched my scholarship.”
Ph.D. University of Pennsylvania
B.A. Yale University
More About Me
After 20 years teaching at Ohio State University I joined the Miami faculty in 2015. I have published six monographs (a seventh is forthcoming in 2023) along with many articles, reviews, and essays. I have lectured all over the country and all over the world, most recently in Wolfenbüttel, Germany.