Western Civilization II

Western Civilization II

Perhaps nothings tests one’s pedagogical prowess more than getting dropped into a course outside your area of study. Needless to say, Teaching Western Civ. II in the spring of 2013 was an exercise in careful preparation, adaptability, and teamwork. But it was also an excellent experience and a great success. Under the direction of Dr. Kathleen Kamerick, I (along with a team of other TA’s) led discussion for this large, several hundred-student survey course

While Dr. Kamerick’s lectures surveyed nearly 1,000 years of Western History, I led students through careful analyses of primary sources. From Hebrew accounts of the First Crusade, to the twelfth century love letters between the scholars Holoise and Peter Abelard, to Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, our sessions plumbed the social, political, gendered, and economic, and intellectual dynamics of European life. Term assignments included response essays to the timeless classics King Herald’s Saga and Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince, as well as a short research paper.

In addition to these assignments, I also had students select a relevant topic of interest and prepare short presentations. This exercise broke some more reticent students out of their shells and started each class off with a few critical questions from the audience, which in turn got the ball rolling on some very stimulating discussions and debates. In fact, I now incorporate these short presentations into every class I teach.

Because Western Civ. is a general requirement at UI, the survey draws an unusually wide variety of majors, skill levels, and awareness of history and the historical method. Luckily, I was able to rely on primary source exercises and careful discussions about the importance and method of historical thinking–not to mention the prowess of my more experienced and specialized peers–to successfully navigate the class. And doing do proved a fulfilling challenge. Because my research focuses outside this course’s parameters, I was excited at the chance to read widely (and outside my usual field) as I did independent research and prepared myself for this course.

If, at the outset,  I was a bit daunted by the prospect of teaching a class outside my specialization, I left with a zeal for doing just that. I look forward to opportunities to continue expanding my teaching horizons.