Student-Centered Learning for the 21st Century

I teach a wide range of courses in 20th and 21st-century U.S. history and culture, public history, and American Studies.

My students leave my classes able to read critically, research deeply, analyze thoughtfully, and communicate effectively. My goal is not only to cultivate the knowledge and skills that will serve them as they move on to jobs and careers but to help them develop the capacity to critically engage the most significant issues of their moments as agents of social change.  

To that end, all of my courses emphasize student-centered learning. In my introductory classes, students analyze a variety of cultural products through a range of discussion-based activities. In my more intermediate classes, students contribute to course blogs, construct digital exhibits, design board games, and produce documentary films. My more advanced students conduct original research. This sometimes results in traditional academic papers, but I have also regularly partnered with community organizations to develop public history programs at places like The Flight 93 National Memorial and the New York State Military Museum. You can learn more about these projects and others in the "My Students In The News!" section below/

Courses at Washington & Jefferson College

Click on the title of any course for the most recent iteration of my syllabus.

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20th Century America

What does it mean to “be an American?” Who gets to claim that title, and what rights, obligations, and privileges come with it? Alternately, who has been denied that title, and how has that impacted their lives? In this course, we will assume that there are no simple answers to these relatively simple questions. Instead, we will ask how individuals and groups have sought to define, contest, and perform notions of “American-ness” during “the long 20th century.”  We will take seriously the premise that culture matters, and ask how the things people do and the objects that that they consume shape ideas about the nation and their place and the place of others in it. 

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War & Society in U.S. Culture

This course examines the relationship between war, the military, and U.S. culture. We will focus less on how the military has been used in particular instances or on the history of particular wars and instead ask broader questions that emerge from understanding the military as critical cultural institution. Among them will be: What should the relationship between the military and the nation be during times of war and peace? How have Americans, including service members and veterans, sought to define the military's place in American culture? How have wars and militarism created spaces for debating larger questions about national identity, race, class, gender, sexuality, and citizenship? 

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The Traumatic Past in History & Memory

This is a class about acts of remembrance, the cultural work that they do, and their intersection with broader cultural and political debates. The class proceeds from a seemingly simple, but actually complex, question: Why do individuals and groups remember events that might seem better forgotten –instances of extreme violence and brutality, moments in which individuals and groups suffer as victims or perpetrate brutality? These troubling moments might seem better repressed or avoided, and yet as individuals and members of groups, we actively seek to remember them – we pay for therapy sessions to work through childhood traumas, write memoirs and novels, and build memorials and museums. In this course, we will explore why and how individuals and groups confront and make sense of the troubling aspects of their past by examining the remembrance of four traumatic events.

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Black Protest in 20th Century U.S. Culture

From anti-lynching protests in the 1890s to Black Lives Matter, African-Americans have struggled to secure rights, freedom, and an end to violence and oppression throughout the “long twentieth century.” This course examines that history through an interdisciplinary investigation of African Americans’ multiple, competing, and often contentious struggles for rights and representation in the long 20th century. In this course, we will challenge the common periodization that emphasizes the 1950s and 1960s as the height of African-American protest and activism and instead ask how African-American freedom struggles have evolved over the course of the past 125 years. 

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Race, Medicine, & Society

What does it mean to think about health & illness as social constructions, rather than as biological realities? In this course, we will explore this question by asking how ideas about race and ethnicity have intersected with, shaped, and been shaped by ideas about health, illness, public health, and the practice of medicine. We will examine the intersecting histories of the social construction of racial identity; racism and anti-racism; the quest for civil and human rights; and medicine and public health. 

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The American War in Vietnam 

In this travel course, we will explore how the legacy of the Second Indochina War -- the American War -- still shapes Vietnam today. Millions of Vietnamese people live with the legacies of aerial bombardment and the widespread use of herbicides like Agent Orange, and the infrastructure of U.S. bases remains a significant aspect of the post-war Vietnamese landscape. Since 1975, both the United States and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam have engaged in fraught debates about how diplomacy and remembrance. Today, Americans are frequent visitors to Vietnam for tourism, humanitarian work, and business, and Vietnam has emerged as a significant economic and political partner. All of these engagements, however, have emerged and still occur in the shadow of a war that ended forty years ago and its legacies.

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9/11 & The War on Terror in U.S. Culture

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 stand as the defining moment for United States foreign policy and, perhaps more generally, United States culture in the twenty-first century. This course will examine the history of the post-September 11th period, asking both what the domestic and foreign policy responses to the attacks have been, how Americans engaged with those events and policies, and how they have been represented in popular culture.

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The United States in Vietnam

This course examines the United States’ involvement with Vietnam from 1945 to the present, with particular attention to the Second Indochina War (1954-1975) and its legacies. Among the topics that we will discuss are: the domestic and global political contexts that shaped U.S. involvement and conduct in Vietnam; the impact of U.S. support for a succession of South Vietnamese regimes on the people of Vietnam; Vietnamese and U.S. military and political strategies; U.S. domestic and global responses to the war; and the legacies of the war in both the United States and Vietnam. 

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Seminar in American Studies

Who is an “American?” What does it mean to “get,” “have” or be “denied” this identity? What are the rights, privileges, obligations, and attitudes of “Americans”? How have individuals and groups worked to identify themselves and others as “American” – or not American – in recent U.S. history? Why have they done so, and what has been the impact of such efforts? How have “Americans” seen themselves in relation to the “rest” of the world – and how has “the rest of the world” seen “Americans?” In this upper-level, discussion-oriented, interdisciplinary course, we will not assume that there is a single, uncomplicated answer to these questions. Instead, we will explore how groups, individuals, and institutions have imagined and debated them. 

 

My Students in the News!

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Down But Not Out:

Baseball After September 11th

Flight 93 National Memorial, May 5-July 8, 2018

"Down But Not Out" is a student-designed exhibit constructed in collaboration with the National Park Service and on display at the Flight 93 National Memorial. 

In this course, the students designed the syllabus and wrote the course manifesto, and then conducted research on the history of baseball's role in moments of national crisis. As they wrote the script for the exhibit, they managed a $5,000 budget and developed relationships with organizations including the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the Louisville Slugger Museum, and the George W. Bush Presidential Library to secure the loan of items. 

The exhibit received considerable news coverage, some of which you can read here:

 

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Remember:

Stories of Vietnam

"Remember: Stories of Vietnam" was researched, designed, and constructed by my students at Skidmore College. They conducted detailed oral histories with eleven Vietnam-era veterans from upstate New York and worked with them to secure the loans of photographs, uniforms, medals, and other items that they had saved from their time in the Armed Forces. The exhibit showcased the diverse experiences of veterans who served in the United States' most controversial conflict. 

Read more about it here:

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After War:

Iraqi Refugees & Iraq Veterans in Lancaster County

"After War" is an on-line exhibit constructed by my students at Franklin & Marshall College. Lancaster, PA has the distinction of being home not only to a number of U.S. veterans of the Iraq War but also a number of Iraqi refugees who fled the violence that that war created. As such, it provided a unique opportunity for my students to research the local effects of a conflict fought thousands of miles away. They conducted interviews with 8 local residents and shared their stories on line, with a timeline that places these individual experiences in the broader history of the war.