As a teacher I strive to decolonize my classroom while fostering inclusivity, active learning, meaningful and impactful experiences and assignments, and historical thinking and empathy.
In all of my undergraduate survey and mid-level courses I blend short (10-15 minute) lectures with activities like immersive role-playing, kinetic debates, peer instruction, discussion, and “exit ticket” short writing assignments. The different activities are effective in reinforcing difficult concepts and histories, and create space for students who thrive in different kinds of learning environments to get the most out of each class. In addition to cultivating critical thinking through regular contemplation of primary sources, and the way historians construct narratives of history in secondary sources, students are immersed in the cultures and experiences of the past. I use role playing games to connect them to content in deeper and more intimate ways; I’ve run a Revolutions in the French Empire course using role playing scenarios, starting with the published Reacting to the Past game “Rousseau, Burke, and Revolution in 1791 France,” and ending with an unpublished Haitian Revolution game. Students took over the classroom, developing agendas, making prepared and impromptu speeches defending key ideas and issues of 18th century France and Haiti, and living this Revolutionary in and out of the classroom. Every student went above and beyond, because they wanted to “win” the “game.” But more importantly, they deepened their ability to empathize with those historical people, because they had to grapple with the challenges and decisions that their “characters” faced 200 years ago.
I require writing in all of my courses, but I push beyond the paradigm of having students write a paper and then never look at it again. In my introductory and mid-level courses, the research/writing projects feed into a collaborative presentation or demonstration. In my upper division courses, I ask students to write for the public. In War, Sex, and Violence, my students wrote multiple drafts of original research essays, utilizing primary sources and extensive secondary-source research. I provided thorough feedback for revision on two occasions throughout the semester, as well as on proposals and annotated bibliographies. At the end of the semester, with the students’ permission, I submitted the nine best essays to the popular collaborative history of gender and medicine blog, Nursing Clio. Seven were accepted, and students worked with the editors over the summer. All were published in Fall 2019.
My decolonization of the classroom process starts with course design. I deemphasize white male perspectives on history, instead highlighting marginalized voices, using primary and secondary sources written or created by women, sexual minorities, and people of color, to paint a broader picture of local, regional, and global histories. These are simple decisions, like using Sadiah Qureshi’s essay on Sara Baartman instead of Clifton Cris’s biography when discussing race and empire in my Sex in Modern History class, or assigning Galawdewos’ The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Walatta Petros, the first published text written about an Ethiopian saint by an Ethiopian author, in World History since 1500. In addition to deemphasizing the metropole and white men in course readings and topics, I then practice those same principles in the classroom. My active learning initiatives privilege the voices and participation of students who’ve traditionally been socialized to be silent in the classroom.
Every semester I strive to create impactful, memorable experiences for students. I’ve taken them to Ireland, Washington DC, Toronto, and Gettysburg, helped them produce history podcasts and documentaries, and designed a range of nontraditional projects and activities. In addition to creating inclusive and intellectually stimulating spaces for students, I want them to enjoy the learning process so that they will take an active role in it.