“The events that happened in the past are an inheritance held in common by all.”–Isocrates, Panegyricus 4.9
“History is a continuous process of interaction…an unending dialogue between the present and the past.”–E.H. Carr, The Idea of History
These two statements provide the foundational principles for my teaching philosophy. Through a combination of discussion, lecture, and immersive activities, my goal is to equip students with tools to think critically and historically about their world.
I invite students to think historically, which requires rigorous engagement with primary sources. Students in my classes evaluate multiple types of evidence, both for what they say about the past and for what they leave out. For instance, I designed an activity for my Greek Civilization class called “Deconstructing Greek Ethnography” in which students analyze passages from Herodotus’s history about non-Greeks for what they reveal about Greek cultural biases. In another class, Power and Oratory, students tackled multiple types of rhetorical displays in ancient Greece in order to answer the question whether rhetoric and oratory are a threat to democracy or are somehow fundamental to it. This class began with students reading ancient Greek primary texts on oratory and then collaborating to develop a new working definition of sophistry that we applied for the rest of the semester.
I change the assessments I use based on the type of course and its enrollment, but I always design scaffolded assignments that improve analytical skills and stimulate meaningful engagement with the past. My classes involve students writing as much as possible because I believe this is a fundamental, transferable skill. In addition to traditional essays and research papers, these assignments include in-class responses and reflective essays on creative projects. In each case, I design iterative assessments in which students can practice skills through repeat, low-stakes assignments, build in stages toward larger projects, or provide opportunities to revise and resubmit. I want students to embrace writing not as a formula to achieve a grade, but as a process of developing their thoughts in order to communicate with a variety of audiences.
In addition to written work and in-class discussion, I give student opportunities to participate in immersive activities inspired by Mark Carnes’ Minds on Fire. For instance, I run an ancient warfare simulation in my Greek history course that has students recreate the outcomes of battles based on the descriptions of in ancient sources––and then lets them try to change history. More just being fun, the exercise gives students new insight into ancient warfare and requires them to critically read and assess primary sources Similarly, I also give student opportunities to recreate historical debates by taking on roles and points of view from the contemporary period.
I am committed to maintaining a safe and supportive learning environment. This means having empathy for students, something I developed in part during four years tutoring at the campus learning center, but also challenging them to grapple with difficult and diverse historical perspectives that reflect on the issues of the present. I use the think-pair-share method of discussion that has every student develop their answer and receive peer feedback before sharing with the whole class. In my Classics in a Cross-Cultural Context course, for example, students used this method to engage in a discussion regarding assumptions about gender after reading sections of Homer’s Odyssey and interpretations of the myth from the perspective of Penelope and the female slaves.
In sum, I believe education is akin to Plato’s metaphor of the cave. The past may be an inheritance held in common, but it is also vulnerable to misuse and an uncritical acceptance shackles us in the darkness. My pedagogical strategies are designed to help the students break these chains and become conscientious global citizens.