Learning from your students.

4 05 2011

Way back when I was a teaching assistant, I was running a review session for a class with 120 people in it. The class was America 1877-1914, but the instructor had included the Schlieffen Plan as one of the terms. Why? I still don’t know.

Sheltered Americanist that I was (and still am to a much lesser degree), when I got asked about the Schlieffen Plan during the review session, I got the answer completely wrong. Immediately after that, an undergraduate who had obviously had European history than I had described it in far greater detail than the professor ever did. My exact reply to her was as follows:

“I guess my credibility is shot to Hell. Next question please.”

I tell that story with no embarrassment because I’ve come to enjoy learning from my students. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. This is an excellent article filled with all the kind of outraged professor things that I usually blog about in this space, but I still like this quote most of all:

“Profess” can be used in different ways—to make a disingenuous statement (“He professed to like his boss”) or to announce religious commitments (“She professed her faith in God”). But I use it in the sense of making a public claim to knowledge, with an openness to respond to critiques of that claim. When it really works, students not only listen to professors but learn to profess themselves. When it works, I’m just an older—and, one hopes, at least slightly wiser—version of my students.

To me, there is no greater joy than when I get to shut up during a class discussion because two or more students have started talking (or better yet, arguing) with each other. This is particularly true with my labor history class, where even though I may know more about strikes than they do, they know a lot more about how the labor movements arguments and tactics play in Peoria.

Now if only I could only learn how to spell “Schlieffen” without Googling it first.


Mr. Potato Head eat your heart out.

29 09 2010

I’ve been enjoying the National Archives’ new education site, Docs Teach, ever since AHA Today linked to it on Monday. However, it strikes me that the material from some of their periods are more useful than others. I liked the New Deal material, for example, but the 1870-1900 stuff was disappointing. It’s all way too heavy on Presidents for my taste.

Nevertheless, there are some wonderful pictures in this collection that strike me as being completely off the wall for your average secondary school teachers. I, on the other hand, will definitely find time to work in the one above. “Spud the Kaiser,” indeed.

Food posters galore.

27 07 2010

Like Marion Nestle, I love food posters (although my tastes tend to lean towards WWI). She posts links to two wonderful online collections here and here. These are my favorites as I hadn’t seen them before:

Click the images if you need a closer look.

Read to win the war.

15 02 2010

The Great War, that is. Via Boing Boing:

Chasing the Kaiser.

22 10 2009

The Battle of the Somme.

28 09 2009

I’ve been looking for WWI combat footage this morning and this is by far the best I’ve found:

What I learned today.

3 08 2009

The German embassy ran an ad in the New York Times warning people not to travel on the Lusitania before a German submarine sunk it:


The ad ran right next to the announcement of the liner’s sailing times.

“[H]ow did the war start?”

12 12 2008

This is my answer to Eric’s question:

Try to do World War I jokes in the United States and nobody would ever get them.

Two great photosets in one post!

14 11 2008

Of course, I found them at Boing Boing (via Radley Balko):

1. German color photographs from WWI:


2. New York City in the 1930s:


Because there’s no such thing as too much World War I blogging.

12 11 2008

Yesterday was the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I. [Every Veteran’s Day is that anniversary, of course.] Therefore, Thomas Frank’s Wall Street Journal column today is about that conflict:

What has always fascinated me about World War I was the fundamental change that this titanic futility worked in the way English-speaking people thought. It exploded the moral certainties that had propped up the middle-class order. Leaders couldn’t lead; oppositions didn’t oppose; and patriotism itself seemed only to point to the yawning graveyards of Ypres and Verdun.

“It reversed the Idea of Progress,” writes the literary historian Paul Fussell in “The Great War and Modern Memory,” the single best account of the war’s cultural impact. No longer could people understand history as a reliable flow of improvement upon improvement. No longer would authority — civic, religious or familial — enjoy unquestioned its place in the great chain of being.

What always amazes me about Thomas Frank is how he always manages to work the very same argument about into everything he writes. What’s the Matter with Kansas?, The Wrecking Crew, even The Conquest of Cool are at base the argument about the commodification of dissent. When people focus on culture rather than class, really stupid things happen. This morning’s example is:

The treason-dreams of the Great War era have likewise changed their tone. During World War I, suspicion fell on those on the bottom of society — recent immigrants, socialists and radical labor unions. Today, though, it is the elites who are said to pose the greatest threat: the multicultural college professors and the goo-goo liberals who always seem to want to read terrorists their rights.

The funny thing is that I never get tired of that argument since it really can help you understand yesterday and today. Mainstream America may have been prejudiced during the World War I years, but at least they knew how to conduct class warfare properly.

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