Teaching

I teach in the History and Political Science Department at Saint Xavier University, where I received the College of Arts and Sciences Teacher-Scholar Award in 2013.  I describe my courses below, and share links to related websites and to books I have assigned.  Course syllabi are available on my faculty webpage.

 

United States history to 1877 & from 1877

 

I teach surveys of the United States annually, primarily to freshman.  The courses are designed to introduce students to historical thinking and interpretation, and consequently delve deeply into specific episodes of American history, such as Puritan childhood, 18th-century indentured servants, the psychology of Andrew Jackson, or the role of Eleanor Roosevelt. Above all, I seek to teach students how history shapes almost every facet of their lives, from the deeply personal aspects of language, identity, and community to the impersonal but profoundly important characteristics of global trade, culture, and wealth distribution.  The first critical step in thinking historically is learning to ask how things came to be; the answers will often evoke amazement and wonder.


Historical documentary filmmaking

 

I teach Historical Documentary Filmmaking every other year with my colleague Nathan Peck, Associate Professor of Art & Design at Saint Xavier.  It is a blast!  Students enroll in my history and his art course simultaneously.  No training in history or film is required, but by the end of the semester each student makes their own five-minute documentary, having learned the process step-by-step.  Photography, video and audio production, the Adobe software suite--they learn it all!  And they learn how to find and use historical evidence, how to distill historical narratives into script, and how to locate historical images that turn the past into a visual feast for their viewers.  Student films from the first iteration of the class--which focused on Saint Xavier University's history, beginning with Mother Catherine McAuley, founder of the Sisters of Mercy--can be found here. The course will next be taught in the spring 2018 semester, and will focus on Saint Xavier in the tumultuous 1960s, with a special emphasis on the consequences of Vatican II.  For Nathan's webpage, click here.


Modern Japan

 

One of my favorite courses to teach, Modern Japan is a whirlwind tour through the remarkable history of a fascinating country.  A proudly independent people who have borrowed much from others, the Japanese have fashioned a culture that foreigners have long found intriguing.  Americans have shared a special relationship with Japan since the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853, who forcibly opened the country to trade with the West.  The course focuses on the subsequent and astonishingly rapid rise of Japan from a premodern society to a world power, but it also pays special attention to Japanese culture, which remains vibrant today.  One of the great boons of teaching Japanese history is that it invites a comparative analysis of American and Japanese culture, illuminating the degree to which individual behavior is shaped by broader social practice rooted in historical experience.  For superb visual material on Japanese history and culture that I use in my teaching, immerse yourself in MIT's Visualizing Cultures, an outstanding resource produced by leading scholars of Asian history, most notably the eminent scholar of Japan, John Dower.


Illinois history

 

The history of my adopted state provides a window from which to view the broader contours of American history.  Illinois' early history, like that of the country more broadly, was characterized by thousands of years of Indian settlement that was altered radically by the arrival of Europeans; in the case of Illinois, by the arrival of French explorers in 1673, who carried guns, germs, and crosses, and whose compatriots soon settled in what is now southern Illinois.  Almost a century later, in 1763, the British wrested Illinois from the French at the conclusion of the Seven Years War, but they only held it for twenty years before plucky Americans under the Kentucky militia commander George Rogers Clark took it from them during the Revolutionary War.  American frontiersman began pouring into Illinois about thirty years later, after the War of 1812 crushed Indian resistance to American expansion, and in 1818 Congress admitted the rapidly growing territory to statehood.  Settled initially by slaveholders, it nearly became a slave state, and many of its residents remained sympathetic to the South well into the Civil War.  

In the wake of the war, the state's modern history began with the epic rise of Chicago, which emerged from the mud into one of the world's greatest cities in only fifty years.  By 1893, the city hosted the world's fair, representing--to its Chicago boosters--the pinnacle of progress.  It certainly represented the combined influence of immigration and industrialization, which had reshaped the city into a polyglot democracy that co-existed uneasily with one of the world's great engines of capitalism.  In this regard, Chicago aptly represented the nation.  

Since that time, the Great Migration, the Great Depression, World War II, suburbanization, white flight, the political upheaval of the 1960s, industrial decay, and heavy Hispanic migration have continued to shape the city's history, as they have the country, and particularly its urban core.  The post-Civil War history of the city is in large measure the history of American industrialization, post-industrialization, and contemporary globalization, and the future success and prosperity of Illinois rests largely on Chicago's ability to remain a dynamic hub of industry, commerce, and ideas in the century to come.


Introduction to the discipline of history

 

Introduction to the Discipline of History is the gateway to the discipline for majors.  In addition to intensive training in disciplinary methods, students write a 10 to 15 page paper on a common subject, such as the origins of the Pacific War.  Thus theory and practice are united in this course with the object of deepening student learning.  In the last iteration of the course, students traveled to the National Archives at Chicago, which is located only four miles from the University.  There they investigated records from the Mt. Pleasant Indian School and Agency Student Case Files, one of the federal government's Indian schools in the Midwest during the twentieth century.  If you live near Chicago, and would like to enjoy a day of historical detective work, drop by the national archives and start browsing.  They have several hundred years of federal records for you to chew on!  Hamilton's duel with Burr, price gouging department stores during the Great Depression, Great Lakes shipwrecks, and a bottomless pit of census records.


Freedom National

 

Freedom National is a senior-level research seminar that intensively explores the process of emancipation during the Civil War.  James Oakes' prize-winning book Freedom National is the base text for the course.  Oakes argues that the Republican Party, deeply shaped by hostility to slavery, pushed for emancipation from the inception of the war until passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.  Civil War scholars generally have not made that case, instead contending that emancipation emerged as a war aim after two bloody years of conflict had radicalized the northern public.  Hence the students' job is to investigate some aspect of emancipation during the Civil War, delving deeply into the relevant scholarly literature, in order to understand and interpret a disputed point among scholars.  Understanding how to comb through and use what historians already have written about the past--the history of history, if you will--is essential for any scholar who hopes to say something new.  This course therefore prepares students for advanced work in the discipline--while also giving them a window seat as they traverse the harrowing and sometimes heroic landscapes of the American Civil War!


Senior seminar

 

The History and Political Science Department's capstone course for seniors is always incredibly interesting to teach.  By the end of the semester, students produce a 20 to 25 page research paper based on primary sources. The course design is simple:  students ask a question that intrigues them, and then they hit the archives hard.  My job is to give them advice as they morph into junior historians.  Having the opportunity to see how they have developed in their four years at Saint Xavier is a true pleasure, as is watching them embrace the challenge of writing history from the scraps left to us from the past.  In the end, most students find the course to be the most demanding course they have ever taken--and also their most rewarding academic experience in college.


Lincoln's New Salem. Photo Courtesy National Park Service.

Lincoln's New Salem. Photo Courtesy National Park Service.

Investigating Abraham Lincoln

 

Lincoln Memorial. Photo Courtesy Library of Congress.

Lincoln Memorial. Photo Courtesy Library of Congress.

In this fun-filled May Term travel course, students and I visited Illinois' Lincoln shrines in Springfield, where Honest Abe made his home from 1837 to 1861.  In addition to reading and discussing books on Lincoln, we visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum, the Lincoln Tomb, the Old State Capitol, the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices, the Lincoln Home, and New Salem, a small village where Lincoln lived for six years before relocating to Springfield, twenty miles away. The disparity between the frontier village and the Lincoln Memorial was the focus of the class.  How did Lincoln become the Lincoln we remember?  As an additional treat, we enjoyed a guided tour of the current state capital by State Senator Edward Maloney, who pointed out the plush Senate seat that once had belonged to President Barack Obama, another man who rose from obscurity, entered politics as an Illinois legislator, and then as a dark horse candidate claimed the American presidency.