What is Your “Teaching Philosophy”?


[H/t Varnam whose post discusses the influence of Marxist, Nationalist and Orientalist historiography in India. Have a look. I also want to thank Varnam for introducing me to Maps of War. Watch 5,000 years of imperialism and conquest in the Middle East play in 90 seconds.]

Whenever I go on academic job interviews or send out application packages the interviewers always want to know my “teaching philosophy”. It is often hard to know what they are looking for. Do they want trendy , “I take a post-colonial approach to questions of race, class and gender, comparing the resistance strategies of subaltern groups to empire and oppression, blah, blah, blah” . Or do they want old-school, “I teach the historians craft, an emphasis on archival research, sourcing, contextualizing, close reading, and corroborating.”

If you are in the second group, here is a simple video presentation that may assist you with your beginning students. Many of my students arrive at college or university with little, if any, understanding of what historians actually do. They know we study the past but beyond that it is all a mystery to them.

The video is from Historical Thinking Matters:

Boring names, facts, dates – this is history for a lot of people. But historians think about history differently. They see themselves as detectives, often unsure about what happened, what it means, and rarely able to agree amongst themselves. This process of trying to figure out things you don’t already know is as different from mindless memorization as you can get.

Varnam writes:

[W]hat we need are historians who understand the social, economic, political and cultural context in which the events happened and are able to write history with that perspective. By sourcing, contextualizing, close reading and corroborating source materials, historians can come up with an analysis of what really happened.

[read it all here]

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