Home > Uncategorized > Teaching Thursday: Making Room for Experiments

Teaching Thursday: Making Room for Experiments

This week my graduate seminar has read Hayden White’s The Content of the Form and Dominick LaCapra’s History and Criticism.  For most students in the class, these books are unfamiliar territory and their critiques of narrative form pose potent challenges to the way that most of our graduate students think about history as a craft.  The one thing that I try to communicate through these books (if everything else these scholars offer is lost) is that history to be renewed, relevant, and significant needs to embrace experiment.  The “Ironic perspective” held by most historians who continue to occupy their superior position with regard to the actors, events, and structure of the past encourages the kind of self-aware historical practice that could allow scholars to surpass the limitations imposed by our discipline’s commitment to Irony.

This is undoubtedly heady stuff for a room full of M.A. students.  Moreover, many of the students enjoy history in part because of the comfortable familiarity with the narrative structure. So not only does White and LaCapra ask them to critique the very core of the historical practice that they have just recently committed to pursuing at the graduate level, but these scholars also challenge us all to reconsider many of the basic assumptions of historical expression (and by extension historical practice).

The question is how do you get a seminar room full of M.A. students to experiment, to test the limits of historical expression, and feel at ease with history as a creative process that could have far closer bonds to fiction, “creative writing”, or even poetry?  I’ll be the first to admit that I am not some kind of wildly experimental historian although my willingness to blog (for example) and play with video in non-linear ways represents some of my willingness to at least consider avenues for historical expression that make more transparent the historical process.  Of course, the standard answer to this question is that we need to expose students to experimental kinds of writing both in the discipline of history and across the humanities, and this is almost certainly the case.  But I am not entirely convinced that we succeed in encouraging experimentation by using the classroom imprimatur to show how experimental historical writing is not unconventional.

It’s at moments like this when I realize how conservative history is as a discipline (which despite our current political climate is not meant to be an attack), and how hard it is to create room, both mentally and within the disciplinary confines, to experiment.

More Teaching Thursday:

Teaching Thursday: More on Writing
Teaching Thursday: Making the Test
Teaching Thursday: Red pens, Reading, and Assessment
Teaching Thursday: The Structure of Seminar
Teaching Thursday: Jennifer Ball’s Teaching Thursday (K. Kourelis and J. Ball)
Teaching Thursday: The Changing Meaning of the Large Lecture
Teaching Thursday: The Modern Graduate Student
Teaching Thursday: Reading the Digital Palimpsest for Traces of an Analog World
Teaching Thursday: Who Are My Students? (K. Kourelis)
Teaching Thursday: Another View on High Tech Teaching
Teaching Thursday: Transmedia Teaching
Teaching Thursday (K. Kourelis)
Teaching Thursday

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. October 30, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    Did you see the forum about Digital History in JAH? It had some interesting thoughts about experimenting with non-linear narratives.

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