Monday, July 11, 2011

Key Questions for a World Civ Seminar

Bill McCoy

Today's guest post comes from my Eastern Nazarene College history department colleague Bill McCoy. Bill is a PhD candidate in African history at Boston University, where he is completing his dissertation: "To Heal the Leper: The Mbuluzi Leprosy Hospital in Swaziland, 1948 to 1982." Along with teaching non-western history, McCoy has taught courses on Europe since the middle ages, world political geography, and a Swaziland travel course on the
history of missions. Here, McCoy considers something that quite a few of us probably think about: how to frame our courses with key questions in mind.

This coming Fall, I have a chance to teach a course at Eastern Nazarene College titled "Contemporary Questions." It's a seminar for first-year honors students, which will (because I am teaching it) replace their general education history requirement (in our context, a survey called The West in the World Since 1500). In the past, the course has been a replacement for the general education philosophy requirement, and in the future, it might replace a literature requirement or something else, depending on the specialty of the faculty member teaching the course.

So the class is a history class, but instead of the traditional chronological survey approach, I am building the course around significant question for our contemporary world and then trying to help students work through the ways that history helps us answer those questions, even if the questions will not have definitive answers. In the past few weeks, I've been brainstorming the questions that will shape the course syllabus, but I'd love some input from others about this. What questions matter most in the world today? What reading material might students enjoy/get the most out of in a course such as this. To get things started, I'll offer a few examples of questions I've considered; I would love to get reactions to these and, especially, suggestions about other questions to add to the list:

* What is the role of geography and the environment in history?
* Why is there such massive economic inequality in the world?
* What are the causes of horrors like genocide?
* Why do we live in nation-states?
* Is patriotism a virtue?
* Why do so many people live in cities?
* Who makes history? Who matters in history?
* How have humans expressed themselves in the arts?


Randall said...

Here's another. This one gets overly simplified in the gnu atheist debates. But . . .

*Has religion been more of a force for good or bad in modern history?

Could take the Hitchens or Dawkins line (Ditchkens as David Hempton says) and then give the students a critique of that from the likes of Cornell West or Terry Eagleton.

Unknown said...

Good set of questions! Another way of going at the one Randall suggests, is to ask how freethinkers have challenged religious people over time, and what results have come from that dialogue? I've been toying with the idea of writing an RIHA grant proposal, to highlight this issue. I think it's important, at least in American history, to admit that secularism isn't new. Personally, I think studies of interconnections between religion and innovation are incomplete, if they don't consider the other side of this ongoing American debate.

Lisa Clark Diller said...

I'm fascinated by this--how are you organizing your readings? Will you pull primary documents or secondary sources from a variety of times/places? Will it be more historiographical or historical (if that makes sense)? Do keep us posted regarding how it works out. It sounds really fun.