Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

You might not have caught it, but on September 5 The New York Times ran a story titled “So Bill Gates Has This Idea for a History Class…” The story talks about Gates’ ongoing partnership with David Christian, an Australian academic who’s “Big History” series caught Gates’ attention. With support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the “Big History” concept has turned into a major initiative across America, as Gates has been pushing high schools and colleges to adopt the course, described in the article as “a multifaceted historical account of any given subject through a friendly user interface.”  Apparently these efforts have been crowned with some success.

I haven’t seen any of the “Big History” course ware or the original course series dvds, so I can’t judge, but the description on face sounded interesting. In this day and age, we’re always trying to make our courses more cutting edge, more innovative–especially if “we” are young faculty anxious to make an impression on the job market. My first thought, then, was that there could be a couple things to learn from the project.

So, I was very interested to see Brian Sandberg’s blog post today, titled “The Problem with Bill Gates and ‘Big History.'”  Sandberg’s critique comes down to two major points, connected by Gates choosing the what and the how of courses “based on what he personally finds intriguing”: 1) “This is education reform as entertainment,” and 2) “This dangerous model of educational ‘reform’ threatens to reduce education to a delivery device for corporate interests and whims, removing researchers and experts from curricular decision-making processes.”

I’d be interested to read more reactions to the NYT story, and to Gates’ initiative in general. Of course, the Foundation’s support of the Common Core system does not inspire confidence. But having observed technology-heavy curriculum development, I can assure you there there is no such thing as a “pure” curriculum development process free of external considerations. As soon as you lock onto a delivery system, a brand, a publisher, you’re in some way limiting innovation and development. Heck, even in non-technology driven curriculum development I’ve seen similar dynamics at work. So, on face, a tycoon’s enthusiasm for a particular type of curriculum or course doesn’t phase me one way or another, at least initially. On the other hand, having been a spectator to the collapse and/or scaling back of MOOC efforts at various schools around the country, and also having observed or read the rather ridiculous results of corporate-driven education policies, I’m not a believer either.

Ultimately, innovation costs money. It’s a sad fact of life, but patrons are as important these days as they were during the Renaissance and Enlightenment eras. So, before choosing sides in the “Big History” debate, I’d like more data and information.


On Thursday and Friday, I taught the MilArt lesson on 17th-century Britain; basically it goes from Charles I to William and Mary, and functions as a the second of a two-chapter diptych on contrasting systems of war, politics, and society, the other being a France chapter.  One of the problems with old history is that, unless they’re history buffs, students often have a hard time grasping the drama and immediacy of small things like the so-called “Glorious Revolution,” for example. Also, and I think this affects the actual teaching of history-as-discipline, students often have a hard time realizing that “history” gains in personal relevance if you think it somehow impacts what you think and believe. Blatantly obvious, right? Sure, but from what I’ve seen students often have problems shifting from concept to historical example and back again. If you can find that spark to possibly ignite their passions and curiosity, you will have done a great thing. So in that sense, I like to balance “historicist” with “presentist” in the classroom. THIS lesson, on Britain, seemed to lend itself to discussing the relationship of militaries to their societies and governments, and so I asked them to discuss what they thought were the hallmarks of a beneficial and effective civil-military relationship. It went really, really well; they all had opinions which they debated with each other quite vigorously, and by the end of the hour we had brought it back to 17th-century Britain, naval power, and the use of force. There was general agreement that it was a very useful class.

In doing my prep, I assembled a two-slide list of some recent articles and news stories that reflect the ongoing debate on civil-military relations, which I’ve attached to this post. As I pointed out to my students, you can’t have this conversation without someone appealing to history to back up their opinions.  Also worth noting, but not on the slides, is that the term is often used to describe U.S. “global engagement” efforts–such as at the Brookings Institute. And there was a 2005 Harvard publication by Peter D. Fever titled Armed Servants, which might bear some reading, though as public commentary it’s already nearly ten years out of date.  Finally, Suzanne C. Nielsen’s 2005 article “Civil-Military Relations Theory and Military Effectiveness” is also worth a look.

Some important pieces on civil-military relations

“Atlanta Is Ours”

Posted: September 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

Daniel Franke:

Since we’re in the midst of 1864 Civil War commemorations this year, it’s worth remembering that this week saw some pretty important events in Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign.

Originally posted on Emerging Civil War:

Union General William T.  Sherman

Union General William T. Sherman

Defeat at Jonesboro ended John Bell Hood’s hopes of holding Atlanta. He abandoned the city the evening of September 1, destroying all useful military stores that could not be moved (a scene later immortalized in the book and film Gone With The Wind). The next morning (150 years ago today), Atlanta’s mayor surrendered the city to Sherman’s troops; over the next days, Sherman’s army group consolidated in and around the city. After 4 months and 23,000 casualties (vs 27,000 Confederate losses), Sherman’s men had achieved a great victory. “Atlanta is ours, and fairly won,” telegraphed Sherman on September 3.

Atlanta’s fall electrified the North. Just the previous month, George McClellan had been nominated on a Democratic platform that called the war a failure. Sherman’s announcement destroyed that claim. This measurable land success changed public opinion, and turned the 1864 election campaign to Lincoln’s advantage…

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Daniel Franke:

My thoughts on redesigning my medieval survey course, over on a blog I started to meditate on teaching issues

Originally posted on Scolasticus :

I’m currently revising my medieval survey course for the spring of 2015. It’s both a lot of fun and very challenging at the same time, because I’m trying to incorporate a lot of new ideas from the last couple years AND to overlay several different kinds of learning paradigms in seamless fashion.  Here, in broad strokes, is what I’m thinking so far.

CHRONOLOGY:  c. 300 to c. 1555      

GEOGRAPHY:  Roman Christianity – Islam – Orthodoxy – Judaism 

CONCEPTS:  Frontier – Environment – Community – Authority – Object – Body – Other – Inquiry – ?

MODES OF LEARNING: Hand-written – Visual – Oral – Aural – Disputation

SUPPORTING MATERIALS: Barbara Rosenwein’s A Short History of the Middle Ages, and Reading the Middle Ages; selections from other contemporary medieval sources; selected articles for student analysis and discussion.

STUDENT REQUIREMENTS: Research paper; book review; article report and presentation; midterm; final; quizzes/in-class…

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