Teaching Division 2011

Prepared by Patricia Limerick

Over the past year the Teaching Division developed an array of projects to enhance and support history education.  These new undertakings, we believe, will improve history teaching in settings ranging from elementary schools to graduate programs.  

In 2011 we also received an $837,000 grant from The Lumina Foundation for a discipline-wide history tuning project. Originating in Europe, Tuning is a process that defines learning outcomes in post-secondary education—including knowledge, reasoning capacities, and skills—that qualify students to receive degrees in their chosen fields. With proven successes in Europe and in a variety of states and regions, Tuning is ready to be applied on a national scale to a particular discipline; having The Lumina Foundation select the AHA was thus a compliment of substance.  Over the next four years, the AHA will conduct a process of consultation through surveys and field testing with historians, students, employers, and previous graduates.  In launching the Lumina Foundation’s Tuning Project, AHA staff and members of the Division have begun working with the Institute for Evidence Based Change to learn more about the process and to lay out a work plan for the project. We are currently recruiting participants.  At the 2013 meeting in New Orleans, we will “roll out” this project at a well-publicized session.

Brainstorming, pondering, writing, and revising the Tuning proposal proved to be an invigorating process for the Teaching Division and for AHA leadership. In a similarly energetic undertaking, Teaching Division Member Cheryll Cody, along with members of the Two-Year Task Force, submitted a successful proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a project on “Bridging Cultures at Community Colleges.”  More information on this project will appear in Jim Grossman’s report, but all of us in the Teaching Division are pleased that this project will another opportunity to work collaboratively with history faculty to enrich the survey curricula at two-year colleges.

The Division is also developing a new section of the AHA Web Site on Teaching Tips for historians. We intend to provide an open forum to capture the best teaching practices of historians and make them available both to younger members of our profession and to veteran teachers who have found themselves befuddled by the changing digital world and accordingly eager to rethink their practice.  Members of the Division, ably and enthusiastically assisted by AHA staff, are starting to develop the site and some preliminary content.  In conversations with colleagues around the country, I have heard very enthusiastic reactions to this project, with many committed professors and teachers declaring a desire to participate.  The Teaching Division has thought of this project as valuable experiment in building a sense of community and shared undertaking among AHA members.

In all these enterprises, the Teaching Division has embraced the challenge of finding ways to bring teachers of history into conversations that might strengthen our sense of common ground, while steering clear of any misguided attempts to impose orthodoxy or standardization.  We are working with a number of other organizations on a project to develop Core State Standards in Social Studies, to bring clarity and energy to history education in the schools. Teaching Division member Anne Hyde is working with the California History Social Science Project on a Blueprint for History and Social Science Education. The project has the goals of improving history teaching and changing assessment standards to include more complex thinking skills. Currently the project participants are develop a set of modules on topics connected to the standards in
California.  We hope that the project will eventually cover wider areas of the curriculum and also serve as a blueprint for similar undertakings in other states.

Recognizing the crucial role of community colleges in higher education, the Teaching Division is grateful to our member Cheryll Cody for her work with the Two-Year College Task Force in preparing a report for the Council. The Task Force is taking a forthright look at the vulnerability of two-year faculty, and also considering the distinctive pedagogical needs of faculty in community colleges; we have learned from Cheryll that the standing of the field of history varies considerably in different kinds of two-year colleges. The Task Force’s fine work on the NEH proposal deserves particular congratulations.

Finally, the Division is working on modest administrative changes for the teaching prizes. The
William Gilbert Award, which is given to the author of the best article on history teaching, received a large bequest of over $100,000 from Professor Gilbert’s widow, Edwyna Gilbert, this past year. This allows us to confer the prize—which has been conferred biennially since it was established in 1994—every year. It will also allow us to give an award to the journal that publishes the article.  This should advance the goal of the prize, which is intended to encourage more articles on the teaching of history. We are also working to more generally streamline the process of nominations and applications for teaching awards, and hope to have this in place for the competitions that take place in 2013. 

Anyone turning the pages of the 2012 Program will see that the Division organized a wide array of sessions and workshops this year. We sponsored sessions on “The Texas Social Studies
Standards Experience; “Lighting Up the Classroom? Then Talk to the Public! A Discussion”;” and “Whither the Future of the History Textbook?”  The Division is also co-sponsoring, with the National History Center, a teaching workshop on “Recognizing Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.  This year, we will co-sponsor the final run of the terrific series of Teachinghistory.org workshops with the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

The recession and the difficult budget situation of the federal government are affecting every dimension of American life.  For the history profession, the most immediate impact concerns the Teaching American History Grant Program.  It appears quite likely that these grants will be folded into another program or will lose their funding altogether, despite the efforts of Lee White at the National History Coalition.

The circumstances of our times put a premium on historical perspective.  In the year 2011, the Teaching Division has acted on this recognition, initiating projects that we hope will play some part in inviting young people to be knowledgeable and responsible citizens, ready to think about their world in a framework of time extending far beyond yesterday and tomorrow.

Finally, as Vice President, I have had enormous good fortune in the character, energy, skill, and good nature of my fellow members of the Division. Cheryll Cody and Anne Hyde join me in expressing particular appreciation for the company of Barbara Tischler, who has been a valued representative for history in the schools over her three-year term.