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From the Teaching column of the September 2007 Perspectives

Research and Teaching: Imagined Divide?

Emily Sohmer Tai, September 2007

A Roundtable Discussion

The AHA's Teaching Division sponsored a roundtable entitled: "Research and Teaching: Imagined Divide?" at the 121st annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta in January 2007.

The purpose of this well-attended session, a follow-up to the article "Research and Teaching: A View from the Community College," which appeared in the November 2006 issue of Perspectives, was to explore the various ways in which teaching and research can intersect as complementary activities in the course of a historian's career, even in institutional settings ostensibly dedicated to one to the apparent exclusion of the other.

The papers and discussion at this roundtable sought, at the same time, to advance the argument that faculty research might even meet student needs. Can faculty research contribute to the success of undergraduate, even K–12, instruction in history?

This second question has acquired a new urgency amidst growing worries that implementation of the Elementary and Secondary Education, or "No Child Left Behind," Act of 2001 (available at www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/index.html), may be shouldering history education aside, even as college and university educators face new calls for accountability articulated in the Spellings Commission Report on the Future of Higher Education, A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U. S. Higher Education (available at www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/hiedfuture/reports/final-report.pdf).

In the wake of these developments, some historians have called for a rethinking of K–16 curricula in history, voicing concerns that current teaching in the discipline may not always successfully inculcate the critical and historical thinking skills students require to participate in a democratic society. At the National History Center conference entitled "Reforming History Education: New Research in Teaching and Learning" held in June 2007 in Washington, D.C. (details are online at www.nationalhistorycenter.org/conferences.html), historians agreed that history educators must be masters of historical content if they are to properly apply cutting-edge research in the scholarship of teaching and learning to history instruction.

Could more support for faculty research at all instructional levels help to meet this goal? And could "showing"—as well as "telling"—students what historians do represent one strategy through which to address a wider, public skepticism about the value of the academic historian's enterprise?

In the essays that follow, two of the roundtable's participants offer responses to these questions, as they reflect upon how a program of research can enrich both student learning and faculty careers at teaching institutions. Paul D. Barclay, an associate professor of Asian history at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, has published extensively on the history of Japanese colonialism and modern Taiwan. Ron Briley, Assistant Headmaster and History Educator at Sandia Preparatory School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is a recipient of the AHA's Beveridge Family Teaching Prize (2006) and the Eugene Asher Teaching Award (1995), and has published numerous articles and a book on sports history and American popular culture. The Teaching Division extends its grateful thanks to both authors for the time and trouble they took to contribute their ideas to this roundtable.

—Emily Sohmer Tai, who serves on the editorial advisory board of Perspectives, was a member of the AHA's Teaching Division, 2004–2007.