TeachingPublicHistory Civic Engagement in the Classroom: Strategies for Incorporating Education for Civic and Social Responsibility in History Courses

AHA Session 245
Sunday, January 9, 2011: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Room 101 (Hynes Convention Center)
Ariane M. Liazos, Harvard University
Jan R. Liss, Project Pericles

Session Abstract

Many historians aspire to engage the wider community and establish the importance of historical scholarship and inquiry to contemporary problems.  Yet an equally strong desire to maintain scholarly objectivity often leaves practitioners unsure of how to accomplish these goals in the classroom.  According to one recent study, while interest in civic education and service learning is rising on campuses across the country, history lags behind other disciplines in adopting experiential pedagogical techniques that enable students to connect the subject matter of their courses to community problems and social change.[1]  The panelists in this session, however, have all developed innovative strategies for incorporating civic education into their courses. 

The panelists all participated in Project Pericles’ Civic Engagement Course (CEC) Program.  Project Pericles is an expanding national consortium of colleges and universities that encourages and facilitates commitments by institutions of higher education to include social responsibility and participatory citizenship as essential elements of their educational programs, in the classroom, on the campus, and in the community.  From 2007 to 2009, Project Pericles provided matching grants to faculty in a variety of disciplines at member institutions to create or revise courses in order to enhance civic education.  An analysis of course syllabi, faculty evaluations, and student evaluations demonstrated that courses in all disciplines participating in this Program shared three common learning outcomes: the ability to recognize and view issues of social concern from multiple perspectives and to formulate and express an informed opinion on these issues; the ability to relate academic materials to their practical applications regarding issues of social concern; and the motivation and capacity to utilize these abilities to take action in the community.

In this panel, three historians who participated in this Program discuss the unique challenges of achieving these learning outcomes in history courses.  The courses that they offer cover topics in political, social, cultural, and art history; their regional focuses include United States, African, and European history; and they span introductory courses such as Western Civilization to upper-level courses for history majors.  The panelists adapt several pedagogical techniques in innovative ways in order to incorporate civic education in their courses, examining how history relates to community problems and social justice.  Specifically, their courses address such topics as immigration and refugee communities; social responses to poverty; the intersection of art, culture, and politics; and, in line with the conference theme of the sacred, the role of faith-based initiatives in civic engagement.  Notably, the three panelists all adopt very different approaches to civic education.  In their presentations, they discuss the strategies they employed to connect theory and practice in detail, including those that require students:

to engage in collaborative projects with community partners

to conduct research in the community (at museums and other cultural institutions)

to conduct oral histories with local residents

to tutor local school children

to adopt the perspectives of historical actors working for social change

to present their work to public audiences “outside the academy"

[1] A. Glenn Crothers, “Bringing History to Life,” Journal of American History 88, nol. 4 (2002): 1446-1451.
See more of: AHA Sessions