A Course, an Exhibition, and Two Conferences: Experiential Undergraduate Education and Building a Constituency for History

Saturday, January 5, 2013: 11:50 AM
Nottoway Room (Sheraton New Orleans)
Yuen-Gen Liang, Wheaton College (Massachusetts)
Though “No More Plan B” addresses graduate education, the underlying issue Grafton and Grossman raised about the relevance of history concerns all practitioners of the discipline.  As a historian at a liberal arts college, I teach undergraduates the utility of studying history for their education, future vocations, and lives.  These students are current and future practitioners and consumers of history, and fostering their interest helps keep demand for history strong.  In this presentation, I relate how my experientially-based course on the “Renaissance and Reformation” enabled students to acquire knowledge of and analyze history, learn and practice techniques of professionalization, and form collaborative intellectual communities.  Students read sources, wrote essays, participated in discussions, and delivered speeches.  These assignments prepared them to analyze and utilize material sources on display at an on-campus exhibition of Renaissance art; engage with scholars and scholarship convening on-campus for the 2011 New England Renaissance Conference; and present their own work at a mock-conference organized by students of an art history course that was linked to mine.  The themes of these activities were interrelated: the course focused on “individuals and communities;” the exhibition on “The Art of Intellectual Community;” and the conference on “Families in the Renaissance.”  By examining a range of individuals, students came to understand that men and women were not islands onto themselves but they were embedded within communities, often ambivalently, and strove to fashion identities for themselves.  Through these studies, students developed a keen sense that they, as young adults, were practicing self-fashioning themselves; and that college, where people gather together from diverse places, is a construct that they themselves must take responsibility for.  When students recognized they had formed a community – one of learning and collaboration – they realized the empowerment that historical studies could give them in their present-day lives.