TeachingRoundtable Comparative Reflections on the History Major Capstone Experience: A Roundtable

AHA Session 148
Saturday, January 5, 2013: 9:00 AM-11:00 AM
Roosevelt Ballroom III (Roosevelt New Orleans)
Marshall C. Eakin, Vanderbilt University
Charlene Boyer Lewis, Kalamazoo College
Erin Jordan, Old Dominion University
Wendy A. Pojmann, Siena College
T. J. Tomlin, University of Northern Colorado

Session Abstract

The undergraduate capstone research course, whether as a one-semester seminar, an internship, a thesis, or some combination of these and other elements, is frequently designed by history departments as the culmination of a history major’s academic experience. In addition, it serves as a means by which history departments can assess the objectives and overall effectiveness of their curriculum. This roundtable brings together historians from a variety of fields and institutions to share both nuts and bolts teaching experiences and to comparatively consider the capstone’s role in a department’s curriculum.

 We will begin by sharing our collective teaching experiences with the capstone seminar or its equivalents. How have we thought about and gone about teaching these courses? What has worked and why? To what extent does or should the capstone experience move us beyond, and introduce students to, content outside our areas of expertise? After considering these questions, we will turn to the role these courses play in a department’s curriculum. How do capstone courses, and thus the history major more broadly, differ based on an institution’s size, student makeup, and objectives? To what extent have the departments represented on the panel reflected on and adapted their capstone experience(s) over time?

 While the four historians on the panel will all discuss effective pedagogical practices for the capstone, each will also address a more particular topic. Charlene Boyer-Lewis, an Associate Professor specializing in American cultural history at Kalamazoo College, will consider how a curriculum’s non-capstone course offerings can be designed to prepare students for the capstone experience. Erin Jordan, an Associate Professor specializing in medieval Europe, will explore how to teach outside of one’s area of expertise and to students whose historical interests are often quite different from our own. Wendy Pojmann, an Associate Professor at Sienna College specializing in modern Europe, will discuss a textbook she is in the process of writing, under contract with Oxford University Press, to be used in capstone courses. She will solicit opinions and suggestions from the audience on how to improve the book. T. J. Tomlin, an Assistant Professor specializing in early America, will focus on the use of digital resources in the capstone seminar.

 Throughout the session, we will invite both additional contributions and follow-up questions from the audience. By reflecting on our experience teaching capstone courses, the panel seeks an expanded understanding both of how to teach a common departmental course offering and how to improve the history major by thoughtfully considering its structure and aims.

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