Comparing Approaches to Writing Assignments in Undergraduate History and Writing Courses

Sunday, January 5, 2014: 8:30 AM
Maryland Suite B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Ariane M. Liazos, Harvard University
How do writing assignments contribute to the teaching of history?  What kinds of essays do historians tend to assign in their courses?  This paper explores the role of writing in the pedagogy of undergraduate history courses.  As a historian teaching in the Harvard College Writing Program and serving as a Faculty Associate for the Harvard Writing Project, I work with graduate students and faculty in the History Department in order to 1.) explain what their students have learned in their freshman writing seminars, 2.) discuss what kinds of essays history faculty assign in their own courses, and 3.) brainstorm ways to help students understand and build on the connections among their assignments in their writing seminars and history courses. This paper discusses the challenges and benefits of these collaborations and explores the ways that writing assignments can enhance learning outcomes in history courses.  I explore the similarities and differences among some of the most common assignments in writing courses (i.e. “close readings” and “lens essays”) and history courses (i.e. analyses of primary sources and historiographic essays).  I also continue the discussion of the difficult task of balancing a focus on the historical subject matter of a course and a focus on writing.  I conclude by presenting ways that historians might incorporate additional writing exercises and improve upon existing assignments in order to enhance course goals without sacrificing the time that must be devoted to historical content.
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