Teaching Comparative History as a Teaching Tool

AHA Session 162
Saturday, January 4, 2014: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Washington Room 5 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Rajeshwari Dutt, Indian Institute of Technology Mandi
Rajeshwari Dutt, Indian Institute of Technology Mandi
Yan Gao, University of Memphis
Marjorie Sanchez-Walker, California State University, Stanislaus
Karen Sotiropoulos, Cleveland State University

Session Abstract

Comparative History as a Teaching Tool

While the study of history still remains largely structured by specific geographical areas, the benefits of comparative history cannot be denied. One of the projected contributions of this panel is to show how comparative history can be an effective strategy in the classroom in helping students critically approach important and sensitive issues both in their own societies and outside. With many university history programs now teaching global and comparative courses and global studies emerging as a vibrant field in several institutions, this panel presentation will provide a timely and crucial examination of the benefits of comparative history as a teaching tool. The panelists will draw on their teaching experiences both in the United States and abroad to provide insights on the use of comparative history in a globalized classroom.

The first two panelists (Dr. Marjorie Sanchez-Walker and Dr. Karen Sotiropoulos) will assess the role of comparative history in the American classroom while the two later speakers (Dr. Yan Gao and Dr. Rajeshwari Dutt) will approach the topic from the standpoint of the international classroom. Drawing insights from her upper-division undergraduate course “Comparative World Women”, Dr. Sanchez-Walker demonstrates how a comparative approach helps her students to gain a better understanding of the contemporary globalized world and how the decisions made by women and men in other cultures may not be much different than their own. Using her upper-division history course entitled “Black America and Africa”, Dr. Karen Sotiropoulos shows how by unpacking the long historical relationship between black Americans and Africa, black and white students alike seem able to grapple with persistent US racism as well as with exploring their own racial identities and understanding just what race is (how it's historically constructed) better than when she has taught a straight African American history course. Drawing from her teaching experiences in three different countries—Qatar, Bangladesh and United States, Dr. Yan Gao, our third panelist, will show how two methods she uses in her classroom, namely “parallel comparison” and “tele-comparison” helps her students become more effective learners and critical thinkers. Drawing on her course “Tribal India, Indigenous Latin America”, an upper-level history course which she taught in India, Dr. Rajeshwari Dutt will show how comparative history can be an effective method to diffuse tension in the classroom and help students look at culturally sensitive topics in a more impartial way.

Covering a broad range of geographical and temporal periods and vital themes including gender and ethnicity, this roundtable will strive to engage the question of the role of comparative history in the contemporary globalized classroom. This panel is addressed to a broad audience of instructors whether or not they are currently teaching comparative history. It is addressed to all teachers who are looking for methods to enliven the classroom, encourage critical learning skills and an appreciation for diversity of experiences.

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