Teaching Division 2007

by Karen Halttunen

According to the Constitution of the AHA, “It shall be the duty of the Teaching Division, under the direction of the Council, to collect and disseminate information about the training of teachers and about instructional techniques and materials, and to encourage excellence in the teaching of history in the schools, colleges, and universities.” During the past year, the division has worked on a number of fronts to improve the quality of teacher-training and history instruction at all levels of K–16 and graduate education.

One of the most promising developments is our new partnership with the Center for History and New Media, for launching and developing the National History Education Clearinghouse, funded by the federal Department of Education. The Clearinghouse is generating a comprehensive online body of information and resources—drawn in part from the materials developed by the federal Teaching American History grants program—to improve the K–12 teaching of U.S. history. Under this Department of Education grant (renewable annually for up to five years), Noralee Frankel and I are working with the Center for History and New Media to create one-day Saturday workshops at the AHA annual meetings (beginning in 2009), devoted entirely to history education, and designed to draw in as many local teachers as possible. In addition, I am serving on the Clearinghouse Policy Roundtable.

The Teaching Division also became a partner this past year with the Council on Undergraduate Research on an 18-month project called “Collaborative Research with Undergraduates: Models for Historians.” And in a related development, the division gratefully accepted Executive Director Arnita Jones’s suggestion that a recent bequest, earmarked for undergraduate historical research, should be funneled toward the growing number of campus-based journals that publish undergraduate research in history. We have yet to determine how this funding will be offered—whether as financial support or as awards for the best research—but will do so at our next meeting.

The Teaching Division continued to serve as the vehicle for AHA support of graduate education in history, by offering a successful workshop for Directors of Graduate Studies in Washington, DC last August; and continuing to host the enormously useful DGS list-serve, which offers quick-fix answers and solutions to the endless problems—large and small—faced by graduate directors. As part of our supervisory responsibilities for the AHA teaching prizes, we modified the language of the Beveridge Family Prize (for K–12 teaching) to emphasize innovative teaching efforts with inner-city and disadvantaged student groups; and altered the nomination requirements for the Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Award (for two-year, four-year, and graduate colleges and universities), in an effort to encourage more nominations. The new language we recommended for the Beveridge Prize was passed by the Council; for the Asher Award, the Council suggested one additional minor revision.

Our division’s work towards the annual meeting of 2008 generated an all-day workshop (in collaboration with the Research Division) on the intersection between research, teaching, and new media, scheduled for the opening day of this annual meeting. The program offers 17 sessions focused on teaching, of which 10 are sponsored by the Teaching Division—including a two-session sequence on “Teaching by Having Students Think Historically.”

The central focus of our work this past year and in the foreseeable future is on teacher-training and in-service professional development. The November issue of Perspectives included an essay I wrote on “The Next Generation of History Teachers,” a white paper drawn up by a team headed by Edward Ayers at the University of Virginia. That report issues a strong appeal to history departments in colleges and universities to accept our responsibility for encouraging students to become K–12 teachers, and for crafting courses and programs of study that will prepare them for that vocation. In a related area, the Teaching Division remains committed to a project we are calling “Teaching Collaboratives in the Virtual World” which will support K–12 teaching in world history. This project will create small collaborative groups—including graduate students, faculty at two-year and four-year colleges, and K–12 teachers—with respective expertise in 10 (initially) major subjects identified in the states’ standards for world history, and invite them to generate highly selective clusters of web-linked resources for teaching that subject in K–16 classrooms.

Finally, the Teaching Division is collaborating with the Research Division in the “Action Thématique” project, “Sites of Encounters and Cultural Production.” If that project is funded, the focus of the Teaching Division will be on developing curricula and public presentations that assist K–12 teachers of world history, by using the “sites of encounter” approach to nudge K–12 curricula away from the old, static model of “World Civilizations” towards a more transnational and comparative (both geographically and temporally comparative) approach.

As I complete my first year of service, I’d like to thank Executive Director Arnita Jones for her excellent suggestions and steady support; and Noralee Frankel, assistant director for women, minorities, and teaching, for her hard work on behalf of the Teaching Division, her mastery of current issues in history teaching, her unfailingly warm encouragement, and her own strong instincts about what really matters in our classrooms.

Karen Halttunen (University of Southern California) is the vice president of the Teaching Division.