Conference on Undergraduate History Teaching at Two- and Four-Year Institutions
Dorothy Abrahamse, November 1992
Despite the presence of scores of community colleges, multiple campuses of the two public university systems, and what may be the nation's largest concentration of students transferring from two- to four-year institutions, southern California history faculty have never had a venue for the discussion of undergraduate history teaching and curriculum. Information about basic survey courses, major requirements, and developments in course expectations has been transferred by word of mouth, primarily through faculty who move between neighboring campuses as part-time teachers. In the last few years, as social science deans in the California State University (CSU) and community colleges in the Los Angeles area met, changes in history programs (and especially the adoption of world history requirements) topped the list of mutual concerns. Course articulation generally took place through administrative offices, with front-line faculty left unaware of changing expectations and new developments in the field.
In December 1989, representatives from a southern California community college (El Camino College), a California State University campus (CSU Long Beach), and the Society for History Education (centered at CSU Long Beach) decided to open communication with a conference in the 1991–92 academic year on undergraduate history teaching and learning. As planning for the meeting progressed, we received notice of a CSU system-wide conference on teaching and learning that would feature extended discipline seminar programs. With the support of the CSU Institute for Teaching and Learning and its history coordinators, our intersegmental conference on undergraduate history teaching became the history discipline program at the February conference on teaching and learning in Los Angeles. The AHA Teaching Division offered its support from the initial planning and was represented at the conference by Vice President Robert Blackey, CSU San Bernardino.
The program for the two-day conference centered on five broad areas of concern: models for world history, cultural pluralism in the U.S. history survey, interactive teaching and cooperative learning, primary sources in the classroom, and uses of computer technology in the history classroom. The panels featured faculty from two- and four-year institutions throughout California talking about their experiences in the classroom, with time for considerable discussion.
Highlights of the program included a keynote address by Peter Stearns, professor of history and chair at Carnegie Mellon University, speaking on the challenge of world history to the conceptualization of U.S. history. Professor Stearns urged American historians to give serious attention to such themes as the debate over American exceptionalism, immigrant "baggage" and cultural survivals, and the periodization of American interaction with Europe.
The cosponsorship of the National Archives Office of Public Programs brought John Vernon to present possibilities for undergraduate research in the National Archives depositories and the use of primary source packets that their office has prepared for the classroom. Those who imagine that the National Archives contains dry diplomatic materials would be surprised to see the rich correspondence between Jackie Robinson and members of various administrations that was used as an example of National Archives resources. His discussion was complemented by Emily Teipe's (Fullerton College) presentation of a range of primary documents and artifacts used in her survey courses.
World history faculty Gayle Brunelle and Nancy Fitch from CSU Fullerton and Stan Burstein from CSU Los Angeles described two models of conceptualization of a required world history survey, and discussed the process of converting a Western civilization class to world history in a panel chaired by David Smith, professor of history, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and president of the California World History Association. Julian Del Gaudio, Long Beach City College; Don Castro, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; Richard Donohoe, Napa College; and Susan Hult, Central College, Houston, described differing approaches to multiculturalism in U.S. history survey courses in a panel chaired by Craig Hendricks, Long Beach City College.
In a discussion of interactive teaching and cooperative learning, Michael Eula, El Camino College, gave an impressive example of the ability of lower-division survey students to become engaged in issues in American history through the discussion of major theoretical approaches to the field. Lauren Coodley, Napa College, and Don Schwartz, CSU Long Beach, described practical approaches to cooperative learning techniques in the history classroom.
The final afternoon was given to demonstrations by Barb Freitas, Education Technology Specialist, IBM, of Linkways programs developed by IBM and cooperating teachers using technology within the reach of most colleges. The examples demonstrated were DOS-based programs devoted to California Missions and Immigration. Nancy Fitch, CSU Fullerton, demonstrated her use of faculty research databases (a colleague's research on Brazilian polls and elections) in an undergraduate methodology course. Without statistical training, history majors were able to use simple correlation techniques to draw significant historical conclusions from a database with the use of computer-supported statistical packages.
Attendance at the conference was good, and historians from around the state appreciated the chance for informal dialogue in addition to the program. There was wide agreement that intersegmental conferences that bring faculty from two- and four-year colleges together to discuss common teaching and learning issues are much needed in California, and a similar conference, extended to include other disciplines, is planned for next spring. The cochairs of the Conference, Nadine Hata, El Camino College, and Dorothy Abrahamse, CSU Long Beach, wish to express their appreciation to the planning committee and to the cosponsors of the conference: El Camino College; CSU Long Beach; the Society for History Education; the AHA Teaching Division; the World History Association of California; the Office of Public Programs of the National Archives; the Community College Humanities Association; IBM; and especially to the Institute of Teaching and Learning of the California State University and the History Discipline Seminar of the CSU.