Breakout Session: "Bringing the World in to the US Survey" at the Texas Conference on Introductory History Courses
By Gerald Betty
A diverse assembly of educators from high schools, community colleges, and four-year universities from throughout the state of Texas gathered earlier this year on August 28-29 at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) for the Texas Conference on Introductory History Courses. The conference, sponsored by the American Historical Association (AHA) and UT, brought these history education professionals together out of the 98 degree Texas heat and accompanying humidity in order to discuss student learning goals for introductory courses at the college level with an emphasis on research for classroom content, pedagogy, and improving students’ engagement in history courses while maintaining a high standard of academic rigor. Specifically, the agenda of the conference built on the lessons and methods that have been developed by the AHA’s Tuning project which focuses on developing core competencies for history programs and students alike. Because Texas requires all students who pursue a bachelor’s degree at a public institution to take six credit-hours of history, programs such as this conference are extremely useful in establishing and coordinating standards for core competencies and learning outcomes among different levels of educational institutions throughout the state. Besides an opening keynote address by Professor Lendol Calder of Augustana College the conference featured insightful paper presentations, panel discussions, and numerous breakout sessions on survey courses, government educational policy, dual-credit programs, and assessment, among various other topics.
The AHA invited me to attend the conference and join professors Cameron Addis and David Lauderback of Austin Community College as facilitators for the breakout session on “Bringing the World into the US Survey,” focusing on ways to promote a global perspective on US survey. I have been fortunate to participate in the AHA and National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH) supported “Bridging Cultures at Community Colleges Project” from 2013-2015. Over these three years, the twenty-four community college faculty members from across the country participating in the project met together in an effort to develop a framework for integrating the histories of the Pacific and Atlantic worlds into the early US survey. Thus, my participation in the Austin meeting served as a medium to share with those twenty-or-so colleagues attending the breakout session a few of concepts and ideas discussed and developed in the Bridging Cultures experience.
Fittingly, professor Lauderback opened the session by paraphrasing Walt Whitman’s statement that the United States is a nation of nations. A nation of such a dynamic international heritage, professor Addis added, should therefore allow for the application of a global perspective in order to have a fuller, more meaningful understanding of its history. With that said, an energetic discussion opened up among most of the participants, with professor Addis providing sensible direction to the conversation. Several useful ideas and relevant themes for the global integration of US surveys emerged from the confab. Of course, various topics that could be focused on to emphasize American history within the context of globalism were brought up: the Age of Exploration, the desire and search for trade routes Asia during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the numerous wars in American history, slavery, business and commerce, industrialism, urbanization, social reform movements and so on. We also discussed different methods that could facilitate our aim of bringing the world into US survey. Comparative history especially offers opportunities to integrate US themes into international themes, and vice versa. Such studies of international revolutions, slavery, industrialization, urbanization, and social reform can be instructive and can also provide a global perspective to American topics. Session attendees likewise suggested additional methods such as employing non-traditional primary sources such as travel writing, foreign films, literature, and cartoons, oral histories, and family genealogies. Indeed, I use genealogies in my own courses in an effort to make history tangible by getting students thinking about the international origins of their ancestors. Exploration into the histories of students’ ancestral homelands from around the world, and those countries’ influence on the development US history helps students place their family history and US history in a broader global historical context.
Before the session concluded, several participants made suggestions of additional resources that could prove useful to the integration of an international perspective into US survey. Many in attendance at the session agreed that that two online resources could be valuable resources for instructors in their effort to incorporate global themes into the framework of US history. The Internet History Sourcebooks Project at Fordham University is, according to the website, "a collection of public domain and copy-permitted historical texts . . . for educational use," and it includes many themes associated with ancient and modern global history. The University of Houston’s Digital History website is intentionally aimed at promoting the use of "new technologies to enhance teaching and research," and it also comprises many themes, resources, and topics that would be useful for course development.
The participants emerged from the discussion energized and eager to accept the challenges of incorporating their US history surveys into a broader international context. As the session broke, attendees talked of continuing the discussion somewhere online. Julia Brookins of the AHA proposed that the Google Groups link on the AHA website might be the best place to continue such a conversation. With that suggestion, the breakout session ended, and the conference attendees made their way to the concluding presentation and remarks before they ultimately departed and melted away into the steamy late-afternoon Texas heat.
Gerald Betty teaches history at Del Mar College and is a participant in the AHA's seminar, "US and Atlantic History, 1450-1850," sponsored by the NEH Bridging Cultures project.