Class Writeup

January 21, 2004


Here is the writeup for the first day of classes. I will double this on the personal blog and the teaching blog, with a couple of minor edits. I think that in the future this blog will only get excerpts from my writeups, and for that matter the teaching blog will not get things like my comparison of students at Urban Research University with students at Suburban State University.

Class Writeup,
January 21, 2004
Introduction, Why Western Civilization

First day of classes is always exciting and a little scary, as is first day at a new university. The combination was more so, especially as I was running late after getting the syllabi copied.

I want to call the two sections morning and evening, but of course one is late afternoon and the other is at dinnertime - perhaps afternoon and evening, or just early and late.

First section was in a sloped lecture hall. It is a nice space, with a fancy electronic control desk and a small blackboard. Afternoon class is in a more traditional classroom. There is an overhead projector shoved off in the corner. In both classes I dragged out the overhead so I could use an acetate. The screens blocked most of the blackboard, so I will need to limit my use of maps this semester.

Most of the class was spent going over the syllabus. In both sections I did introductions, although in first section I forgot to have the students introduce themselves to one another at the start of class. You only get one chance to make a first impression, and I do not know if I will have morning section introduce themselves to one another on Monday.

After syllabus review I ran over some basics. We talked about the difference between Western Civ and Modern Europe. Most of the discussion was on Western Civ, and I fear that many students are still expecting Western Civ and not the Modern Europe that we will be covering.

Here are my teaching notes for that discussion - neither section followed them. Instead we did a board exercise where the students speculated on the differences and then I closed with a mini-lecture. Morning section went through the syllabus faster, so we spent more time on the board exercise.

Western Civ or Modern Europe?
Board exercise, put both items up on board - ask class to figure out the difference
Looking for culture, society v change over time, point out east-west
1920s, era after Great War, same time as Great Books idea at Columbia then Chicago.
Western Civ 1 differed from Great Books in that it included Semitic regions of middle east - at least up until Roman Era when dropped them again.
Western Civ 2 very like Great Books region.
I argue, movement of ideas east to west, tied up in NorthWest European Protestants, status consciousness, racial awareness.
Modern Europe goes west to East, recognizes central role of Ottoman Empire from 1500 to 1920s, story is that of the decline of the Ottomans and the rise of new multilingual and eventually multinational empires in Central and Eastern Europe.

We are doing Modern Europe.

We finished with a brief map exercise laying out the major regions, rivers, mountains, and linguistic zones. The big point I wanted to make was that Germany is a region for a long time before Germany emerges as a nation. I think they got it, unlike the kids at Community College who were still confused about the distinction after weeks of class.

I spent a lot of class time on the narrative structure I intend to follow. I had planned to do that discussion as a separate part of the class, but in both sections we talked about narratives while talking about the syllabus. I hope I was clear.

Finally we finished with a brief discussion of contingency, path dependency, and change over time. This is the first semester I have put that mini-lecture on the first day of classes. I intend to refer to the concepts a lot the first couple of weeks to get them used to thinking that way. I put Agency on the board but decided that I did not have the time to define it. I will introduce that concept next week, not sure on which day.

First impressions of the students - compared to URU these students are whiter, less tattooed, less pierced, and more men have more hair. Both sections had several guys with hair down to their shoulders, and I can only think of one guy out of a couple of hundred URU students with that much hair. One of the fun little things about teaching on several campuses is seeing the differences between student culture - Swarthmore students used to do silly little finger waves, Amherst kids dressed preppy, UVA women always wear makeup to the gym, and so on. So far I like the kids here and am looking forward to the semester.

We will see how many got scared away.

Posted by Red Ted at January 21, 2004 08:38 AM | TrackBack