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Conference Reports: The American Historical Association

As the year draws to a close, I thought I would do a series of posts about history conferences in 2017. This series will include both conferences I attended and those I did not. Not everyone can attend every relevant national history conference yet alone the state and regional ones. Even within a conference, it often is not possible to attend every session since there are concurrent ones. It would be helpful if people who do attend history conferences would write about them for New York History Blog and share the information with those who did not attend. It might even spark some discussion if we had a viable forum for having such a discussion.

The first conference to be covered is the annual January one of The American Historical Association, the largest professional organization serving historians in all fields and all professions. So it is being written even as the January, 2018, conference is at hand. I did not attend this conference in Denver. I did review the program and here ae the sessions that caught my eye as being relevant to even those of us who did not attend. These sessions are education focused particularly for the high grades and community and 4-year colleges. The challenge of finding a job is a perennial session.

Tuning at the Two-Year Institution:  Teaching and Learning on the Front Lines of History Education

As noted in a 2012 report by the AHA, “two-year institutions are on the front lines of many debates concerning higher education.”  In this roundtable panelists raise questions about the day-to-day teaching concerns of two-year faculty.  Audience members will then offer responses and propose suggestions based on their own experiences.

Sarah Shurts will discuss ways in which history educators can make changes, even small ones, to their teaching methods and their material in order to better address the historical thinking skills, concepts, and competencies that are essential to our discipline instead of simply covering content. She will show how her community college courses and expectations for student learning are evolving due to the introduction of the Tuning process.  In particular, she will discuss how the student learning objectives in the Tuning core can be scaled to suit the particular needs of community college introductory surveys while still introducing and developing the historical thinking skills and research methods that are essential to the major.

Too often the impulse at two-year colleges is to load students with content before they can eventually engage in disciplinary thinking at a four-year institution or in graduate school.  This impulse can be especially pronounced when dealing with community college students who have varying degrees of knowledge and academic skills.  Tony Acevedo and Michele Rotunda, however, will suggest that content coverage should not trump developing the habits of mind associated with the discipline.  Analyzing evidence, engaging in debate, and answering essential questions – all part of the historian’s craft – are examples of disciplinary habits that can be implemented to strengthen the survey course.  In particular, they will discuss how community college students often bring experiences and real-world skills that can be tapped into to develop historical thinking.

Although it has been three decades since Joan Wallach Scott called for the inclusion of gender as a category of analysis in historical study, Heather Bryson argues that it remains largely absent from survey courses in community colleges.  Gender is not the only underused analytical lens in introductory history classes. In general, historiography and historical theory are not taught at the community college level.  Bryson will provide a case study for the integration of theory (gender, class, race, etc.) into surveys based on how she introduces and embeds gender theory into her modern United States history course.

In a case study, Elizabeth Bryant will voice the specific challenges that community college educators face when teaching about human rights issues, especially in an era where much of the curriculum is dictated by set educational standards.  Another issue she will discuss is how students are often ill-prepared, both educationally and emotionally, to digest such difficult material.  Finally, she will offer suggestions on how educators can offer more practical tools so that students can become involved and stop the cycle of apathy to promote tolerance and understanding within both the local and global contexts.

Job Workshop for Historians

Bring your questions about what kinds of jobs are out there, as well as about composing a good job letter, creating a convincing c.v. or résumé, pitching your experience to a variety of audiences, and whatever else is on your mind as you seek a job using your PhD in history. Workshop facilitators will provide a mixture of one-on-one and group advice. Drop in or stay for the whole time. Bring your job letters, your c.v. and résumé, along, and let us comment on them for you.

The Professional Division will recruit volunteers who represent the wide range of job possibilities for Ph.D.s in history, including research institutions, four-year colleges, community colleges, secondary schools, museums, publishing houses, historical societies, national and state parks, and the business world to engage in informal conversation about strategies for finding a position in their field. Volunteers who have participated in the past have found the experience to be both personally and professionally rewarding.

Division vice-president Philippa Levine will make some brief introductory remarks, emphasizing the range of possibilities for Ph.D.s in history. Volunteers will then introduce themselves, and job candidates will sort themselves out for discussions according to their interests.

The Changing Scale and Scope of History Education: The C3 Framework and AHA’s Tuning Project

Since 2012, the C3 Framework (College, Career, and Civic Life Framework for Social Studies State Standards) [NOTE – NYS FOLLOWS THE C3 FRAMEWORK] and the AHA’s Tuning Project have introduced major changes in history education.  The Tuning Project’s discipline core and the C3 framework both address common student learning goals including appreciation for change, continuity, and context; causation and argumentation; perspectives of historical observers, actors, and historians; and the development and use of historical evidence.  The C3 Framework encourages states to upgrade their K-12 social studies standards by offering robust guidelines to promote inquiry-based learning in History. The AHA Tuning Project works to “articulate the disciplinary core of historical study and to define what a student should understand and be able to do at the completion of a history degree program.” C3 and Tuning seek to accomplish similar goals in history education, just on a sliding scale of expectations for learning that is scaffolded [NOTE – A JARGON TERM REFERRING TO THE BUILDING BLOCKS] from elementary school through an undergraduate degree. Unfortunately, there has been little opportunity for these two groups to engage in a dialogue about their shared work until now. In this roundtable, historians who wrote and have interpreted the C3 framework and those active in the Tuning Project will exchange ideas about:

(1) redefining history education from K-20 in the United States,

(2) bridging between secondary school and post-secondary studies

(3) clarifying advice offered for college preparation, and

(4) alerting higher education instructors to the expectations of their incoming students.

K–16 History Education: Recognizing Interdependence and Moving toward Coherence

The teaching and learning of history must be a K-16 endeavor. In order to ensure that the discipline plays a vital role in the education of all individuals, it is crucial to recognize the interdependence of history teachers and history learners across the K-16 continuum. How do history teachers at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels engage students in discipline-specific reading and writing? How do they assess student learning? How do they make adjustments in their instruction based on their understanding of students’ strengths and weaknesses with respect to historical thinking? By the same token, how do history learners at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels come to understand the nature of the discipline? How do they demonstrate various aspects of historical thinking? To what extent can they articulate cohesive narratives about the past? The persistent questions above have been examined thoroughly in literature pertaining to historical thinking, learning in history, and the preparation of history teachers. Oftentimes, however, conversations have focused only on historical thinking, teaching, and learning at specific and often segregated grade levels. What do these ideas mean in the context of K-16 history education as a whole? What can all history educators learn from our students and from each other?

All teachers of history encounter students with various levels of experience; likewise, we bring various levels of experience to conversations about teaching and learning in the discipline. The purpose of this roundtable is to bring together elementary, secondary, and post-secondary history teachers in order to foster discussion and comparative scholarly research related to history teaching and learning across the K-16 continuum. Roundtable participants will share their respective qualitative and quantitative analyses of their elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students’ epistemological understandings and construction of narratives, and they will explain how they adjust instruction based on their students’ representation and framing of history. The audience will be invited to consider the ideas their own K-16 students bring to the history classroom and contribute to dialogues about how all teachers of history might engage in systematic and scholarly reflection in order to use evidence to better understand the learning needs of our students.

Tuning Disruptions: The AHA Tuning Project and Practical Suggestions for Rethinking History Courses, Assignments, and Curricula

The AHA’s “Tuning” project draws faculty into thoughtful discussions of the knowledge, skills, and abilities we seek to develop in our students through history courses and curricula.  One of the key goals is to make our implicit assumptions about historical study more explicit to learners.  We are asked to shift away from an individualized focus on  “my course” to a shared model of instruction grounded in the ways teaching assignments integrate with “our curriculum.” Historians are encouraged to open a broad conversation about our disciplinary principles by moving across 2-year/4-year institutional divides. We are also asked to discuss the learning outcomes for our field not only with instructors but also with a diverse range of “stakeholders” including students, alumni, parents, employers, and policymakers. And we come to understand the importance of reflecting more rigorously – and collectively – on the types of assignments we create for our courses, tying assignments as closely as possible to the “outcomes” we define for a class.

In what ways has the project, since 2012, prompted historians to reexamine and reframe the classes they teach?  Rather than discussing course “disruptions” in the abstract, this session will examine the subject in actual practice. The roundtable will gather a diverse group of faculty who have used their introductory, upper-division, and capstone classes as “labs” for Tuning-related experiments in teaching and learning. Presentations will be concise and pointed, addressing concrete ways in which instructors: (a) appeal to both majors and non-majors; (b) connect content and competencies; (c) develop appropriate class exercises; (d) connect topics of study to an intentional curriculum; (e) contribute to a record of assessing student learning; and (f) clarify the skills students have developed. The goal is to review a set of innovative teaching ideas in the first half of the time period — and, in the remaining 45 minutes, open the floor to further audience contributions and questions that address creative teaching strategies.


As noted above, these sessions are not content-based but speak to various pedagogical issues in the teaching of history. They are relevant not only at the national level but at the state level. I am not sure exactly where such sessions fit in the present state schedule of conferences. Certainly it would be appropriate to work the social councils on some of these topics. The others probably are more appropriate for a state history conference. What would be the vehicle or forum for even discussing the feasibility of such sessions yet alone implementing them?

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