Tag Archives: James Madison University

Course Reviews: Fall 2011

I realized that I never wrote about my courses for this semester, so I will do that now.  The semester is now half over and I am counting down until Christmas break!  Instead of writing a separate post for each course, I will give a brief description of each course in this post.  You can find my book list post, HERE.

HIST 590

Gender in Latin America meets twice a week with a mix of grad students and undergrads.  As with all 500 level courses, we have a separate 4th hour meeting with the professor to discuss our addition work/readings.  For this course, however, we have a 4th hour, but no additional readings.  Our only additional work is a reading review each week.  The course has 15 books, but we do are not reading one per week as you might expect.  We are reading in chronological and generally read chapters from 3-4 books per week.  Overall, it is not a bad course and it fulfills my requirement of an out-of-concentration course.  The course is taught by Dr. William C. Van Norman.

HIST 600

The Seminar in Early American history changes from year-to-year depending on who teaches it.  This year the course is taught by Dr. David Dillard and focuses on his area, Southern history.  The reading list for this course is pretty short, but the course layout is very different.  The course is broken up into three blocks of three-week segments.  The first week, the whole class reads the same book.  The second week we break apart and read different books from the historiography.  Finally, the third week we discover how the history of the period is viewed by the public via museum, movies, television, etc.  It is a unique course design and I really like it as it allows me to incorporate a little of my Public History training.

HIST 700 

My thesis research is going well and I have been working toward my thesis since early this year.  Over the summer I did a great deal of secondary reading and gathered all my primary sources.  I have moved past the research phase and am now into writing.  My first chapter is due October 24, and I have about 12 pages so far.  My goal is 20.  After writing chapter 1, I will skip to chapter 3 and have it done by Thanksgiving break.  Before I leave for Christmas break, I hope to have Chapters 1 and 3 completed and substantial progress on chapter 2.  The entire project is due the middle of February.

I meet weekly with my thesis advisor, Dr. Christopher Versen, and we discuss what I have read, what I have written, and where the project is going.  The other members of my thesis committee include Dr. Chris Arndt and Dr. John Butt.


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Reading List: Fall 2011

On Wednesday I posted the list of courses I am taking this Fall.  After looking over the list of textbooks, I was surprised to learn that there are so many this semester! The number of books required for this semester totals 25.  That is not including additional readings that will be assigned once the class begins.  For example, for HIST 600 it is likely we will be assigned books to report on to the class.  These are the books that I will have to purchase (for more information on each book, click on the title to be taken to the book’s Amazon page):

HIST 590 – Gender in Latin America – Indian Women of Early MexicoGender & Disorder in Early Modern SevilleInfamous DesireCase of Ugly SuitorChica Da SilvaLives of Women: New History of Inquisitional SpainWhat Is Gender History?Marriage, Class & Colour in 19th Century CubaTrading RolesFaces of HonorPeople of the VolcanoWomen Who Live Evil LivesMoon, Sun & WitchesLaboring Women, and Public Lives, Private Secrets

HIST 600 – Seminar in US History: Early Period – Roll, Jordan, RollLincoln, and Midwife’s Tale

HIST 700 – Thesis Research – NONE ASSIGNED

GHIST 101 World History to 1500 – AnalectsKoranBhagavad GitaWays of the World, Volume 1Trial & Death of Socrates: Four DialoguesEpic of Gilgamesh, and Inferno

Do not be fooled by HIST 700, however.  I have already read several books this summer for my Thesis and have many more primary source documents and secondary source books to go.  Once again I will have my work cut out for me!

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Courses: Fall 2011

It is that time of year again…classes at James Madison University start again on August 29.  Like the last two semesters, I am taking three courses and I am a Teaching Assistant once again.  The courses I am taking this fall include:

HIST 590 – Gender in Latin America.  Instructor: William C. Van Norman

HIST 600 – Seminar in US History: Early Period.  Instructor: Philip David Dillard

HIST 700 – Thesis Research.  Instructor: Christopher Versen

In addition, I will TA for GHIST 101 World History to 1500 taught by Michael Seth.  I took a course last fall with Dr. Seth (HIST 653) and had a great time.  In fact, the only professor this semester that I have yet to work with is Dr. Van Norman.  Dr. Versen is my thesis director, and I worked with Dr. Dillard on History Day in the Spring.

I am looking forward to beginning the second, and final year of my Master’s degree.  I will post the list of books for each course in the coming days, and, as always, I will describe each class in detail once the semester begins.

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COURSES: HIST 673 – Graduate Research and Writing Seminar

Many second year students in our program have called this course the most beneficial in the program.  On the surface this course, taught by Dr. Lanier, seems terrifying.  The course has no books and requires no outside reading, but within the 15 weeks of the semester each student will write two twenty-page papers which must be written on a related topic.  Many students, such as myself, are using this as an opportunity to write two chapters of our thesis, which is the smart thing to do since we all have to write one anyway.

The course outline is pretty simple.  Each week, three students in the class turn their paper in on the Friday before the class period.  The rest of the class has the weekend to read the other student’s papers and we have to write a short review for the student and for Dr. Lanier (she just wants to be sure we are actually reading!).  In class, we just discuss the papers as a class with the students.  We offer suggestions, criticisms, and compliments.

This class is helpful in many ways.  First, we all get some experience reviewing the work of others who are writing in different fields.  Second, we are expanding our knowledge on topics that we may have no experience with.  History is very diverse and it is great to read what everyone is working on.  And that is the most important part of the course.  We get to read each other’s work.  We have been together now for a semester and we have an idea of what the others are researching, but we actually get to read and respond to the work they have done so far.  Some students have more developed ideas than others and at this point that is fine.  Others know exactly what they are writing about and have done much of the documentary research.  I, however, am somewhere in between.  I have a very solid notion of where my thesis will go and I am using this class to begin my thesis work.

Incidentally, my first paper was due yesterday and we will discuss it next week along with two other papers.  I completed and turned my paper in on Thursday, and I really do look forward to the feedback.  I have a rough idea for my second paper and for my thesis and the feedback I receive next week could change that route.  But that is not a bad thing.  It is great having 16 historically oriented and intelligent fellow historians to bounce ideas off of and receive feedback from.  I think the second year students are absolutely correct in their assessment that this course is the most beneficial since writing is at the center of graduate research.

Next week I will take a look at HIST 593 – Historic Preservation.  A great class!  Until then…


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COURSES: HIST 696: Introduction of Public History

My second course with Dr. Lanier is Intro to Public History.  The course has a similar structure to Material Culture from last semester with the some of the same content, but there is one major difference.  Since there are so many of us in the Public History gradate program, the undergrads have been separated from the grad students.  This is great because there are only nine students in the class and we are all grad students.  And since we know each other, it makes the class much more fun!

There is a good amount of reading for the course, however.  Each week, one of us has to present on a book we have read.  I do not present my book until March, but it is a great exercise. This guarantees that we are exposed to more books than just those assigned for the class.  Speaking of the assigned books, there is quite a list of them including:

On Doing Local HistoryNew History in an Old MuseumThe Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American MemoryDomesticating History: The Political Origins of America’s House MuseumsPublic History: Essays from the Field, and Mickey Mouse History and Other Essays on American Memory

JMU Students working in the Field

There is a fair bit of writing involved as well.  We have to write three short papers (5 pages each) throughout the semester.  The first paper is related to the use of Sanborn Maps.  Sanborn maps will be the subject of a separate blog post, but they are, in essence, fire insurance maps.  These maps are extremely detailed and map ever structure in town and color code them based on their building material, roof type, etc.  These maps are very important for a public historian.  The second paper is an Oral History paper in which we have to interview someone and write about their experiences.  I do have some experience with oral interviews, so this should not be too difficult.  The third short paper is an Exhibit Review.  I did this last semester for Material Culture, but it is essentially a review of a museum exhibit where I will explore the exhibit’s layout, content, and purpose.

Like Material Culture, we also have a final paper which must be approximately 15 pages and can be  a in depth look at a particular subfield of Public History or one of many projects.

We meet twice a week and discuss various subfields of Public History including: local/regional history, oral history, historic preservation, documentary editing and publishing, living history museums, historical interpretation, museums, visual culture, archaeology, archives, and memory.  In addition to discussing these subfields we will have various guest speakers ranging from publishers to archaeologists.  Dr. Lanier has also given us a few possibilities for field trips once the weather is nicer.

As a Public History, this class is making me more excited about my subject.  In fact, looking ahead for the next several weeks, this course could very well be my favorite of the semester, although, it will have a tough time beating Historic Preservation.  Public History is a very diverse field and there are many opportunities for historians within it.

Next week, I will look at HIST 673 Historic Writing Seminar!  Until then…


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Graduate School and the iPad

I have owned an iPad since last April, but never really used it to its fullest potential on campus.  Last semester, I took a picture of all the books and articles I read through out the semester.  The fact of the matter was I downloaded all the articles from BlackBoard and recycled them at the end of the semester since I had saved a digital copy on my computer.  This made me realize that I really needed to use the iPad for more than just email, web, and entertainment.  There had to be an app that would allow me to create a folder system for my classes, and there was.  I found the app GoodReader for $2.99.  I figured it would be worth it for an app that worked on the iPad and iPhone (since I have both).  I purchased the app last fall and began to work with it.  I decided it was the best candidate for this semester.

Steve Jobs Unveils the iPad, January 27, 2010

A week before classes began, I created a folder system within GoodReader which broke down the course by week.  This would allow me to download the PDF files from BlackBoard directly to GoodReader on the iPad and place it in the proper folder.  It may sound complicated, but it makes things much easier than keeping track of a paper version of the article.  After all, printing the articles seemed like a waste of paper when I could just as easily read them on the iPad.

When the semester began, I downloaded the readings for week two for my courses and placed them within the proper folders.  I always have my iPad with me on campus, and so now when I have a free moment, I can read articles for class while on campus.  With the paper versions, I would have to bring them with me if I wanted to do that, and there is no guarantee free time will present itself.

After working with the iPad for almost a year, and experimenting with reading PDF files on it for three weeks, I can honestly say it makes my life easier.  I could have just as easily purchased a laptop (or kept my MacBook), but the iPad is much thinner and a pound lighter than the lightest MacBook Air.  The touch interface also make the reading of articles easier as I can easily adjust the zoom using a pinching motion.  As a student, the iPad does everything I want it to do and more.

Screen shot of GoodReader’s Folder System

Apple’s Steve Jobs described the iPad last year as “magical.”  But he was not far off.  There is something more intimate about the iPad over a laptop or even a desktop.  I find that I am using the iPad more than my iPhone!  I may be a little biased, but the iPad is truly a multi-talented product that has changed the way we think about computing.  That was evident at this years Consumer Electronics Show.  Over 40 new tablets were demoed and will be released by the end of this year.  The iPad is making my grad school experience a little easier, and I look forward to using it for years to come!

Next weekend, I will begin reviewing my classes by looking at HIST 696.  Until then…


(P.S.  I wanted to take a little space to express my sincere wishes that Steve Jobs get well soon so that he may return to Apple from his Medical Leave of Absence.)

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History Day 2011

As I alluded to earlier, I have a new Teaching Assistantship this semester and that is…History Day!  I worked with History Day for three years at MSSU.  I was asked to take this position because of this experience and to make suggestions to those who work with History Day at JMU.

What is History Day?

History Day is a competition held at the local, state, and national levels in which students in Middle school and High school get to compete for scholarships.  They do so by competing at either the Junior (grades 6 -8) or Senior (grades 9-12) levels.  With in each level, there are several categories including: individual documentary, group documentary, individual exhibit, group exhibit, historic paper, individual performance, group performance, individual website, or group website.  No matter the category, students have the chance to explore a topic of their choosing under the annual theme.  Past themes have included “The Individual in History” and “Innovation in History.”  This year, the theme is “Debate & Diplomacy in History.”  History Day allows students to experience the research required for historians, and, hopefully, inspire them to continue their education with history as their emphasis.  I look forward to seeing what the students come up with.

History Day at JMU

When I was asked to work with History Day 2011 at JMU, I did not know what I was getting into.  When I worked with History Day 2010 at MSSU, I worked with an experienced professor and Missouri History Day had implemented a paperless system.  At JMU, however Virginia History Day does not control the system.  For the last several weeks, I, along with the departmental secretary and Dr. Dillard have been trying to put together a website to inform local teachers as well as a way to submit entries online.  It is proving difficult, but we are pushing forward.  March 25 is not all that far away.

I was asked to work with History Day because I have experience.  I have worked with a different system and have a different perspective.  My goals for the semester and for History Day at JMU are to create a “History Day Guide Book” with information for professors or students who run History Day at JMU in the future.  I also want to create a paperless system before History Day 2012.   We also need to have a website that will be informational for local teachers and students.  The goal is to get more people involved and making the system simpler will encourage growth.  I am excited to work with History Day and we are working to make History Day simpler for those who come after Dr. Dillard and me.  It is a challenge, but I love a challenge!

Next week, I will begin describing the courses I am taking this semester.  Until then…


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