Throughout my time as a graduate student at Duke University, I prioritized my pedagogical training, regularly searching for ways to improve my course design and communication skills, while also engaging diverse audiences to inspire change in higher education. I co-taught, guest lectured, and worked as a teaching assistant and grading assistant. As an instructor, I designed a Jazz in NOLA course with my co-instructors, and have developed several survey courses in American and Atlantic World history: American History to 1865, American History 1865 to Present, American Cultural History to 1865, and Caribbean History. In addition to my ability to teach survey courses, I also developed more specialized courses including a writing-focused class on Southern food history called Corn Bread Nation. Lastly, as a graduate student, I served as an academic tutor for the Duke Athletics Department, focusing specifically on advising historical research and writing.
In addition to these classroom experiences, I completed all of the requirements to earn a Certificate in College Teaching (CCT), and have also completed my training as a fellow in the Preparing Future Faculty Program (PPF). These innovative programs and the accompanying pedagogical classes have enabled me to discuss the future of higher education with professors like Dr. Cathy Davidson who are revolutionizing the field of pedagogy by, for example, designing Massive Open Online Courses that allow students and the public to easily access the academic expertise of scholars at institutions of higher education.
Inspired by my experiences working with these pedagogical innovators, one of my overarching teaching goals is to re-design the history classroom by incorporating innovative, digital-based tools to facilitate critical thinking. I have led discussions and workshops about digital pedagogy through my involvement with the PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge, the Duke Digital History Working Group, and the Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory (HASTAC). Being at the forefront of this educational revolution, I successfully incorporated new teaching methods into my classroom. As a teaching assistant for Dr. Edward Balleisen’s American Business History class, for example, I conducted numerous digital pedagogy experiments including the use of Twitter and Google Drive for collective note taking among students. I worked diligently to share and refine these pedagogical exercises through blog posts on my professional website, HASTAC.org, workshops at Duke, and presentations at both national and international conferences. By collaborating with professors and teaching assistants in disciplines as diverse as biology and computer science, I endeavored to incite important pedagogical changes across disciplinary divides.
In the classroom, I strive to introduce my students to a wide variety of methodological approaches drawn from the academic disciplines I have encountered through my pedagogical training and academic research. These fields include visual studies, anthropology, and ethnomusicology, among others. I see interdisciplinary studies as a dynamic vehicle for exploration, which enables students to make connections between academic fields that would have otherwise remained unrelated. For example, in my American history survey course, I help students draw connections between economic history and cultural anthropology by tracing the simultaneous development of Caribbean plantation economies and growing consumerism and culinary traditions in Europe and North America. This lesson enables students to tie early American history to the Caribbean and Europe, while also emphasizing the correlation between economic and cultural practices in the larger Atlantic World.
Through our analysis of the Atlantic World, I also strive to recenter my students’ focus of American history on a larger world stage. Throughout my survey course, I urge my students not to think of American history as being confined to the North American landmass, but rather encourage them to imagine a larger, more globally oriented American history that is linked to European, West African, and Caribbean history. During this lesson—in an attempt to draw upon our initial discussion of “what is history, and why should we study it?”—I impress upon my students that their consumer habits today are products of the early Atlantic economy; I draw their attention to Starbucks—a consumer culture phenomenon in the twenty-first century. Through class discussion, we unpack the legacy of the early Atlantic economy in society’s mass consumption of coffee, tea, and sugar in coffee shops around the globe.
Another one of my pedagogical goals is to inspire curiosity among my students by facilitating their engagement with primary source documents housed in local archives and available through their digital repositories. Students’ proximity to these research spaces enables them to engage with their materials beyond our work in the classroom, rendering their research a personal passion rather than a class requirement. First, I introduce them to the archive, how to navigate it, and the kinds of materials housed within its walls through class projects before working with them to cultivate their individual interest.
As a teaching assistant for American Business History, for example, I advised a semester-long research project for sixteen students in my discussion section. Their individual research projects were grounded in the collections at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke. Specifically, students found a home for their research in the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History, one of the largest repositories of business-related materials in the country. One of my students, for example, conducted research on General Motors’ expansion into Latin America c. 1920-1930, drawing upon J. Walter Thompson Archives to examine marketing strategies targeted at Latin American consumers. Through these collections, the student was able to write a comparative study of American business practices in the United States and abroad, providing an academic base for his personal experiences growing up in Latin America and consuming American products.
By facilitating regular visits to the archive for their research projects, I endeavored to foster a sense academic curiosity in my students, while honing in their critical analytical skills and writing abilities through discussion sections and formal writing assignments. I focused on developing students’ writing skills throughout the semester by guiding them through the writing process in early assignments—encouraging them to construct outlines, write drafts, and peer edit each other’s papers. This process acts as a foundation for students as they face larger and more complex writing assignments in the second half of the course, and later in their professional careers.
While a graduate intern at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library from 2015-2017, I gained crucial experience teaching with diverse primary sources through the library’s instructional outreach program. I had the opportunity, for example, to guest lecture in courses ranging from German Literature and Culture to U.S. Women’s History. As a guest lecturer in an Intermediate Latin course, for example, I brought out liturgical sheet music to facilitate my lecture on medieval and early modern music traditions. Bringing in my own passion for singing, I taught students how to read this historic music. I even sang from the music during class so as to demonstrate the tonality of spiritual music in the seventeenth century. At one point, I was able to sing with one of the students, a graduate researcher in the Music Department. It was, for lack of a better phrase, a transformative moment to hear that early modern music come back to life through an impromptu collaborative experience. These are the kinds of moments that make a lasting impression on students and convince them to return to the archives to pursue their personal research interests.
Through my involvement with instructional outreach at the Rubenstein Library, I learned that some of the most successful classes were ones where I catered to the specific academic interests of students. In the spring of 2016, I coordinated with Meredith College professor, Dr. Angela Robbins, to have her U.S. Women’s History course visit the library. A few weeks prior to their arrival, I sent a survey asking them to express their general interests in gender, sexuality, and feminist studies and to make note of a specific collection at the Rubenstein that they would be interested in seeing. With this information in hand, I was able to design a 2-hour long course around 8 central themes. I set up 8 “stations” of sources that spoke to those themes. Students were encouraged to sit at a station, familiarize themselves with the material for 15 minutes and then share their discoveries with the entire class. We did three rounds of this “discovery and sharing” exercise. During class discussion, I helped clarify broader themes in American history, encouraging students to think through more complex issues of critical race, gender, and sexuality theory. One student explained that she was particularly fascinated by some of the historic cookbooks that I put on display for the class. Professor Robbins noted that I “was able to take [her] requests and those of students and develop a meaningful research activity.” Commenting on the “stations,” she noted that they “addressed particular interests and course objectives very effectively, and moving around from space to space to discuss what we saw and learned was well suited to the time we had allowed.”
My pedagogical goals are also influenced by my work as a public historian in which I endeavor to create class projects that align with my personal mission to break down the barriers between the academy and the public. While a Visiting Scholar at Purdue University in the spring of 2017, I co-taught a week-long course called Jazz in NOLA where I traveled to New Orleans with 18 Purdue University undergraduate students. Through assigned readings, class discussions, a visit to the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University, cooking demonstrations, and attendance of several concerts in New Orleans, students critically analyzed major historical themes such as race, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status through jazz culture. My co-instructors and I wanted students to keep their eyes and ears wide open, so to speak, to the world around them, paying attention to the materiality of urban culture as well as the ephemerality of street music. For our final assignment, we asked students to collect one material object and capture one sound byte on their phones. After returning to campus, students curated an exhibit about New Orleans music culture, writing labels for each object that explained its broader significance to the Purdue community. The exhibit was on display in the Purdue Honors College through the fall of 2017.
Overall, I urge my students to invest in their scholastic interests, to take academic risks, to show a willingness to revise and improve their work, and to share that work with broader audiences. I expect a great deal from my students, but in return, I work hard to build them an academic toolkit to facilitate their success both in the classroom and in their professional lives.