Although the Humanities at Yale have always been very strong, the University recently made a major commitment to build on those strengths. In June 2012, the Andrew Mellon Foundation awarded Yale $1.95 million for a project titled, “Re-imagining Humanities Education at Yale: An Integrated Approach.” The grant has been facilitating new opportunities in the Humanities and humanistic Social Sciences at all levels.
To promote curricular innovation and strategize the implementation of new courses, Yale College Dean Mary Miller (PhD 1981, History of Art) and Associate Dean Pamela Schirmeister (BA 1980, PhD 1988, English) have convened department chairs, Directors of Graduate Studies, and other faculty groups for brainstorming sessions.
“Our goal is to establish a flow of new ideas among a community of scholars that would extend from those teaching undergraduates through graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, making it possible for faculty and students alike to participate in broader conversations across the humanistic disciplines,” Miller says.
Mellon Faculty Workshops have met several times to develop strategies that foster team-teaching and enable the discovery of new knowledge “at the edges and intersections of traditional fields of study.” New courses have been proposed and designed that follow a dialogic model rather than a tag-team approach; expose students to interactive learning; and take advantage of Yale’s unparalleled libraries, museums, and institutes.
The Mellon grant has also allowed the Graduate School to create a new concentration for doctoral students in the Humanities that broadens the highly specialized and sometimes narrow focus of a discipline-based approach. Students in this program are supported for a third year of course work and participate in a theme-based interdisciplinary core seminar led by a faculty team. This year’s topic is “Technologies of Knowledge,” taught by Francesco Casetti, professor of Humanities and Film Studies; Emily Greenwood, professor of Classics; and Tamar Gendler, the Vincent J. Scully Professor of Philosophy and professor of Psychology. The year-long seminar traces how thought and knowledge have been ordered, “from the earliest attempts to theorize technologies of knowledge through to the meta-technologies of knowledge that constitute the digital humanities,” according to the course description.
“Part of the rationale for the Mellon core course in the Interdisciplinary Humanities is to train Yale graduate students to do teaching and research that will contribute to and extend shared knowledge in the Humanities and help to foster broad conversations, spanning the full range of Humanities disciplines, among the next generation of scholars,” says Greenwood. “We regard collaborative teaching and research as a foundation and inspiration for shared knowledge, and we incorporated opportunities and requirements for both when designing the course.”
The Mellon core course also offers its participants opportunities for team teaching: two or three students can design and present a sophomore seminar together under the supervision of a faculty member or an individual student can collaborate with a faculty member in designing and teaching a course. In 2014-15, Edward King (English) and Lukas Moe (English) will offer a course on “Independence”; and Anya Bokov (Architecture), Stephen Krewson (English), and Adrián Lerner Patrón (History) will co-teach “The Grid: Knowledge, Histories, Visualization.”
The English Department seminar will focus on independence as a “foundational idea in aesthetics, social life, and modern accounts of subjectivity and identity,” Edward says. He and Lukas will locate “independence” in “American and global-colonial contexts, considering how artworks, persons, and nations differently imagine themselves as independent.”
“The Grid” will be “a truly interdisciplinary workshop that explores a ubiquitous way of describing modern infrastructure and information technology,” Stephen says. Anya adds, “Though ubiquitous as abstractions, grids are viscerally material phenomena that shape the landscapes we inhabit. From urban planning and the ‘rationalization’ of nature to massive electrification, mapping, and social engineering, grids have for millennia played a central role in human attempts to understand and transform the world.” The seminar will draw on Adrian’s expertise in urban history, Anya’s interest in design and format, and Stephen’s in the intersection of language and computing.
Mal Ahern (Film Studies) will co-teach “Media Archeology: The Long History of the New” with Casetti, and Emily Hauser (Classics) will co-teach a seminar titled “Harry Potter, The Classic” with Michele Stepto, English Department lecturer and fiction writer. In 2015-16, Florian Fuchs (German) will co-teach with Rudiger Campe, professor of Germanic Languages and Literature; and Luca Peretti (Italian) will co-teach with Michael Denning, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of American Studies and professor of English.
The second approach to collaborative teaching, outlined above, is similar to the highly successful Associates in Teaching (AT) program, established in 2009. This program spans all academic disciplines, not just the Humanities. Each student-applicant works with a faculty member to create a new undergraduate course or redesign an existing one, and if the application is successful, plays a major role in teaching that course. The AT program was established to provide a more substantial teaching experience than students get from leading discussions or labs as teaching fellows, but the program has had some unanticipated — and very positive — consequences for everyone involved: graduate students, faculty members, and the undergraduates in their classes.
Under the teaching mentorship of Assistant Professor of Psychology June Gruber, Hillary Devlin (Psychology) applied to be an AT because it was a “wonderful opportunity to further develop my teaching skills and gain exposure to additional aspects of the process: course development, running a classroom, etc.” She co-taught “Human Emotion” with Gruber, who commented that “Teaching someone else how to teach is one of the most rewarding parts of the profession, and makes you a better teacher in the process.” About 250 students enrolled, making this one of the largest courses on campus, so “we added additional assignments with the aim of personally engaging students with the material,” Hillary says. They updated the readings and lecture material and incorporated an entirely new component: online video interviews of experts discussing their research with Gruber. In addition to strengthening Hillary’s teaching ability, “The experience further increased my passion for teaching, while also highlighting some of its challenges.” Working with Gruber as her faculty mentor “helped to strengthen our relationship, giving us the opportunity to collaborate in a new way outside of research.”
Jonathan Guez (Music) and his adviser, Patrick McCreless, co-taught a small senior seminar on Franz Schubert last fall. “Working in close contact with a professor helped to hone my teaching skills,” Jonathan says. “I learned so much from him, both in his office, before and after classes, and in the classroom itself.” The seminar met “with a handful of dedicated and talented music majors at the height of their game, all of whom were interested in the subject. What an experience!”
McCreless concurs: “The course went extremely well, and the interest and energy in the class were wonderful, start to finish.” The undergraduates benefited from the enthusiasm of their instructors and from their complementary areas of expertise. According to McCreless, “A phenomenon that we’ve both seen in music schools or departments is that singers know Schubert’s Lieder but not his instrumental music, while instrumentalists know the chamber music but not the songs. And so we decided to propose a course in which Jonathan would do the instrumental music, and I the songs. ...serendipitously, we ended up with exactly five singers and five instrumentalists!”
Faculty members enjoy a range of benefits from co-teaching. “From my own point of view, it was really helpful to share the teaching with a graduate student, who by definition is closer to the undergraduates in age, and who could make important points and stimulate discussion in a way that I could not have, were I teaching the course by myself,” McCreless says. “Jonathan and I learned from the students and from each other. It was a lovely experience, and I would do another Associates-in-Teaching course in a heartbeat.”
Film Studies student Anne Berke, who participated in the Associates in Teaching program under the supervision of Charles Musser and co-taught “Contemporary Documentary Film and Video,” notes the numerous ways in which the experience allowed interaction: “The Associates in Teaching experience was enlightening for me on multiple levels. Professor Musser is my dissertation adviser, so we have talked through the years about research and writing, but teaching together opened up new conversations about pedagogy and student evaluation. I also learned a lot, and not just concerning content. We had a very advanced, self-selecting group of students, one of whom was a graduate student and a few of whom were visiting scholars from other institutions, so our class had a collegial atmosphere. I learned a lot from my students. …
“A final thing I learned was how to present a lecture,” Anne adds. “I had given conference papers in the past, but this was a different animal: much more presentational than argumentative, and lasting almost 90 minutes. Before my first lecture, I was mildly terrified, but my confidence grew the more I did it, and it’s no understatement to say that PowerPoint became my best friend last semester. I realize now that lecturing has informed the way that I write and what I stress when preparing a public presentation.”
The undergraduates benefited from the arrangement too, says Musser. The course met twice a week, with one instructor giving a lecture on Tuesday and the other leading discussion on Thursday. The following week, they switched roles. “I think it is good to have the discussion leader be different from the lecturer. Students got to hear two voices, which made for a more layered pedagogical experience. In each class one of us was in the primary position, but the other could step in and add something important or ask a question. And the students got two readings of their papers.”
When faculty members from different departments team-teach a course, their teaching fellows benefit from the collaborative experience. William Goetzmann (BA, 1978; PhD 1991, Economics), the Edwin J. Beinecke Professor of Finance & Management Studies at the School of Management, and Valerie Hansen, professor of History, co-taught “World Financial History” in the fall to students in Yale College and SOM.
It was “truly exciting to develop and deliver the course,” says Goetzmann. As an added feature, “It involved some excellent teaching fellows who had a chance to use both their mathematical and historical skill sets. This cross-disciplinary collaboration is one of Yale’s great attractions to faculty with broad interests and a determination to learn from their colleagues. The Mellon grant has helped foster that effort — I’m thrilled that it was made.”