Graduate teaching, while similar to leading senior undergraduate seminars, offers unique opportunities and challenges. Graduate students occupy an inherently liminal space, betwixt and between undergraduate students and the professoriate. While confident on one level, they face the uncertainty associated with the transition from senior status as undergraduates to “junior” graduate students. I strive to empower them to retain their confidence and to mature as scholars. I stress to graduate students that their seminars and theses/dissertations belong to them – that the process can serve them if they take ownership of the work. Jay Parini’s analogy of the seminar leader to a “conductor” is appropriate:
The subject of the seminar (and the texts or problems being considered) forms a kind of score; the students will already have, with greater or lesser degrees of success, mastered that score before coming to class. The expectation is, in fact, that they will have prepared for class by reading the material, by thinking up something to say. The work of the conductor is to draw out this intellectual music, to arrange it, set the tempo of play.
Jay Parini, “Points of View: The Well-Tempered Seminar,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 50/46 (23 July 2004), B15.
In a graduate seminar, I assume that students possess skills and knowledge that cannot be taken for granted at the undergraduate level. My role is to set the pace so that discussion flows and to ensure that all those who want to speak can do so.
Graduate seminars still bear my imprint. As long as students challenge one another on the basis of ideas and never attack each another personally, I fully encourage a frank and free intellectual exchange enriched with different perspectives and interpretations. I regularly serve as “devil’s advocate” if a debate seems one-sided or needs an additional “spark.” The excitement in a seminar comes from the interaction of ideas, and I help to create an atmosphere in which students who read and think about the assigned readings feel positive about their ability to express themselves, challenge orthodoxies on the basis of reason and evidence, and reflect on why we ask the questions and seek the answers that we do. In turn, they develop the advanced skills that historians use to analyze evidence and solve problems.
Graduate courses that I have taught:
- Global Governance 659 (Special Topics in Multilateral Institutions and Diplomacy: Arctic Governance) – at the Balsillie School for International Affairs
- Global Governance 720 (Global Governance) – at the Balsillie School for International Affairs
- History 610 (War and Society I)
- History 611 (War and Society II)
- History 691 (Graduate Reading Course) – on various topics
- History Ph.D. comprehensive examination minor field (Environmental History)
- Political Science 685 (Readings in International Politics)