Seeking Purpose in Graduate Course Work





“We were more or less raised and professionalized by wolves.”

That line by Ann Fabian, a professor of history and American studies at Rutgers University at New Brunswick, reflected the way coursework in Ph.D. programs used to be focused solely on knowledge and historiography, and was largely disconnected from the future careers of young academics.

Fabian’s comment came in a panel discussion here at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association on how graduate course work is and should be changing. Participants said that in recent years many departments have been trying to make graduate work more relevant to training their students for their teaching duties.

Kathleen Canning, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, said that she thought of the traditional model of graduate courses as “Pick your favorite books, hold forth, and wait for the graduate students to do the same.”

She advocated almost the opposite, with professors being transparent about the pedagogical goals and sharing responsibility for the class — where appropriate — with the grad student. “I make pedagogy explicit, and talk about it,” she said....


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