histry read.doc - 2.1 How to Read a History Assignment The study of history means reading There's no escaping that simple fact And reading history can

histry read.doc - 2.1 How to Read a History Assignment The...

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2.1 How to Read a History Assignment The study of history means reading. There's no escaping that simple fact. And reading history can be a satisfying experience, regardless of what you might have heard. It all depends on the book you are reading. For instance, there are quite a few books that I have read which literally transported me in time and space. The medieval scholarship of Jacques LeGoff and George Duby fall into this category. In the field of intellectual history, the works of Peter Gay, John Herman Randall, Isaiah Berlin, H. Stuart Hughes and Frank Manuel have always impressed me. But what "works" for me may not work for you. Most often, it's a matter of personal preference. I can't tell you how many times I've heard students admit that they hated a certain text because it was boring or too long or too complicated. What makes such a comment sometimes harder to accept is that often, some of the texts instructors assign are those books which made a difference in their own lives. Still, having been a student myself, and not a great one I might add, the reflection that a text is boring or too long is sometimes just. A case in point. I often assign Modris Eksteins' Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age in my course on Twentieth Century Europe. It's a wonderful book which juxtaposes Stravinsky's ballet, "The Rites of Spring" with all those cultural, intellectual and psychological forces surrounding the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. But when my students first start reading the text, they become confused. Why? Quite simple. They expect a book about World War One. Instead, they begin reading about a ballet. What relationship could a ballet possibly have with a world war? Of course, they have to read further in order to grasp what Eksteins is really trying to do. That's why I assign this text: it makes the students think differently about war, a war they thought they all understood . For my own courses, I try to assign books based on a number of variables such as: price and availability, length, closeness to both the general topic and my approach to it, and complexity. There's no sense assigning, say, E.P.Thompson's magnum opus, The Making of the English Working Class , in a survey class on modern European history. No, that would be a bit much. Also, I only assign four or maybe five texts per course because that seems a reasonable amount given the fact that most of my students work full time. My typical student is what I could call non-traditional. With an average age of twenty-five, the majority of my students hold down full-time jobs and many of them are married with kids. So, assigning more than 100 pages per week would be
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asking too much. I realize their limitations. On the other hand, as a graduate
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