Lorence_Mining Salt of the Earth

Lorence_Mining Salt of the Earth - Mining Salt Earth of the...

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W INTER 2001–2002 29 F OR thirty-five years I have taught American history at the college level, mostly to the sons and daughters of Wisconsin. From the beginning of my teaching career at the University of Wisconsin–Marathon County in Wausau, I have felt privileged to have a job that brings me into daily contact with bright young people who inspire me to be at my best. From my own days as a student at the University of Wisconsin—first in Racine, then in Milwaukee, and finally in Madison—I have always been captivated by the process of intellectual discovery and driven by the excitement of research and writing. Yet teaching has always been my first love, perhaps because of the unique and formidable challenge it presents. Research and writing are solitary pursuits, but classroom communication is a distinctly interactive enterprise that demands all the energy a teacher can muster. Instead of addressing one’s professional colleagues, the classroom teacher is confronted with a frequently passive, sometimes hostile audience. Most of the undergraduates who file into my classroom every fall are there not because of any burning desire to explore historical issues, but rather to fulfill a social science requirement. I try, of course, to ignite a spark of interest through my own enthusiasm for history, but I recognize that few students will be transformed into history majors, a reality that lends an even greater sense of urgency to my work, especially since this is usually the one opportunity I have to persuade them to love history as I do. In my effort to stoke the fires of inquiry, I am forever look- ing for tools that will engage my stu- dents’ attention and enliven classroom discourse. Long ago my search for the “magic bullet” led me to explore nontradi- tional sources, including motion pic- tures produced for the American domestic audience. Convinced that movies are vivid historical documents that reveal much about the societies in which they are produced and consumed, I developed a course entitled “The Film as Social History” (History 198), which is now taught on several University of Wisconsin campuses. Since the mid-1970s I have selected course topics that lend themselves to analysis through exami- nation of motion pictures as primary sources. For example, I explored the social experience of the Great Depression by exposing students to such films as Wild Boys of the Road (1933) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940), among others. Sim- ilarly, the impact of World War II became clearer to students who studied Mrs. Miniver (1942) and The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). Analyzing the films people viewed at a time when movies meant much to the American public can enhance our understanding of the interests, issues, and con- cerns of earlier generations. The classroom results have some- times been remarkable, not only for students, but also for their teacher. In the late 1980s I chose images of “Communism in Amer-
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This note was uploaded on 09/08/2010 for the course RTVF 188 at San Jose State.

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Lorence_Mining Salt of the Earth - Mining Salt Earth of the...

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