By History Professor Katy Stewart
I tell my students that they are practicing historians. For three-and-a-half weeks, they critically evaluate different types of historical evidence, write persuasive and analytical essays, come up with interesting questions and pose thoughtful hypotheses, and engage in thoughtful, substantive conversations and debate.
Through the deep immersion of One Course At A Time study, my students take ownership of their topic through hands-on history making. They complete independent archival research off campus, conduct oral history interviews, or learn on-the-job training through internships at major local historical organizations such as the African American Museum of Iowa and the Presidential Library and Museum of Herbert Hoover. For majors, our new Richard H. Thomas History Scholar Awards generously fund student research opportunities off-campus at national and international archives.
And they do this in a 21st century context by pairing new technologies (such as Adobe Premier, iMovie, and WordPress) with traditional methodologies (close readings of textual and visual evidence and on-site study of material culture and historic ruins) to enhance their historical understanding. Working together in small groups, my students make documentary films and create their own museum exhibit websites based on archival research.
These creative opportunities are only possible with One Course At A Time, thanks to the dedicated course commitment and the flexible scheduling it allows. Our students spend hours digging into the archives, traveling to key locations for in-depth interviews with local and visiting experts, filming historic reunions (such as former staff, European refugees, and veterans of World War II for the 70th Anniversary of the Scattergood Hostel), and documenting historic sites such as the Johnson County Poor Farm and Asylum and the home of the 19-century painter and photographer Isaac Wetherby for the National Register of Historic Places. These unique projects provide our students with increasingly relevant web-based skills and experience engaging a broader public audience.
One of the most compelling aspects of One Course is that, with no other classes to attend, my students have unique opportunities to study rare and unusual historical sites first-hand. In the Bahamas, on the island of San Salvador, my students explore historic slave plantation sites. Using a rare historic journal kept by a plantation owner on the island during the early 1800s, students investigate how the environment shaped economic and social relationships between slaveholders and slaves. As a former student wrote, “There is a major difference in reading about a particular history of a subject and comparing and contrasting it, and actually being at that historical landmark and writing about it. It increases all five senses to work in a way that I never could imagine.”
To learn about the urban transformation of Chicago, we use the city as a learning laboratory. As visiting fellows at the renowned Newberry Library, students conduct their own archival research on a topic of their choosing using one of the world’s premier collections. Students visit the historic Pullman district, social reformer Jane Addams’ center for working-class immigrants, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Home and Studio in Oak Park, and take boat and walking tours of the architectural evolution of Chicago’s cityscape. Living at Cornell’s residential McLennan Center (near Wrigley Field) immerses students in the city and enables them to interpret the city itself as a historical document. Without the One Course curriculum, intensive off-campus experiential learning opportunities like these wouldn't be possible
These real-world applications and transferable skills have helped our majors gain admission to highly competitive graduate degree programs in a variety of fields (such as history, library science, archaeology, law, education) and also achieve success in their chosen professions. Recent alumni have found employment as historians, librarians, Teach for America educators making a difference in at-risk school districts, and in the field of public history working for the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City.