Kinetic Thinking & History

…REFLECTIONS on leading HSTY 3903 in semester 1, 2015…:
A surprise nudge, then a step: a new centre of gravity.
Some of the most stimulating intellectual environments encourage movement in our thinking even when we might not expect it. Thoughts are like bodies: they jostle, touch, struggle, fall, and leap. Discussion is a motive force, and I was thrilled by the directions we travelled as individuals and as a group in “History and Historians” – or “H&H” as we came to call it.
For teachers, building a new class always entails an ideal projection: “this is where we’ll start, and that is where we’ll end up.” But a class like H&H – by inviting its members to shape the direction of the semester, particularly in its last month, when we share our research in roundtable discussions – challenges that projection in exciting ways. My generic conception of what we’d learn by semester’s end had to be reformulated and expanded. My centre of gravity had shifted. The questions H&H members were asking were excitingly diverse; they dug into the construction of histories on at least five continents and over 10 centuries. Everyone had to learn how to “talk history” across those spaces and times while still addressing central questions about the craft of interpreting the past.
But amidst that diversity were some remarkable consonances. I hadn’t foreseen the thematic accords that would bind the projects of the 2015 cohort together: a questing after the nature of nationalism and its relationship to memory and politics; a concern for histories of global social justice and Indigenous peoples; a dissatisfaction with existing periodizations and a pursuit of new methods; a debate over the way that historians engage with the world outside the university; a desire to open up to analysis our accepted histories of class and gender. These were just some of the many links we forged.
By the end, it seemed to me as if we had all been nudged in new directions, prodded forward by the curiosity of our peers. In 2016 it will happen again, energized in different ways by a new group’s perspectives. And we’ll all step forward once more.
For those who don’t know the class, here’s the official description:
HSTY 3903: History and Historians
In this unit you will independently frame, research and write an original essay analyzing how historians have written about the past. In choosing your topic you may draw upon historical issues, approaches and debates encountered throughout your previous studies in history. The lectures and tutorials introduce you to new methodologies and approaches to the past, and guide you through the stages of identifying an issue or debate, researching and understanding its different aspects, and shaping your own argument in response.