U.S. Intellectual History Blog

They’re Back!

Entering First-Year Students Perform the OU Chant at Convocation

The new school year at the University of Oklahoma started today.*  As Andrew’s post below suggests, the thoughts of most USIHers are no doubt returning to the classroom.

For the third straight fall semester, I’m teaching my Honors colloquium on America in the Sixties. After another round of syllabus fiddling–some of it inspired by suggestions from the readership of this blog–I once again start the semester feeling that this course is better than it was in its last iteration.

One of the many ways in which I know this is no longer a new course is that I’m beginning to pare down the material on the syllabus.  I took out some things–including Doug Rossinow’s The Politics of Authenticity, which I love, but undergrads seem to hate–and added others. But when the dust settled, the reading load is lighter than it was last time through. Among the new items I’m most looking forward to teaching is Frederick Wiseman’s documentary High School (1968).  A clip (one of the few from the film available on YouTube):

My other class is new…at least to me:  the first half of a very traditional Great Books (of the Western Tradition)** course that we’re starting to offer in the Honors College.  I borrowed the syllabus, with only minor changes, from my colleague Bob Lifset, who did his PhD at Columbia. Though he’s an energy historian, Bob taught in CC, in many ways the mother of all American Great Books courses, and now among the last of that dying breed.

Even preparing to teach this course has made me think a lot about the canon wars that framed the ongoing crisis of the academy when I was in college and graduate school in the 1980s and early 1990s.  But I’ll save those thoughts for another day.

Back to prepping….

* Of course, for folks around here other than students and faculty, the year doesn’t start until a week from Saturday:

** Scare quotes can be added to both capitalized terms if it makes you feel better.

5 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Hey Ben: I have two nephews in the Honors College now, Alex and Chris Harvey, I assume they’re doing fine (and they’re heavy science dudes anyway; juniors this year if I remember aright).

    And yes, fall starts with the first game. As a native, I could have told you that.

    Is your syllabus posted online somewhere? Have a great semester.

    Paul Harvey

  2. Wiseman’s documentary looks very interesting. I will definitely consider showing at least a clip from it to my high school U.S. History class.



  3. Ben: I’ll be eager, of course, to hear your thoughts on the Western Great Books course (including a view of the reading list?). But now to watch your documentary clip! – TL

  4. @Paul: I don’t think I’ve had either of your nephews in any of my classes…but I’ll keep an eye out for them. My syllabi are online, but behind a password wall. If you want a copy, I’m happy to send you one. Just shoot me an e-mail (balpers AT ou.edu)

    @Tim: I will share my thoughts about teaching great books after I’ve taught ’em a bit. As for the syllabus, I’m afraid that I borrowed it basically whole cloth from Bob, so I can’t really claim any credit for it. It is, however, rich in CC fu.

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