Peter Sachs Collopy

On Reading

Among people who think about the role of technology in teaching, there’s been a lot of talk lately about “flipped classrooms,” the idea that students watch a lecture at home or otherwise engage with the subject of the course outside of class, then come into the classroom in order to discuss it and learn more actively. This isn’t really a new model, though. This course is a sort of old fashioned, low tech flipped classroom, so it might be helpful to think about the readings as lectures—only we get expert guest lecturers every class. Indeed, many of the things we’re reading were originally lectures before they were published.

The goal I expect you to have in reading is not just to cross something off your to-do list, but to think through its argument, whether it complements or clashes with the other things you’ve read for the course, and perhaps even its relevance to your own life or interests. I’ll tell you now a few questions that I’ll probably ask about each reading, so that you can think about them as you read:

We’re going to be reading a lot about the past in this course. The past can be fascinating in its own right, but I also hope we’ll be able to think together about ways in which the stories told about the past and the arguments made about it can help us think about the present and the future. If you think a bit about that while you read, you’ll be well prepared for our discussion Tuesday evening.

A few more mechanical notes about reading: I expect you to bring the reading with you to class, whether printed out or on a laptop or tablet. That way you can refer back to it as we discuss. I also expect you to take notes in some form or other, either in your book or PDF reader or in a separate notebook or file, particularly when you see turning points in an argument, ways to answer the questions above, or just anything you find interesting. I do not expect you to either note or memorize the dates of inventions or battles, or even the names of their participants; you can always look up those details later. But do try to get a sense while reading of both the plot and the argument, and ideally of how they relate to each other.

If you’re not used to reading in this way, don’t worry. There are 17 of us working together, so none of us has to catch everything in order to put things together in our discussion. But please do come prepared to contribute some analysis and perspective, so that collectively we can learn more than we would if we just read this stuff by ourselves.