Teaching Statement

Teaching history is an opportunity to share some of the broad possibilities of what it means to be human with students. In my courses on medieval Europe and early modern Europe, I emphasize culture, with particular attention to themes such as religion and gender, alongside power and politics. My goal is for students to understand not only the major threads of medieval or early modern culture, but also how people were involved in shaping those cultures. Alongside this thematic aim, I prioritize teaching students practical skills of writing, analytical reading, and critical thinking to prepare them to succeed throughout college and in their professional lives.

Primary Source Analysis

In both introductory and advanced classes, I prioritize reading primary sources. I believe that the best way for students to connect with history is to become familiar with historical voices. Early in the semester, I like to choose a text that will surprise students. In my class on medieval love, for example, we read a collection of twelfth-century letters from nuns in Tegernsee, Germany. It challenged students’ expectations to find these women writers playing with ideas of love and friendship, and perhaps even engaging in affairs with each other. From that point in the semester on, I noticed students were more open to different possibilities when interpreting historical texts.

I have designed a step-by-step guide to reading and analyzing historical documents, including steps such as identifying the text’s audience, considering the context, reading for surface meaning, and reading for unspoken values. In introductory-level classes, I walk students through this process during an in-class workshop, then reinforce their analysis skills with later in-class discussions and small assignments. In an in-class assessment I conducted for an introductory class, one student commented that “talking through each of our readings in class has helped me work on deep analysis and thinking through different perspectives and hidden meanings.” By the time my students are writing research papers, I have found that they are able to ask insightful questions and produce nuanced analysis.

Writing as a Practice

Writing is a central part of being a historian, so I also make it a central component of my teaching. Building on my experience in three different college writing centers, I approach writing as a process that students can learn productively within, rather than just as a final product. I spend class time guiding students through the conventions of different genres, such as a research paper or literature review. To help students develop healthy writing processes, I design scaled assignments and guided peer review sessions. One student evaluation noted that this practice helped him “see the benefits of starting early and not procrastinating.” I also use writing as a way for students to think through historical analysis. During class discussions, I will have students spend a few minutes writing reflections or questions, or collaboratively creating notes on a reading. This short writing time enables them to build up their ideas for a more insightful discussion.

I also dedicate time to writing constructive feedback on writing assignments, and designing new class lessons to address writing needs as they emerge. In one 200-level class, I noticed that students were often including evidence without analyzing it. In response, I designed an assignment that taught students to identify evidence and analysis as separate pieces of a paragraph. They diagramed a sample of their own writing and then revised it. Students told me that this was a clear way to understand how different parts of a paragraph fit together, and to see what was missing within their own writing. I saw a marked improvement in the class’s next papers in how they used evidence to support their arguments.

I believe this student-centered approach to teaching practical academic skills is essential to improving student outcomes. In a nomination for a mentorship award, one student noted that as a first-generation international student, she was intimidated when starting a research-oriented class. But, she commented, “Meghan played a major role in building my confidence in conducting independent research through her comments, feedback, and by reassuring me that one does not need to know everything to engage meaningfully in research.” My goal is always to meet students where they are, especially for first-generation or under-performing students, and take time to build the skills they will use to succeed not only in my class, but throughout their academic careers.

Cultural Analysis

I encourage students to analyze history in ways that recognize the full humanity and embeddedness of historical subjects. This can be a challenge for studying medieval people, whom students are primed to view as archetypically violent or religiously dogmatic. We have an opportunity in pre-modern history classes to engage with vastly different worldviews, and to prioritize understanding over judgment. One way I do this is by showing how similar cultural values could be interpreted and used in quite different ways. Reading both Peter Damian and Aelred of Rievaulx, for example, shows how differently monks a century apart could approach love and brotherhood and breaks down students’ vision of the medieval church as a monolith that precluded intellectual curiosity. Over the course of a semester, I have seen my students learn to approach the identities of historical subjects as complex and multilayered. Students in my medieval love class, for instance, have written papers on how elite women’s access to literacy enabled them to articulate the meaning of their sexuality, or on how a cultural value of violence could limit men’s social roles.

A key goal in my teaching is for my students to become insightful and critical consumers of media. I also want students to be able to apply their historical knowledge to public conversations about politics, ethics, and culture. With these goals in mind, I design a range of assignments beyond traditional research papers, including blog posts and social media posts. I have also mentored students through projects using creative writing and digital humanities methods, such as social network analysis and computational analysis of digitized texts. These projects enable students to combine their skills as historians with skills in other fields, to relate their knowledge to other genres, and to consider questions from new angles.

Future Goals

In my ongoing teaching career, I look forward to continuing to teach about the Middle Ages, early modern Europe, and academic writing. I also hope to expand my capacity to teach about the global medieval world and world civilizations. The fields of pre-modern race and global approaches to the Middle Ages are rapidly growing, and I hope to incorporate them more into my future teaching. I believe strongly that medieval and early modern history belong to everyone, and that I have a duty to challenge misrepresentations of medieval Europe as all white, an image that has been co-opted by white supremacists in recent years. One way to do this is to highlight global connections and diversity within history, and encourage students to engage with difficult questions about pre-modern identity.

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