Teaching & Learning in the Humanities (2019-2021)

In her book Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues that “Citizens cannot relate well to the complex world around them by factual knowledge and logic alone.” While integral to making sound arguments, information and logic ultimately require animation, something that Nussbaum calls “the narrative imagination,” in order to move people to act in different ways. Like Nussbaum, we believe that cultivating a student’s “narrative imagination” requires equally imaginative teaching. While any instructor can utilize transactional pedagogy to convey information, teachers in the humanities pride themselves on their use of the transformational pedagogy to enrich their students’ lives through classroom experience.

This means that the great strength of the humanities for its students is also a major dilemma for its teachers: by insisting on teaching students rather than content, teachers in the humanities are often left without a clear set of marching orders for classroom instruction. Because the humanities offer students a suite of skills for meeting the unforeseen challenges of an uncertain future such as creativity, empathy, interpretation, skepticism, and communication, we cannot simply tell students about the utility of the humanities – we must show them. How exactly do you teach in a way that helps students to see differently, and in so doing, to grow themselves? Moreover, how do you serve as an ambassador of the humanities in a world where students are increasingly skeptical of the field’s utility to their lives? Furthermore, what can we do to prepare our classrooms to be the best learning environments for people with diverse identities? Questions like these are vexing to all scholars in the humanities, especially graduate students preparing for a future of teaching.

For many graduate students in the humanities, the answers to these questions are found through on-the-job experience, trial and error, and training through campus resources like CRLT. Yet despite the resources at the University of Michigan, many graduate students in a discipline constantly called to justify its relevance to students and an anxious public are eager for more robust training, practice, and theory of teaching and learning in the humanities in order to be the best possible representative of their fields.

The Teaching and Learning in the Humanities Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop is intended to meet the need for and interest in additional graduate student training for teaching, not just as GSIs but as career instructors in the humanities. This RIW will foster a community for graduate students across the humanities as a place to think out loud, practice, and collaborate on the issues of pedagogy common in humanities classrooms. Through shared readings, speaker series, and teaching practice, the RIW will serve as an interdisciplinary vehicle to consider different approaches to pedagogy in the various disciplines across the humanities.

Meet the Team

Grad Coordinator

Taylor Sims

Grad Coordinator

Alexander McConnell

Faculty Sponsor

Henry Cowles

To join the e-mail list, please email Taylor at simsta@umich.edu