“We aren’t trying to instill names and dates; that is what Google is for as far as I am concerned,” Simone Caron, Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department, said. The goals of the department have morphed from the regurgitation of facts to the helping students develop a critical understanding of the many varied pasts as well as enhancing writing, research, analytical, and rhetorical skills.
History, as a course of study, integrates the arts, sciences, economics, politics, literature, religions, and philosophies into a narrative. The goal is not to just teach the facts of this narrative, but rather “to explain why change happens, when it does. To discover what the larger forces at work are. And if you can understand that, those are things that will stick with you and you can think about in your everyday life.”
Since Caron became chair of the Department of History in 2005, the department has gone under a rejuvenation and expansion. Ten new tenure-track faculty have joined the department under her tenure, helping to further globalize and diversity the department.
Yet the focus remains the same. “Teaching students to read critically, to read these sources and not to take everything you read as set in stone,” Caron said. “(We teach students to) look at the source base, look at the author’s argument, consider who their audience is, and who they are trying to convince of their argument. These things translate into today when you are listening to the news. Students can ask these same questions (of modern sources).”
Thus the focus of the department has become teaching students to read critically. “Critical analysis is crucial to not only what we do in the History department, but also to the liberal arts tradition of Wake Forest,” Caron, a recipient of the Reid-Doyle Prize for Excellence in Teaching, said.
In addition to this continuing this commitment to the liberal arts education, the department in recent years has made a conscious effort to go beyond the classroom and extend into the greater university and Winston-Salem communities.
In this vein, Kahle Family Professor, Michele Gillespie, is teaching a First Year Seminar about Thomas Jefferson, where in addition to grappling with primary and secondary sources, students will have the opportunity to travel to his home in Virginia, Monticello, and experience firsthand the manner in which he lived and worked. Gillespie also taught a course, and will teach such again in the spring, entitled America at Work. In this class, students interview Wake Forest staff and faculty to compile an oral-history project of the forces that influence how individuals follow the career paths that they do.
Additionally, Professor Anthony S. Parent teaches a course in which through a trip to Old Salem he brings the classroom discussion to life.