History Department Response to Student Feedback
HSTY 3098 Class Struggles in the Atlantic World (2005)
Unit Coordinator: Dr Michael McDonnell
I introduced this seminar course in Semester 2, 2005, in part because of my own interest in revitalising the use of class as a category of analysis in the early modern world, and in part in response to positive student feedback from my survey courses to the provocative insights of authors such as Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh. In line with new Departmental policy, the course was also very much designed to introduce students to the problems, pitfalls, and joys of constructing research questions, finding sources, and writing major research papers.
Accordingly, the structure of the course was fluid and open-ended - helped by the fact that our numbers were small (twelve students in total) – and really designed around students’ own interests. We began the semester by reading some context-setting and theoretical works on the Atlantic World and class analysis, and then read Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh’s controversial history of the Atlantic world, The Many Headed-Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (2000). The book, which gave most students a general overview of the period under discussion, was enjoyed by almost everyone, and proved enormously stimulating in helping students develop research questions to pursue.
The rest of the semester was devoted to those research papers. We read each other’s research proposals, we also read and commented on drafts of each other’s essays (including an essay I had just finished writing for the William and Mary Quarterly and the [sometimes brutal] referee reports on it, to share the joys of “constructive criticism”!), and we each took it in turns to lead the seminar in subsequent weeks, which consisted of readings of primary and secondary sources put together by students’ themselves based on their own essay topics and interests.
In doing so, we worked as a coherent team – using e-mail to suggest interesting sources, articles, and websites – with the aim of developing better research and writing skills, and skills in self-reflection and constructive criticism. On the whole, I was impressed with the dedication of the students, their commitment to the work, and the results they produced.
Eleven students were present to fill in the USE survey. The overall satisfaction rate was 100%, and all students agreed that they were part of a group committed to learning, that interaction with other learners was an important component of the work and that the learning outcomes and expected standard were clear.
In discussing the introduction of this unit of study as a new 3000 level seminar that would be open to non-pre-Honours entry students, I think we all agreed that such students might need a bit more context and initial guidance, both with introductory readings and with choosing readings for seminar discussion. We are unlikely to have such a small class in the future, too, so I may have to revise the unit in order to take into account larger numbers.
- A new experience that well prepared me for Honours next year and encouraged academic discussion in friendly, helpful environment.
- This course pushed me to take responsibility for my own research. That was difficult to begin with but it has invested me with some more confidence in my own ability to research more effectively.
- Small keen unified group.
- Challenging format
- The feedback given by others about your own project is an important, and I think very useful part of the course.
- Extensive feedback and valuable one to one consultations.
- Feedback was encouraging and positive, inspiring to continue research
- Encouraged extensive research and demonstrated primary source research
- Staff were always available for discussion, feedback, and positive advice.
- Mike was quite ready to involve us all in determining the way he proposed to arrange the unit.
- Content of significant historical value
- Yep, you rock Mike! It’s great to have a teacher who can be serious and relaxed at the same time