Teaching Excellence Awards

 Year Awarded: 2009

Faculty Award winner

Peter Larson

 College of Arts & Humanities

 History

My foundation derives from the liberal arts tradition: knowledge of a specific subject provides the greatest benefit when part of a well-rounded educational experience. Regarding History in general, my emphasis is on learning to think historically: going beyond a simple “what happened?” to question cause, effect, and motivation. Students should learn not only to evaluate historical sources within the original context, but also to assess what historians have said and how they built their arguments as they did. The goal to construct your own interpretation. It’s like building a court case: you must sift through the evidence to discover who did it, but the process does not stop there; to win you have to construct and present a convincing case to the jury.

 

In teaching Medieval and Renaissance History, the challenge is not generating interest; Medieval and Renaissance Europe saturate modern culture through games, films, Renaissance Faires, the fairy tale industry, and even marketing ploys, and students want to learn more. This is both a blessing and a curse, as the “real” history is altered, simplified, or distorted. The challenge is encourage students to avoid dismissing these pop-culture renditions as “wrong,” and instead to engage with both “academic” history and pop culture to gain a greater understanding of both. By evaluating modern depictions alongside historical sources, students learn about the past; critiquing modern uses of the past aids students in under