Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Plugging My Next Class

So … you’ve survived History 101 and now you know all there is to know about American history from Columbus to Reconstruction.


But did you know that the story continues?  That this country you live in has more history closer to hand than the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes?

No?  Well, that certainly explains a great deal of why the republic is in the state it’s in.

But you – yes, YOU! – can correct that, by the simple expedient of taking History 102!  Don’t you love it when things are that easy?

I do.

So here are the top ten reasons why you should take History 102 with me, Professor Dave.


10. Be the life of the party with new-found historical knowledge!

9. Can’t get enough of those one-page essays.

8. The phrase “classical republicanism” does not appear in any lecture for this class.

7. Knowing what really happened makes it harder for politicians to fool you now.

6. Two words: “Dawes Plan”

5. Great taste and less filling!

4. No math.

3. Might be useful for understanding how the country actually works today.

2. Stories!  Loads of 'em!

1. Gotta find out how it ends!


Phiala said...

Stories are good, but I think I'd like history classes(*) better if they had more math.

(*) As opposed to actual history as contained in things that aren't textbooks(^). Which, to be fair, could also use more math.

(^) And not intending aspersions on your class, but rather every one that I've taken except the American history class taught by the Civil War reenactor(#).

(#) Although it is his fault that I know nothing(@) at all about US history after that time.

(@) For definitions of "nothing" substantially(%) better than the majority of US adults, apparently.

(%) Nothing. Just got carried away nesting footnotes.

David said...

Have you been reading David Foster Wallace again? ;)

I don't have much math in my classes other than a few statistics that can be understood using the "one of these things is bigger than the other" method of interpretation.

But my scientist wife has convinced me to use more tables and graphs, so perhaps that could count for something.

John the Scientist said...

I'm with Phiala. History without math is like cooking without math. You can do it, and sometimes do it well, but ultimately disaster is one mistaken unit of capsaicin away. :D

Phiala said...

It can be intuitive math, like a lot of cooking, but numbers and proportions drive an awful lot of history. I think using more graphs is a great idea. Tables tend to be less expressive.

I've actually not read any Wallace, but he's on my to-read list (the length of which exceeds my probable lifespan, I'm afraid).

David said...

Speaking as someone who started college as a math major, I don't have any trouble with using math in history - and there are times when that's all you can do. The vast majority of people over the course of history did not write and can only be analyzed quantitatively.

That said, I know my students. It's hard enough to get them to hang on to dates, let alone mathematical analysis of historical phenomena.

So I use the math under the hood, and they get to be introduced to the analysis. If they go on beyond the survey level class, they can dig into the numbers and start to see how I came up with what I did.

Plus, I tend to specialize in cultural and intellectual history, which is more a "words" history than a "numbers" history. I'm trained in social history and I use it to make points throughout, but I much prefer nonquantitative reasoning.

Phiala said...

Which is why I agreed with the graphs idea.

I'm utterly baffled(*) with the idea of non-quantitative reasoning, though. How on earth do you think about anything without at least "more" and "less" and "change over time" as concepts?

(*) And I'm not sure if my perplexity is due to misinterpreting your words or to entirely different cognitive models.

David said...

It's probably a bit of both.

On the one hand, I tend to reserve "quantitative reasoning" for the actual math, while "more," "less" and "change over time" as applied to amounts rather than transformations I tend to lump under qualitative reasoning. My guess is that you do not do it this way.

But there is such a thing as non-quantitative reasoning.

For example, one question historians ask about the Revolutionary Crisis is why was the Stamp Act such a big deal? Nobody would have gone broke paying that tax, and it wasn't anything new under British law. The answer is that classical republicanism divided government and society into three parts and defined corruption as one part stomping on the turf of another. This tax was seen by colonials as the One stomping on the Many (for a few reasons) and thus a sign of impending Tyranny.

You can probably express that quantitatively, but you don't have to.

John the Scientist said...

I'm currently reading This Time It's Different, and the historical math involved there is awesome.

David said...

That does sound like an interesting book. I'll add it to my list, which is probably almost as long as Phiala's. Sigh.

vince said...

I love history.
I love math.
I love hanging around with intelligent people.

I would note, however, that this conversation has a distressing lack of spreadsheets. Remember, everything goes better with spreadsheets.

Well, except for serious statistics. But for basic statistics they're just fine. :-)