If students remember events, they’re contemporary history. With luck, some of those memories will be fairly long. Older, experienced students are a gift. Fifty-two years ago; studying unionization, a former factory shop steward leavened the lump of eighteen-year-olds
like me. Today at UMA, students with children, even grandchildren, provide new perspectives on past lives.

Veterans of the military or the workforce are often perceptive about similar past experiences. (The Maine Humanities Council found that veterans of recent wars had fascinating insights about Homer’s Illiad.) Women who have made homes and careers tell younger people that the struggle for equality is not only historic.

Our text, America, Empire of Liberty, is by a foreigner, David Reynolds, Professor of International History at Cambridge. Thus a different point of view on many issues; for example, on religion. Why are religion in general and evangelicalism and fundamentalism in
particular so influential in the U.S. when so much less so in the rest of “the West”? Depending on their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, students may take this theme in any number of directions.

Reynolds takes a dispassionate look at exceptionalism and imperialism. How do Americans reconcile the belief that they are unique with the urge to make other peoples more like them? Could we encourage democracy by supporting dictators against the evils of communism? American leaders have thought so, and voters have agreed.

By now the best students are in the habit of rewriting essays. They respond to my remarks on grammar and syntax, run-on sentences, paragraphing, organization. More importantly, they respond to each other’s big questions: ‘What do you mean? Convince me? What about…?’ Constructive criticism is a useful component of an intellectual toolkit.

Preparing Essay Five, “Lifestyles and life chances: Trace the style and chances of some category of persons over the last 150 years. Or, what has it meant to be a politician, a voter, a farmer, a businessman…” we’ll have a “work-in-progress” session. What position will you take; how will you address it? Explaining your plans is a vital skill in college, in grad school, in the “real world”. Doomed doctoral candidates emerge from libraries with theses untested in content or representation. Failed entrepreneurs didn’t present a plausible argument to investors.

David R Jones has begun preparing for next semester.

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