A New Twist on an Old Subject
Exploring History at Susquehanna University
Faculty mentoring is a key component to the success of these research projects. “Regular meetings with faculty advisers are critical. This kind of close relationship reinforces students’ abilities and empowers them,” Imhoof says.
Senior history majors present their research to faculty and other students. This chance to educate others isn’t limited to seniors, however. It’s a regular occurrence in Imhoof ’s classes. In one course, Imhoof has students examine Holocaust denial websites and analyze how technology has been used to persuade people that the Holocaust didn’t happen. The students then conducted their own research about the Holocaust and created websites to counter misinformation presented on the Web.
“Universities are here to generate knowledge and to educate the world,” Imhoof says. “And we want our students to be engaged with that, too.”
In other classes, Imhoof encourages his students to step into a teaching role by recording podcasts on historical topics. Although learning the technology can be challenging, Imhoof believes it’s valuable for students to learn how to adapt their messages to different formats.
In addition to sharing history, Imhoof ’s students get a chance to be history. For example, he conducts a mock trial where students decide whether or not Napoleon undermined or continued the French Revolution. This competitive exercise often leads to “entertaining drama with witnesses using French accents, participants shouting ‘Objection!’, and would-be lawyers getting to try out their chops,” Imhoof says. The mock trial also helps students see how historians shape our understanding of the past through their arguments and explanation, since the same evidence can lead to “multiple sides of the same story” and “polar-opposite arguments” about Napoleon, he adds.
In another class, he holds a meeting of an imagined international socialist group in 1885 that helps students “think about how people in the past Megan McDermott is a senior creative writing and would’ve made decisions.” Understanding the nuances of other people’s points of view—even the points of view of people long gone—is a skill that translates to a variety of settings, he says.
Overall, Susquehanna’s history courses provide ample opportunities for majors and non-majors alike to grow in important and marketable ways. “You can decide to be smart and use it to your advantage,” Imhoof says of an education in history. Dedicated students become better writers and researchers, learn how to express themselves clearly, and gain a more thorough understanding of the world.
Moreover, faculty members help students envision how they can put those skills to use. History Methods, Collective Inquiry, and Senior Seminar— required courses for history majors—all engage students in discussions about future careers and offer help on strategically planning summer work experiences and conveying the value of a history education. Alumni frequently visit these classes to discuss their own career paths. Imhoof says the experiences of alumni demonstrate that history students can go on to do anything they want. No matter what jobs interest students, the history department helps them figure out how to get there.
“Every history faculty member works closely to advise students on postgraduate plans,” he says, “and this continues long after people graduate.” For Susquehanna history students, the skills they develop and the guidance they receive make looking ahead just as exciting as looking behind.
Megan McDermott is a senior creative writing and religious studies major from Lewisberry, Pa.