Course Adoption Season and Special Offer!

Course Adoption Season and Special Offer!
by Ed Blum

Even though we have just entered Spring, the Fall Semester is not far off, and this means course adoptions. Since my undergraduate days at the University of Michigan, I have loved the selection of books. I remember walking up the stairs at Shaman Drum Bookshop to find in packed shelves the texts for my new classes. Perhaps Professor Juster assigned The Kingdom of Matthias (“oh, this looks sexy,” I would think to myself). Or perhaps Professor Montoya (sadly, she is now at New York University) would have us read Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee (“Dee Brown… I thought he was a basketball player for the Celtics,” my undergraduate and basketball-loving mind would turn). I would thumb through the books, looking at what had been underlined, what the author looked like, who blurbed the book and had I read any of their material. Sometimes there would be random phone numbers in the book; one time a “break up” note that led me to wonder if it had ever been delivered. The world of books, authors, and readers was a magical and mystical one to me, one that I wish had been explained more fully. Now, as a professor, author, teacher, and reader, I find the selecting the texts as much fun as finding them and the process of interacting with readers just as mystifying. And this brings me to the point of my post. I want to propose interactive sessions between authors and readers – professors and students – either through email dialogue or through phone conference calls.

This past year, I have had several wonderful teaching experiences with colleagues who have used one of my monographs in their course. One two occasions, I conducted conference calls with the students to discuss the book – why I wrote it, what I left out, what they thought of the material, what their impression was of Du Bois or of post-Civil War America. On several other occasions (mostly local), I had the chance to sit down with students who had read my material. On all occasions, the times were marvelous. The questions were brilliant and insightful. Some of the comments I wished I could lift and cram into the books. Some of the students I wished I could cram into my own classes. And so… I had an idea. What if I offered that kind of activity to any professor or teacher who adopts one of my monographs for class? Would that be an added and fun incentive for folks to teach it? Would that be a way to break down the barriers between authors, teachers, and readers? So let’s give it a shot.

If you decide to adopt Reforging the White Republic or W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet for any class next year, just drop me an email at eblum AT mail DOT sdsu DOT edu, and we will set up a time for an interactive dialogue with you and your students. Also, I want to invite any other scholars who are interested in this kind of arrangement to post their comments here and let other readers know.


Zoe at: April 1, 2008 at 4:45 PM said...

This is a wonderful idea! I'd love to take advantage of it and hope it really takes off as a concept. So many of my seminar students focus on 'what did the author mean by this?... why did he focus on certain subjects' kind of questions - giving them the chance to actually ASK the author is a great idea.

Katie at: April 1, 2008 at 5:30 PM said...

I was lucky enough to see this idea in action. Dr. Blum visited UC Riverside a few months ago to speak to a class whom had just read his recent publication on WEB DuBois. The student response to this meeting was phenomenal. They raised extremely thoughtful and sometimes personal questions, which Dr. Blum cheerfully responded to at length. It was clear to me that they had really engaged with the text in a way they might not have if these questions were to remain unanswered. This interaction inspired me to re-evaluate why my own area of research was important to me, and how I would explain my own writing to students. Questions like “why does the author focus on x?” or “what is the author’s bias about z?” are more provocative to many students when the possibility for a concrete answer is there. This seems to be an extremely fruitful method for encouraging students to critically engage with the text on more levels than they are used to.

Phil at: April 1, 2008 at 8:10 PM said...

This seems like a fabulous idea to me, a really smart way to use technology, and an effective way to get students not terribly "interested" in history (or any other discipline for that matter) to become more engaged—and, let’s be honest, to sell books. Hopefully more publishers will jump on board. Kudos to Ed for proposing the idea.

I’ve used the “engage the author” approach in my own classroom via a class blog, and it has worked quite well so far.

I teach at a college preparatory school, and in an Advanced Placement European History class had students read a chapter of David Northrup’s book on Africa and the Atlantic world. Part of the assignment was to pose questions to Prof. Northrup via the class blog – and he graciously agreed to respond in the comments section. The conversation was engaging and lively, and students (juniors and seniors) really took the assignment seriously. Also in that same class in an earlier unit on historical biography and constructing the past, Ed Blum chimed in about his own experiences writing/researching biography. Students really enjoyed this kind of conversation. (interested readers may want to check out the September and October 2007 archives at

I also tried this once during doctoral coursework in the fall of 2005—the conference call approach that is—when I was discussion leader for Steve Estes’ book _I Am a Man_. Unfortunately email problems on my end prevented us from connecting at the right time, but Steve agreed to field questions from the class and no doubt it would have been a great discussion/exchange.

I hope to utilize these approaches in the classroom again soon and look forward to hearing about other experiences with this.

Michael Emerson at: April 1, 2008 at 8:59 PM said...

This is a cutting edge idea. Dr. Blum's books are definitely stuff of great discussion, and the students will benefit tremendously by being able to talk with the author himself. I only wish I had thought of this idea.

John G. Turner at: April 2, 2008 at 10:10 AM said...

I'm going to take you up on this in the future, Ed. What a great idea.

I have occasionally encouraged my students to email the authors of books, and they absolutely love being able to ask questions and get a response.

Needless to say, I'd be more than willing to make myself available to field questions from students (especially if it would encourage book sales).

Jonathan L. Walton at: April 2, 2008 at 12:59 PM said...

I taught a course entitled "The Tragic and Prophetic" this past quarter here at University of California, Riverside where I adopted American Prophet. Professor Blum graciously agreed to offer a guest lecture. Several students conveyed to me that it was one of the best college experiences yet being able to dialogue with an author face to face. To see Professor Blum so willing to situate himself beneath the Du Boisian Veil to critique the spiritual wages of whiteness, maleness and class that structures our society was an inspiration. And it demonstrated to students that scholarship is more than an academic exercise or professional career. It can be a spiritual calling!

John Fea at: April 2, 2008 at 4:06 PM said...

Great idea, Ed! My book, *The Way of Improvement Leads Home* is not out in paper back yet, but those who read my introduction will see that I wrote it with classroom use in mind. So if anyone is teaching the Revolution, the Enlightenment, the British colonies or early American religion let me know and I will be happy to follow Ed's lead on this.

ecarson at: April 5, 2008 at 9:00 PM said...

You have given me plenty to think about Blum. Thanks!I really can see my small classes doing this. I have so much technology in front of me.

BTW: Excellent lecture/discussion/seminar this past week at the University of Houston.

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