Description of Course Goals and CurriculumProfessor Dweck wants his students to examine Jewish life in America from the mid seventeenth century through the late twentieth century. He encourages students to read while keeping in mind author background, author’s main arguments, how well the author supports the arguments, connections to other texts, themes, and questions raised by the readings. Each week surrounds a different theme. Professor Dweck begins with introductory readings, which are constantly referenced throughout the term (so be sure to actually read them even though it’s just the first week!), and then moves to other themes: Atlantic Jewish History, Migration, Back to the Old Country, Jews and Money, the Americanization of Zionism, the Invention of the Holocaust, the Indictment of Ignorance, American-Jewish Cultural History as Collective Therapy, Jews and Race, and the Discovery of American Piety. Throughout the course, students will notice echoes of prior readings and are encouraged to discuss these connections and their significance. Thus, the course is fundamentally comparative with concepts organized by theme. What was challenging about this course was learning how to spot not only connections, but also to evaluate their significance. Luckily, Professor Dweck is fairly forward, so students receive instant feedback and are able to tell if their comments are contributing to class discussion. In particular, I would recommend taking note of themes he gets excited about (hint: he will literally jump out of his seat and run up to the chalkboard) and comments that he does not feel move the class forward (hint: he will just say “ok” when you are done speaking and call on someone else). In other words, by taking specific notes on the comments that make Dweck jump out of his chair, you might be able to learn how to make him jump excitedly around the room too. I will discuss more particular strategies for class discussion in the LEARNING FROM CLASSROOM INSTRUCTION section. Specific background information on the authors was very helpful. In particular, if you do a quick Wikipedia search of the author before class and record facts such as their date of birth, death date, parental occupations, parental countries of origins, author country of origin, author’s occupation, author’s main legacies, and how the author’s main contributions relate to other themes of the course, you will find yourself participating easily at the start of each class, which, particularly for people who are not used to small classes that require a lot of participation, is extremely helpful because it breaks the ice, or makes the shy students less afraid to speak-up because they have already spoken a few times before even 15 minutes have passed. In addition, background on what else was happening in the world during the time of the readings is helpful to know, but Dweck does not expect non-history majors to necessarily be familiar with this information.
Learning From Classroom InstructionThere are two main components of this course: seminar and assigned readings.
The purpose of seminar is to discuss the assigned readings. In addition, there are a few occasions in which each student gives a progress report on his or her research paper, and the class gives feedback. (Sidenote: a lot of people in my class would zone-out while other people were presenting their progress reports, but if you stay focused, people will really appreciate any feedback you can give.) Students are expected to take away analytical skills and be able to draw connections to prior readings, highlight themes, and synthesize information. For example, Professor Dweck seems to appreciate comments such as, “I heard an echo from the World of Our Fathers reading from last week on page…when the author talks about…which is significant because it relates the this theme of…, an idea that is important because of…” Professor Dweck takes a lot of time designing the syllabus and thinking about which readings should be read together and what particular order. Thus, asking yourself reasons for reading the assigned texts will also better prepare you for discussion. For instance, questions such as, “Why am I reading this text with this other text? Why are we reading these texts at this point in the term? There are so many readings on this topic, so why are we going over these particular texts?” I found helpful to consider before class.
Seminar is difficult because the pace is fast (meaning that if you are not a history major, you might initially feel overwhelmed with people quickly saying a lot interesting comments with seemingly little effort), so it can be hard to think in the moment about comments that will contribute to class. To aid students’ learning, particularly for people who are not used to small seminars that require a lot of participation, they might find it helpful to prepare comments ahead of time that make connections to other readings and themes as well as questions they may have. Questions can range from specific to broad questions to be discussed with the class. In class, students can take effective notes by not necessarily recording every word, but again, taking a step back, and writing down what Professor Dweck seems to emphasize. Hint: he emphasizes ideas by talking louder, repetition (and saying, “Did everyone hear that?”), smiling, nodding, and writing on the board. These obvious signs are helpful for people outside of the discipline who might have a harder time figuring out what is important. Students can then use their notes to examine the structure of the class after the seminar. They might ask themselves questions such as, “How does Professor Dweck get his point across? What point was he trying to make? How did he lead us there?” Evaluating the seminar can be helpful for writing papers because students can see how Professor Dweck analyzes text, which is similar to how you should be approaching the sources you will later use for your research paper.
II. Assigned Readings
As expressed above, assigned readings relate closely to seminars. They can be challenging because they often have a lot of information and ideas in addition to length. To prepare for lecture, students might consider listing themes from the syllabus and their notes in a row. (See the attached document for how I organized my notes.) Then, as they read, they can take notes in columns beneath the major themes. After that step, they can read their columns of notes and use a highlighter to literally highlight ideas that connect. Using a few different colors of highlighters might help to emphasize connections. For instance, maybe notes relating to being uprooted will be highlighted in blue. Finally, I found it helpful to synthesize my notes by making bullet points of ideas I could point-out if, hypothetically, my entire class was asleep. (A wise history major once told me to prepare for seminars as if the entire class would be asleep. In other words, pretend that you are meeting one-on-one with the professor and have to carry the entire discussion.)
Furthermore, starring places in your notes that are emphasized in lecture is a helpful tool. Of course, listening and adding to your sheet of notes during and even after lecture can be interesting ways to learn as well. However, this last step honestly is for your own benefit rather than to help your grade because there are no exams in this class. If you are concerned about time demands, you might consider spending time after lecture working on your research paper instead of reviewing lecture notes.
In sum, a busy student might read the long assignments efficiently by focusing on the larger themes (see column note-taking idea above) and perhaps not getting bogged down in every single word.