Course: AMS338-JDS336
Instructor: Dweck
SU 2015

Description of Course Goals and Curriculum

Professor 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 Instruction

There are two main components of this course: seminar and assigned readings.

I. Seminar  

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.

Learning For and From Assignments

Papers are about your own research topic rather than explicitly on the assigned readings. Paper assignments are broad, so students are free to choose almost any topic relating to Jewish American history. I found the most helpful tool in preparing to write papers to be office hours. Professor Dweck is very accessible with office hours each week. Sometimes office hours can be crowded the week before the paper, but if you check-in, say, for example, every other week, you will likely not have to wait in line and you can receive feedback on every step of the writing process, which Professor Dweck is more than happy to give. One strategy might be to set “fake” deadlines for yourself. To ensure that you meet these deadlines, you can email Professor Dweck ahead of time (although his office hours are walk-in so emailing is really just a way to hold yourself accountable). For example, every other week, one might have a specific goal, including finding a topic, gathering sources, taking notes from the sources, writing an outline, writing a draft, or ultimately writing the paper. If the goal that upcoming week is to have an outline, for instance,a student might email Professor Dweck at the beginning of the week and ask if he or she can show Professor Dweck an outline. Thus, the student will force him or herself to finish the outline in time for office hours. If you visit office hours, Professor Dweck will give a variety of helpful feedback, including telling you if you are on the right track, other sources or topics that you might consider, potential difficulties you might encounter with your topic, and specific comments on paper drafts. In short, definitely utilize Professor Dweck throughout the term to help identify and choose paper topics as well as gather and organize material for papers. Furthermore, the librarians are extremely helpful for finding sources (see next section).

External Resources

The librarians in Firestone are very useful resources for finding sources. Everyone might consider setting-up at least one appointment with a librarian once they know their topic. You are paying for this incredible human resource, so why not take advantage of it? Furthermore, as mentioned above, take advantage of the internet (but do not tell Professor Dweck that you did since he hates the internet) to do a quick background check on the authors of the assigned readings. Professor Dweck almost always begins class by asking questions about the authors, so doing a quick Google search beforehand will prepare you to contribute to class right from the start. (See specific questions you should be able to answer on the authors under DESCRIPTION OF COURSE GOALS & CURRICULUM.)

What Students Should Know About This Course For Purposes Of Course Selection

Students can expect to learn about Jewish history in America by analyzing and synthesizing themes, connections, and context. Such skills can be very helpful in future humanities courses as well as any other task requiring large amounts readings at Princeton and beyond. For instance, science majors may benefit because they will have a lot of background readings to do for independent lab work before they get started with experiments. Thus, learning to synthesize is crucial in any field. Of course, countless careers after graduation require this skillset as well. As for timing, this course is flexible. Outside of the weekly readings, there is one midterm paper and one final paper. Thus, if a student is having a very busy week, he or she might try to do the readings very efficiently by skimming sections that do not seem to play a large role in the course, and he or she can do less work on the paper for that week. Another convenient aspect of the class is that it only meets once a week, so one can do the work at a time that fits into their schedule, such as on the weekend if their weekdays are hectic. In short, this course can be good for seniors who are trying to balance out their busy term with thesis research. This course will give you an appreciation for the subject matter, but also having an instructor who is truly passionate about his work. He makes the class lively and fun by varying his tone, speaking excitedly, and even making jokes. Even though seminars are three hours, I thought the time flew by (and insider note: he often lets the class out a few minutes early). In addition, non-history majors will gain an appreciation for history. In particular, science majors, who are usually taught with the emphasis on “right” answers, will learn that history can be fascinating because there are often several sides to the same stories. Last, students should know that Professor Dweck hates the word “identity.” Do not use it. You will be permanently exiled from the community.
The Invention of the Promised Land: American Jewish History

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