Capitalism Course

I’m teaching two sections of a course I developed for Loyola called The Rise of Global Capitalism. Why? Well, without going too deep into the gory bureaucratic details, the History Dept. needed new courses to conform to the so-called Advanced Common Curriculum. The main requirements were that the courses be a) global in scope, or at least cover a lot of the world, and b) cover a really long time period, either the world up to 1500 or the world since 1500. I feel myself starting to nod off even explaining this stuff, but anyway, I figured it would be fun to revisit my undergrad interest in the history of economic thought, try to bottle some of the popularity of the subject (which I knew about because of the popularity of Jon Levy’s course at Princeton), and, not least, experience the stultifying existential pain of the course approval process.

And I did all that, and it was worth it, because I’m teaching a very cool course to two sections of smart, interested kids. The sections are small enough to have real discussions, and the discussions carry on every class well past the designated stopping time — without a single sound of rusting backpacks as students start getting up to leave. Of course as always some students really get it, some are way over their heads, most are somewhere in between, but they’re all really into it and never seem to tire of the subject.

The weird thing is, I have a Ph. D. in Early American History; that’s my “field”, and in the standard model that’s what I’m qualified to teach qt the college level. But honestly there’s something about not being an expert in a field that makes it very rewarding to teach. In a way I’m taking the course at the same time as I teach it — I’m investigating the topic at the same time as the students, and that leads to a really different classroom dynamic. I’m a more experienced learner than they are, of course, I’m familiar with the kinds of questions historians ask and the techniques they use to solve them.  I can model being a judicious, critical, creative learner of this subject. And that does more, in a way, than being an “expert.” In any case I’m having a blast with the course and I hope I get to do it again.


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