This piece is one of a series of guest posts on issues of importance to the history profession that were discussed at the 2015 annual meeting in New York. Author Joy Schulz teaches American and world history at Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Nebraska. She has published articles on US-Hawaiian relations in Diplomatic History (Oxford University Press) and the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth (Johns Hopkins University Press). Her current project includes a chapter in an edited volume on the history of children and religion in the Anglo world, which will be released by Ashgate Press in 2015.
If you are like me, walking through the halls at an annual AHA meeting can be a little like venturing through Times Square on New Year’s Eve—intimidating! Jostling against strangers in search of where you belong is always unnerving, but the size and scale of doing so down Broadway in the middle of one of the largest celebrations in the world can be simply daunting. Unlike the bedlam of Manhattan traffic, the AHA provides numerous friendly faces to help navigate its meetings, yet I was always slightly overwhelmed by the annual gathering.
All that changed for me three years ago when a colleague and I were chosen to participate in the National Endowment for the Humanities and the AHA’s “Bridging Cultures at Community Colleges Initiative: American History, Atlantic and Pacific Project.” During the three-year program, 24 community college faculty from 12 institutions around the country (including Hawai‘i) met together for one week in January 2013 at the Huntington Library in California and again in January 2014 at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Our goal was to revise US survey course curriculum, in order to provide a more global and comparative perspective. We listened to top scholars in the fields of Pacific and Atlantic history and conducted our own research, as well.
This month in New York City, we were able to showcase all that we have incorporated into our classrooms as a result of the Bridging Cultures grant. From highlighting guano, laundry, and children crossing the Pacific Ocean to comparing revolution and climate change across the Atlantic, no part of trans-Atlantic/Pacific-US encounters went unexplored. Several of our presentations were given in PechaKucha style: speaking with 20 slides timed to 20 seconds each. I loved participating in this rapid format, and audiences seemed to respond strongly to the amount of information and visuals presented in such a succinct manner.
What amazed me listening to my fellow colleagues over the weekend was how the Bridging Cultures program has opened new opportunities for all of us. The program has provided avenues to publish, as several of us have written articles related to Pacific history, which have been accepted by academic journals. Carlos Contreras has been contacted to write a bilingual Chicano history incorporating Bridging Cultures materials. The grant has also led to professional advancement: Stephanie Amerian earned a full-time, tenure-track position in California; Brittany Adams received a promotion to associate professor; and Kim Hill accepted a position at a four-year university. My own colleague Amy Forss won a Fulbright grant. In pursuing the Bridging Cultures’ curriculum-design aims, Amy Powers and Tim Draper successfully changed their US survey course descriptions to incorporate transnational history, a process requiring Illinois state approval. The research opportunities provided at the Huntington Library and Library of Congress allowed me to finish and submit a manuscript for publication.
Perhaps the most meaningful moments of the past three years occurred off-the-record, in community with my fellow history lovers. I was blown away by the humility of our amazingly kind and accessible scholars-in-residence, Bill Deverell (University of Southern California) and Philip Morgan (Johns Hopkins University), who invested their time in us and patiently answered questions about their own experiences in academia. I realized that pursuit of excellence is possible no matter where one is teaching. I was also revitalized by my community college colleagues, whose zest for incorporating new approaches into their classrooms put my own, sometimes laissez-faire attitude to shame. Every January, including this one, when I return to my own classroom, I truly feel I have the best job on earth.
Over the past few years, our small cohort has seen the birth of children and grandchildren, as well as friendships that are the kind that will last a lifetime. As Dana Schaffer ended our final meeting, there were even a few tears.
I hope the NEH and AHA continue to reach out to community college faculty, as well as all new faculty, who may find the prospect of teaching and staying current in their own fields of research simply daunting. This may sound crazy or grandiose, but the Bridging Cultures grant has been one of the highlights of my life.
Now when I walk through the halls at an AHA annual meeting, I see familiar, smiling faces. I am no longer intimidated by taking on the mantle of historian or ashamed to represent one of our nation’s 1,655 community colleges. For that, I thank the NEH and AHA and my wonderful friends and participants in the 2013–15 Bridging Cultures program.