Last year, Susanna Throop, an associate professor of history, and Kara McShane, an assistant professor of English, made waves with an ambitious, interdisciplinary course called “Bears Make History.” In this course, students work in teams to investigate aspects of Ursinus’ history, and compile their findings onto websites. Now, the course is back for its second year, and while some things have remained the same, other aspects have definitely changed.
The biggest change the professors made was making the course a 200-level course in English and history, rather than a 100-level interdisciplinary studies course. The change came about due to the amount of work required of students to complete their projects.
The course’s size increased from 11 students in its first year to 18 this semester. They’ve also seen more diversity in students’ years and their majors—a change McShane believes has been incredibly valuable.
“If you have a group of history majors, they’re going to approach problems in a particular set of ways, because they’ve been taught to,” she noted. “When you have a group of other majors, of more diverse majors, you have more diverse approaches to issues, problems, questions, to developing those things.”
The course’s diversity allows students to benefit from each other’s different experiences, and to bring new perspectives to the topics they’re dealing with.
McShane says the topics this year are very different, but in some ways build or branch off the topics students chose last year. One group is exploring Ursinus during the roaring 20s and the Great Depression. Another group is studying the inclusion of marginalized groups in Ursinus Greek life. The third group is investigating alcohol policies on campus and the wet campus culture, from the existence of Reimert Hall to when and why alcohol-related policies changed.
Another group is researching five Ursinus presidents and how they left their mark on campus in terms of infrastructure, curricula and inclusion. The final group is studying campus myths, legends and ghost stories, and exploring their significance in campus life.
In the future, McShane hopes to expand Bears Make History even further by involving other groups, organizations and offices more actively in the course and “building campus partnerships.”
She also hopes that, by Ursinus’ sesquicentennial in 2019-20, the course will have generated more than ten student-created history projects. —By Audrey Pitcher ’19