Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Strategies for Teaching African American History: Musings from the Past, Ruminations for the Future

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Strategies for Teaching African American History: Musings from the Past, Ruminations for the Future

Article excerpt

The existing body of scholarship on the teaching of African American history in higher education dates back to the early twentieth century, and an analysis of it helps lay the foundation for the adoption of relevant pedagogies for the new millennium. In this article, the author (a) conceptualizes African American history as well as its educational value and goals, (b) critically explores and historicizes significant scholarship on the teaching and learning of African American history, and (c) suggests strategies for teaching African American history at the introductory university survey level. This article ultimately seeks to contribute to dialogues concerning teaching in the African American historical profession, especially as it relates to the education of millennial hip-hop generation university students.

INTRODUCTION

Following the pivotal Black student protests of the Civil Rights era and Black Power Movement, mainstream, predominantly White universities began offering courses related to the African American experience, often under the umbrella of Black Studies. It was during and after the "blistering years" (Brossard, 2001, pp. 65-67) of the Black Studies Movement from the late 1960s until the early 1970s that the multi-layered African American experience-past, present, and future-became a not-to-be-overlooked topic in college and university curriculums throughout the nation. History has always been a main "core subject area" (Karenga, 1982, pp. 35-38; Asante, 1992, p. 26) of Black Studies. History was also one of the first major disciplines in which African American scholars created autonomous intellectual traditions and institutions that existed side by side White America's various exclusionary academic infrastructures during the era of Jim Crow segregation through the Black Power era. Several years following the 1983 "state of the art" conference on the study and teaching of African American history at Purdue University, Darlene Clark Hine optimistically commented: "Today Afro-American history is a respected and legitimate field of American history" (Hine, 1986, p. ix). Presently, African American history arguably represents one of the most dynamic sub-fields of U.S. historical inquiry and higher education.

At the same time, leading scholarship on history teaching and learning, most notably the illuminating study, Knowing, Teaching, and Learning History: National and International Perspectives, has failed to address African American history (Stearns, Sexias, & Wineberg, 2000). The teaching and learning of African American history in higher education warrants more scholarly discourse. As data from the report of the American Historical Association's Committee on Graduate Education suggest, lack of preparation for teaching is a serious concern for history and other graduate students (Bender, Katz, Palmer, & the Committee on Graduate Education of the American Historical Association, 2004). Equally important, American culture and society has undergone a host of pivotal transformations since the so-called mainstreaming of African American history several decades ago that require university professors of African American history to reconsider, reframe, and critically reflect on their approaches to teaching as well as the increasingly diverse learning processes of their students. More broadly speaking, as Huber and Hutchings (2005) passionately argued, "the scholarship of teaching and learning is an imperative for higher education today, not a choice" (p. 13) because "teaching today is harder than it used to be" (p. 20). Focusing on the historical evolution of the scholarship on the teaching of African American history in higher education, this article addresses the following inquiries. What is African American history and its educational value? What are some timely goals for teaching African American history to today's university students? How have scholars theorized the teaching of African American history since the early twentieth century? …

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