George Sheridan

History | 541-346-4832

Courses: History of France (HIST 336, 337), Economic History of Modern Europe (HIST 425 I&II), The Idea of Europe (HIST 420), Western Civilization (HIST 103), Postwar European Culture (HUM 260)

In my courses you will (select two practices that are important to your teaching):

  • Practice foundational, transferrable skills.
  • Explore new perspectives.

I was invited into the Teaching Academy because (select all that apply):

  • I am an Ersted Award Recipient.

In what ways are you working to make your teaching inclusive? For example, did you make any choices to improve students' sense of belonging in the course or to help students see their own interests and concerns as connected to those of the course?

Inclusive for me means, first and foremost, inclusive of the minds and hearts of students as individuals. By taking students into the deep past of history, in a manner in which they will encounter perennial human issues as lived by those who came before us, my hope is that students will discover, more deeply, what it means to be human, as individuals as well as in societies. For this reason, my approach to teaching is always to invite students into a specific sphere of new learning that will elicit their own responses and that will enhance what I regard to be perhaps the most important learning objective in all of the courses I teach: bringing students to an awareness, through the act of learning in the course, of their own intellectuality.

The approach I take to doing this varies greatly according to the course that I teach. For instance, in the elementary Western Civilization course, I try to do this through lecture style and content that accents the dramatic, the excitement of discovering new connections, the opening of multiple vistas that correspond to the immense variety of topics treated (these range from romantic painting and music to the revolution of material existence in food production, energy generation, and globalization of market interactions, to the horrors of World War I, and the moral disintegration of the Holocaust). The course essentially seeks to awaken in students an interest in, ideally a passion for, encountering potent historical moments and confronting both uplifting and dismal sides of the record of the more recent (200-year) human past.

In the Idea of Europe course, on the other hand, the approach is fundamentally one of encounter, that challenges students' own sense of their received ideas and mastery of disciplinary skills with a kind of "shock effect" of texts and perspectives outside of their zones of comfort and familiarity. This is done in a manner that fosters interactivity among students and an individualized immersion in the course material, through a weekly journal, eliciting creativity that derives from each student's own personal background and experience.

What do you do in terms of professional engagement with the teaching and learning culture on campus or nationally? For example, did you attend any workshops, read articles about student learning, observe colleagues with similar goals for their students?

In my very long service as a teacher at this university, I have participated in several workshops designed to enhance teaching skills. Among the most memorable was a workshop sponsored by Clark Honors College to explore "best practice" approaches to integrating writing skills in the history and literature sequences in the College. At the time I was heavily involved in teaching the year-long Honors History sequence. I also took part in a series of week-long multimedia workshops sponsored by the provost's office to introduce the range of multi-media resources and capabilities applicable to teaching.

In addition, the Idea of Europe course has been, since its inception in 1993, a veritable staging and testing ground for interdisciplinary teaching. As one of the creators of the course, I have been involved since then in extensive interactions with colleagues in departments and schools across campus in delivering this team-taught course. As a lead instructor, I have had the opportunity to observe and learn from the rich array of teaching styles of colleagues throughout the university.

In what ways was your teaching in this course research-led—informed by research on how students learn and inflected by UO's research mission? For example, did you articulate specific goals for student learning, structure small-group discussions and activities during class or online, assign activities to help students prepare, offer students an opportunity to reflect on their learning, or invite students into research processes?

The research component varies significantly with the courses that I teach. It is most advanced in the history 407 seminar, which is designed as a research seminar in which students interact and share their research activity with one another and write a major research paper under my direction. The term-long research and writing process is highly structured, organized in step-wise manner from identification of topic, to location of relevant sources, to draft copy that receives extensive feedback from me, to final version. The Idea of Europe course involves research of an entirely different kind. Rather than identifying sources and topics in particular areas, the research paper requirement is entirely open-ended with respect to period, country, discipline, and, in at least one instance that I recall, media (the student had a talent for cartoons and her paper included cartoon illustrations). This research is designed to elicit students' personal interest in a topic of their own design and to elaborate that topic in a manner that represents their personal inclination. In this sense, the project is less disciplined and discipline-oriented than the HIST 407 seminar, but it has the advantage of engaging research and writing on a topic and with a methodological approach that are intellectually appealing and suited to the student's own sense of her/his skills and capacities.

Who or what led you to this discipline? Or what is the most inspiring or exciting thing about your field of study? Or how does your field of study enrich people’s lives?

History was never a subject that commanded much interest for me until I discovered, in college, that history had two qualities that “drew me in,” so to speak. One was the discovery that history was NOT about facts and information, but about understanding, which required not only deep knowledge but also immersion in historical process and analysis of the events, historical personalities, and issues that occurred in the past. For me the peak moment of this discovery was a project on John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty," a text that I cherish to this day. The discovery was, in other words, that of an “idea” and of the world of ideas that history represents. One concrete result was my orientation to the history of ideas (intellectual history) as the place from which I derived special inspiration. The other quality was my growing realization that the field of historical study was perhaps the most open-ended of any, since, conceivably, any subject that had some occurrence in the past was proper to historical study. My college years also introduced me to economics, which I found fascinating and continued to study. Subsequently I discovered that I could do economics historically, as much as I could to philosophy, literature, theology, and art, and thus, in graduate school, I combined two historical fields—intellectual history and economic history. To this day, my "passion for history" draws on this combined interest. My courses in Western Civilization, the Idea of Europe, and Postwar European Culture engage my passion for ideas, culture, the arts, philosophy, and religion. My courses in European economic history, which I teach concurrently with these more ideas and culture-oriented courses, nurture my interest in economics.

Another passion of mine is the study of languages, including learning new languages outside of the field of my research specialty. Language study is both a window on culture and a discipline of its own right, with its own beauty, structure, and humanity.