January 25, 2011 — This semester, the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs has joined forces with the College of Arts & Sciences' Corcoran Department of History and Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics to launch a new undergraduate course that explores the historical context behind today's most pressing issues.
"History Behind the Headlines" centers on the Miller Center's Governing America in a Global Era colloquium series. This series provides an open forum for scholars to share their works in progress and to exchange ideas about politics, history and current affairs.
Using the colloquium series as a jumping-off point, the 12 undergraduates enrolled in "History Behind the Headlines" will tackle significant and relevant political and policy questions, including health care, partisan polarization, America's role in the world and the economic downturn.
At each "History Behind the Headlines" class, the students discuss that week's reading assignment, attend the colloquium together and reconvene to talk about the topic, often with the speaker in attendance.
The first class, held Jan. 21, included a conversation with colloquium speaker Tom Sugrue of the University of Pennsylvania, along with Claudrena Harold, a U.Va. associate professor of history. The students set the agenda for the discussion, which touched on numerous topics, such as the benefits and drawbacks of the charter schools movement, the role of race in the immigration debate and President Obama's domestic agenda.
In keeping with the Miller Center's goal of articulating cutting-edge scholarship for an engaged public, students also will craft a series of op-ed style pieces, advocating for political or policy change based on the colloquium speakers' expertise and scholarship.
"Getting to work with such motivated undergraduates and to interact with some of the top scholars in my field was an opportunity too good to pass up," said Brent Cebul, the course instructor and a U.Va. graduate student in history.
However, it took an undergraduate student to make "History Behind the Headlines" a reality. Lily Bowles, a third-year political and social thought major at U.Va., visited Miller Center Forums and colloquia frequently, but noted that there was no structured place for discussion once the audience had left the John and Rosemary Galbraith Forum Room, where most Miller Center events take place.
Coincidentally, many Miller Center faculty members had long expressed interest in forming an undergraduate course around the politics and policy experts who visit the colloquium series. As a result, once Bowles had recruited Cebul as the course's instructor, Miller Center faculty members Brian Balogh and Sidney M. Milkis successfully lobbied the history and politics departments for support.
According to Bowles, "History Behind the Headlines" not only meets the needs of students and faculty, but also increases student awareness of the Miller Center.
"The Miller Center is one of the University's hidden gems that many undergraduate students never discover or have the opportunity to take advantage of during their four years," she said. "I was convinced it was a matter of publicity and creating a more familiar learning environment that would make students more comfortable and willing to come."
Cebul said, "I hope that ‘History Behind the Headlines' will be offered in the future."
Scheduled to appear at this semester's Governing America in a Global Era colloquium series are:
• Marc Hetherington, Vanderbilt University, on Feb. 4
• James Morone, Brown University, on Feb. 18
• Theda Skocpol, Harvard University, on Feb. 25
• Dara Strolovitch, University of Minnesota, on March 25
• Monica Prasad, Northwestern University, on April 1
• John Ikenberry, Princeton University, on April 8
• David Lake, University of California at San Diego, on April 29
The colloquia, which are free and open to the public, take place from 12:30 to 2 p.m. at the Miller Center. An RSVP for each colloquium is required at 434-243-8726 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More information about the Miller Center and the Governing America in a Global Era colloquium series can be found here.