October 11, 2010 — If you want to sit in on a University of Virginia history class, tune into C-SPAN.
Three U.Va. history professors from the College of Arts & Sciences are being featured on C-SPAN's "American History TV," a series of taped classroom lectures designed to provide a survey course of American history. More U.Va. historians may be added to the series later.
Professors Elizabeth Varon, Julian Bond and William Hitchcock have been filmed so far.
Bond, a participant in the American Civil Rights Movement, was recorded lecturing on the Montgomery bus boycott. Hitchcock, a historian of the 20th century, gave a lecture on the beginnings of the Cold War. Varon, who specializes in American South in the Civil War era, talked about the Underground Railroad.
"We want to put together an American History survey course," said series producer Luke Nichtor, a historian who formerly taught at Texas A&M. "A lecture a week. We looked at all the different themes, at professors from coast to coast, for a geographical diversity and a topical diversity."
Nichtor said the University is a natural for inclusion. "U.Va. has an unsurpassed reputation," he said.
Nichtor envisions a program with professors from around the country lecturing their students on a given topic, on camera, as if the television viewer were in the lecture hall.
"We are looking for a more traditional lecture," Nichtor said. "This lets out a lot of the upper-level seminar courses that are a lot more discussion."
Varon was the most recently filmed, during her 11 a.m. Oct. 4 class meeting in room 101 of Nau Hall in the new South Lawn. Charlottesville's Paladin Media Group handled the recordings, setting up two cameras. The two cameras and a lapel microphone allowed her to pace while she lectured, using her arms to emphasize her points. She enjoyed her freedom of movement.
"In the past I have done these where there is a microphone on the podium and I have had to stand bolt still," she said.
Bond also enjoyed his mobility.
"I was initially concerned they would be worried if I walked around the classroom, which I occasionally do, but it seemed not to be a problem," Bond said. "I was not at all conscious of the camera, having been before cameras in the past. I was, of course, ever mindful that it was present, but tried to ignore it."
Varon's students were conscious of the cameras, she said, and were reticent about speaking out during the class. She was able to solicit comments from one of the students during the taping.
Nichtor started with a lists of professors from around the country that he knew were good on camera, and received recommendations from other producers at C-SPAN from the professors themselves. He said of every 10 contacted, two or three agreed to be filmed. Of those who declined, many were on sabbatical, weren't teaching that topic currently or were only teaching in seminars, he said.
"Some of them are not comfortable with the cameras," Nichtor said.
So far, he has confirmed 37 professors from around 30 universities. U.Va. is the only one represented by three professors, though Nichtor said several schools close to Washington, D.C., have two professors featured.
All three of the U.Va. professors had prior media experience. Hitchcock said when he received Nichtor's e-mail, he knew his lecture on U.S. containment policy would be a good fit for the television show and a good way to promote the department.
"We have a good team here, and this is a good way to show it," he said.
Once Nichtor has a year's worth of lectures taped, he plans to examine some topics in greater depths.
The lectures will air on "American History TV" on C-SPAN 3 on Saturdays at 8 p.m. and midnight and Sunday at 4 a.m. After that, the lectures will be available on C-SPAN's website. Hitchcock's program aired Oct. 9 and 10 and has been archived here. Bond's lecture is scheduled to air Oct. 23 and 24. Nichtor said Varon's lecture will probably air in January.
"It is nice that they do this, because you hear from people who are not at all connected to your class, but who have watched the lecture on television," Varon said. "It's a way of getting the word out about the history program here."
Hitchcock and Varon are a husband-and-wife team who came to U.Va. from Temple University in Philadelphia and only began teaching here this semester. They were attracted by the quality of their academic colleagues and students and the locale.
"As a historian of the 19th-century South, this is the place to do research, because Virginia was in the heart of it," Varon said. "And there are phenomenal undergraduates here and a very good graduate program. We both love it."
Hitchcock is looking forward to working with history professors such as Mel Leffler, Edward Stettinius Professor of History, and Philip Zelikow, White Burkett Miller Professor of History and director of graduate studies. He also was attracted by the resources of the Miller Center of Public Affairs and its wealth of presidential recordings and archives.
"This is a great department for both of us," Hitchcock said. "U.Va. is a dream place with smart students. Many of them have international interests. They want to know how they connect with the rest of the world."