Langston Hughes- c.1931. American poet, novelist, playwright, short story writer, and columnist. Known for work in Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was an exciting time in which there was a flourishing of artistic, literary and musical expression, which grew as a result of the social, economic and political conditions. In order for students to gain a full appreciation of these connections and the contributions of thinkers and artists who made Harlem a cultural center, an interdisciplinary approach involving three subject matter experts was conceived. Under the guidance of MA/LS Program Director Tracy Caldwell, subject matter experts Mary Berkery, PhD (history), Ted Lehmann, PhD (political science), and Wendy Trevor, PhD (English) worked together to develop the course.
“While all MA/LS classes here in the program are interdisciplinary to some degree, this is the first time we have used more than one subject matter expert to work on a class,” explains Tracy Caldwell, MA/LS program director. “The capstone is a wonderful tapestry of multiple liberal arts disciplines. It is an outstanding example of how a course can be built with more than one subject matter expert and the perfect culminating experience for the MA/LS students in our interdisciplinary degree.”
There are 52 students registered for this first capstone experience, a new option for the MA/LS program. An alternative to the thesis option, the capstone has proven popular with 80 percent of incoming students choosing this path.
While some may believe the adage that too many cooks spoil the pot, Ted Lehmann, faculty program director, had a different experience. “It was a true pleasure to explore the difficult subject matter of the African American experience and learn how to see the inter-relations among the arts and letters and the broader social and political forces at play during this epochal era,” he says.
Mary Berkery, faculty program director of history observes, “This course could not have been created by any one of us alone. What I loved about the experience was that we all approached the topic from very different perspectives and then learned from one another as we went along. For example, when Wendy first proposed the idea of the course being about the Harlem Renaissance, she was thinking primarily about the outpouring of literature and art in the era, while I was more interested in examining the demographic history of the Great Migration that led to a larger African American population in places like Harlem, and Ted wanted to incorporate the legal and political changes that influenced race relations and the economy in the 1920s and 1930s. After talking it through, we realized there was a place for all of these perspectives in the course.”
And, it’s not just the students who will gain a learning experience; it was a growth opportunity for the course developers as well. “Working with supportive and creative colleagues like Ted and Mary promoted an enriching learning opportunity for me to expand my knowledge beyond my own areas of expertise. The key to this project’s success rests in the close working relationship forged between us which began with agreement upon desired outcomes, areas of emphasis/ focus and a working outline and syllabus. Co-writing module notes, making transitions between material and creating assessments did not prove as challenging as we first thought because we established a collective vision for the course,” says Wendy Trevor, executive director, Center for Excellence in Teaching, Learning and Assessment (CETLA).
Photo Credit: Credit: Lebrecht Authors / Universal Images Group / Universal Images Group