In Fall 2012 the Africana Studies Program sponsored 1619 and Making of America, an innovative course to explore an important year and its significance to American history. With support from Africana Studies and a Mellon Grant for Global Studies, Professors Joanne Braxton and Jody Allen created a one credit opportunity where students would be exposed to the significance of 1619 from a critical historical perspectives, while immersed in the collaborative “1619 and the Making of America” conference held at Norfolk State University on September 21-22, 2012.
According to Professor Allen: “Understanding the importance of 1619 is key to understanding the early history of this region and the country. Three distinctly different cultures came together and the outcomes of these interactions still vibrate through our daily lives. I want students to understand this history so that they know what they are working with and against as they move on from here to try and build on the strengths of this nation and to overcome the weaknesses.” Undergraduates Christopher Johnson, Danielle Laing, Emma Merrill, Ashley Pettway, Ashleigh Ramos, Crystal Sadrzadeh, Sarah Schuster, Andrea Washburn, and Ashleigh K. Washington all participated in the class.
The class as conceptualized was not lecture based but instead relied on assigned readings, discussion participation, and critical responses to papers and presentations given at the “1619 and the Making of America” conference. Readings posted in advance by Norfolk State Professor Cassandra-Newby Alexander were assigned in the weeks leading up to the conference and related directly to the panels in which students would be participant-observers. Following the two day conference held at Norfolk State University, students produced annotated bibliographies and critical analyses of their readings as well as responses to the conference experience itself. There was also an extended follow-up class meeting on campus, of which Professor Allen, Co-Chair of the College’s Lemon Project said, “The discussion was outstanding.”
While Professors Allen and Braxton enjoyed having the opportunity to teach together in a new and innovative fashion, they also noted the limitations of the one credit format. Each would have liked more interaction with the students, as the one credit immersion format does not allow for the same kind of sustained ongoing contact expected in a traditional three hour course. However, several of the students remarked that they liked the convenience of a one credit course and would not have been able to take “1619 and the Making of America” if it had been offered as a traditional three hour course. Professors Braxton and Allen will continue to evaluate the success of the course and its future possibilities in consultation with Professor Francis Tangalo-Aguas, Chair of Africana Studies and the Africana Studies Program core faculty.
When asked about how meaningful this experience was for the students who participated in it Professor Allen commented that “Participation in this conference exposed students to scholars from a variety of institutions who are doing interesting and important research that will help us all to understand our global history. It was also important for them to meet and interact with students from other institutions.” As Africana Studies Chair Francis Tangalo-Aguas remarked, “William and Mary Africana Studies was able to support faculty and student participation in the conference through the Mellon Grant for Global Studies. The endeavor is precisely the faculty student teaching and research scholarship collaboration espoused in the grant.”