Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Group Identity

Over in underwater basketweaving, the basketweaving theory and history folks have noticed that they've got fewer students majoring and minoring in basketweaving theory and history.  In contrast, the basketweavering majors and minors are up in all sorts of good ways.  The basketweaving folks seem to have a strong sense of a group identity, too.  (The theory and history major/minor numbers are going down nationally, so it's not just them.)

The theory and history folks look at the basketweavers, and think they're doing something right, but they're not sure how to get their majors and minors to have a sense of group identity, and how to attract more majors and minors.

Here are some things they've noticed. 

Basketweavers have small classes (because they're working on weaving and critiquing and such), and the classes (with the weaving and critiquing and such) have a sort of built in community building.  Reed cultivators also have small classes and a sense of community, but they aren't growing as a major, either.  Theory and history courses are bigger at every level.

In the more advanced courses, they only have basketweaving majors and minors.  (The theory and history courses have basketweavers, reed cultivators, and so forth; pretty much everyone in anything related to basketweaving takes one or more of their courses at every level.)  So the theory and history students are never in courses with just other theory and history folks.

Basketweavers do a lot of community basketweaving with their students.  They show their baskets off at community events along with students, pretty much every month.  Theory and history folks feel like their work is more esoteric, harder to share with the community, and harder to do in community events with their students.  (There's something about the "Lacanian Analysis of Knot Size in Early 20th Century Polish Work Baskets" that doesn't scream "popular!"  In contrast, lots of people in the community also make baskets, and go to community basketweaving events.)

The basketweavers also have a facebook page.  And that, the theory and history folks hope, is something they can do.  And so they have.  Someone near and dear to this blog may have suggested it.  But that same person has some doubts.  Do students even look at facebook these days?  The basketweavers page tends to link to the community events and such, and there really aren't many community events for theory and history folks.

If you are/were in basketweaving theory and history (or a similar sort of field), what do you do to give your students a sense of community?


  1. When I was an undergrad, our department started a "Guild of English Scholars." They held an annual undergrad conference, monthly teas, and a reading group that met every other week during the semester. Also, once a semester they have a literary themed social event: they had someone come in and teach Regency dances and held an Austen-themed ball, and they did a Shakespeare-themed murder mystery dinner. One key element: free food at every event.

  2. We have a new medieval historian who's awesome at organizing this sort of thing, and she had a fencing instructor come to visit last week (just when my class was hitting the last act of Hamlet, too). I think she has some other historical-material-culture stuff planned, like having a costumer for a Shakespeare festival come in to talk about medieval and Renaissance clothing. I hope it takes off!