Interdisciplinary Studies Provide Total Engagement

From exploring Savannah's historical sites to sharing research with high-level representatives from Pearson publishing company, two Armstrong professors ensure that students discover the connections between academic fields.

Allison Belzer, assistant professor of history, and Beth Howells, associate professor of English, combined forces to teach honors freshmen classes and an interdisciplinary upper level course. Their goal was to show how the historical and the rhetorical influence each other.

The professors gave their freshmen students hands-on learning experiences by providing field trips to local historical sites. The classes visited the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum and downtown Savannah, where students learned the rhetorical meanings behind several of the squares' monuments and walked through Colonial Park Cemetery.

“It's about synthesis, and it's about real knowledge,” Howells said. “We try to make sure the students use the information they are learning; otherwise it's not theirs.”

At the end of the semester, students demonstrated their knowledge by creating a seven-day historical field trip. Groups designed and wrote a blog about their proposed trip, arguing the historical significance of each site using persuasive writing techniques.

“We are extremely pleased with the work our students have produced this semester,” Belzer said. “It's great to see how much work they have put into each project.”

Belzer and Howells continued to bridge academic fields in their upper level interdisciplinary class, where students investigated nineteenth-century Britain from a literary and historical perspective.

The final project of the course required students to create their own Longman Cultural Edition of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford, Lord Alfred Tennyson's Idylls of the King, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest. Using primary texts, images and scholarly articles, each student's edition assists future readers to better understand the noteworthy texts.

Senior English communications major Kimberly Knox studied Cranford. The project involved two months of introductory work and about three weeks of intense preparation. "Especially with history and English, so much is tied together. Without combining them, you don't get the full value of what you are studying," Knox said.

Since Pearson's Longman Cultural Editions was used as inspiration for the project, Howells and Belzer contacted the publishing company to spread the word about the unique assignment. Impressed with the scope of the idea, two agents arranged to meet with the students and offered to sponsor a luncheon to showcase their projects.

Pearson representatives Joyce Nilsen, the executive marketing manager for literature in higher education, and Amanda Bacher, the publisher representative for humanities and sciences in higher education, came to Savannah especially for the event.

The students received critical reviews of their work from the professionals, as well as from other Armstrong faculty. The student projects inspired by the Longman Cultural Editions encouraged studying texts from multiple academic perspectives.

“It's very impressive,” Nilsen said. “It's the direct opposite of what you hear about students not being interested. It's total engagement.”