Apprenticeship in Teaching

Historical Narratives and Current Realities

Doyle Faculty Project

Two related assignments formed the core of the Doyle element in Meredith McKittrick’s Doyle course. In the first, students were given a collection of images from the civil rights movements in the United States and South Africa and asked to identify which country was depicted. Students generally were unable to identify them accurately, and their responses opened up the diversity of understandings of the two countries and also gradually revealed the way in which historical narratives shape contemporary understanding.

In the second assignment, McKittrick asked each student to bring to class two or three images that challenged the predominant narrative about the civil rights movement in each of the two countries. Most students in the class brought images that demonstrated the complexities of the current situation, complexities that are masked by the fairly common triumphalist view that racial difference no longer matters. Students admitted their discomfort with this realization, and the lively classroom discussion that followed was evidence of how deeply they engaged in this assignment.

McKittrick says that these assignments focusing on images are rather different from her usual text-based assignments. While she was concerned that course revisions that made room for and supported these two assignments might compromise students’ understanding of the broader historical context, she found that students generally were able to do the historical work she expected them to do, in part because the directness of their work with the images made the history more real.