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Spotlight - Department of History, Illinois State University Spotlight

Meet our Graduate Assistants

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Kent Manion

Hometown:        Geneva, IL

Plans after graduation:   Grad School

Favorite period in history:  Early 19th Century

Favorite historical figure:  Stephen Decatur

What do you like about being a GA:  The administrative and teaching experience that it provides.  It gives insight into what it is like to be a teacher.

What advice would you give to undergraduates:  Read!  Do the assignments that your teacher assigns and you will do well in college.  Go the extra mile and learn more to make yourself more competitive in the future.


Look for the profile of another History Department Graduate Assistant in a couple of weeks

News - Department of History, Illinois State University News

Alums are driving force in preserving Route 66


Route 66 was the first road to connect the Midwest to the West. Its 2,448 miles linked an archipelago of towns that previously depended on unreliable muddy tracks and wooden plank roads. Although only small sections of the original road remain, 95 percent of the final alignment can still be driven and still attracts international visitors.

Learn more…

History faculty member, Dr. Alan Lessoff speaks at International Seminar Series


Dr. Lessoff presented a talk on the evolution of national capitals in the age of global cities.

In his talk, Dr. Lessoff briefly reviewed the analytical issues raised by capitals in the current era of globalization and offered suggestions as to why they have retained and even expanded their influence.  When social scientists began sketching theories of the Global City in the 1980s-90s, they suggested that as the headquarters of the nation-state, capital cities might decline in influence and dynamism by comparison to the world’s financial centers.  In retrospect, the opposite has happened:  political cities ranging from Washington and Berlin to Ankara, Turkey, have thrived in the age of global capital.

This is part of the continuing International Studies Seminar Series sponsored by the Office of International Studies and Programs.

Dr. Kennedy presents at the Milner Library series of presentations held in support of “Answering the Call: ISNU’s Librarian & the ‘Great War'” exhibition

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Dr. Kennedy at Milner on Veteran’s Day

Dr. Kennedy explored the political, diplomatic and military interactions of the July Crisis of 1914 that led Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary into the beginning of the Great War.  From the June 28, 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the major European powers moved closer to armed conflict until by early August war had been declared.

Dr. Ross Kennedy, Professor of History specializes in 20th century American foreign relations and political ideology.  He has a Ph.D. in  history from the University of California at Berkeley, and is the  author of the books “A Companion to Woodrow Wilson” (2013) and “The Will to Believe: Woodrow Wilson, World War I, and America’s Strategy for Peace and Security” (2009).

History Department represented on Missouri Valley Conference Championship Soccer Team

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Ali Farkos, junior History-Social Science Education major is in her third year as part of this team.


With a great big smile and bubbling with energy, Ali Farkos said of yesterday’s game, “It was awesome! It made it even better playing at home, in front of our fans.”  This is her third year on the team and her third Missouri Valley Conference Championship.  For the Redbirds, it’s the program’s fourth-straight MVC Tournament title and they became just the second program to ever do so.  This year the ISU soccer fields got lights, and with that, the opportunity to host the tournament for the first time.

Ali is a History-Social Science Education major from Homewood-Flossmoor who aspires to teach and coach soccer at the high-school level, hoping someday to attend a World Cup Soccer match.  When asked about her favorite area of history, she said U.S. history in general and more specifically, pre-Great Depression women’s history.  It is obvious Ali’s charm, passion and energy are traits that will make her a great teacher and coach.

Way to go, Ali.  We are proud of you and the Team!

Dr. He speaks at Office of International Studies and Programs event



History Department faculty member Dr. Qiliang He spoke yesterday at the International Studies Seminar Series.

Dr. Quliang He, our newest faculty member, spoke to a standing-room-only crowd on “Spectacular Death: Visuality and Modernity in Early Twentieth Century Shanghai.” This presentation focused on a sensational funeral procession in 1917 in Shanghai, which lent urban residents and sojourners a unique visual sensibility to the modern urban milieu.

Dr. He earned a PhD degree in modern Chinese history at University of Minnesota. His special field is cultural history in twentieth-century China. He is the author of Gilded Voices: Economics, Politics, and Storytelling in the Yangzi Delta since 1949 (Boston and Leiden: Brill, 2012) and numerous articles about mass media and popular culture in modern China.


Student Teaching Abroad in England: Brighton University-Eastbourne

Blogs from student teachers in the field.

I expected some change……

Caution: You will not see any amazing photos or glorious selfies on this post, but please read on…

It seems only natural that since this adventure I am on is supposed to be centered around teaching that I have at least one post on the nature of the English School system.

I’ll do this by pointing out a few very stark differences that I have noticed throughout my brief time at my British school, The Bishop Bell Church of England School.

Without speaking on behalf of all schools here in England, what I share seems to be fairly normal practice.


1) In the states most teachers have students everyday of the week. For example, they might teach five classes a day with two or three different preps. A prep being a different subject. That is not even close to the case here. Teachers at Bishop Bell have on the low end nine classes and on the high end up to fourteen. You might be thinking to yourself, “how is that possible?” Well, my dedicated blog followers, they only see each class they teach two or three times a fortnight. For those who are not versed on a fortnight it is simply a two week time schedule. Anyone still confused? I urge you not to feel like rubbish because you are not alone in this confusion. Let me try and make it even more simple for you. Today is Wednesday. One of the classes I taught today I will not see again until next Thursday, and next Thursday I will see them for two lessons in a row. When I asked a teacher how she managed to keep track of everything her response summed it up nicely, “You don’t. It is complete and udder hell.”

2) Qualifications for teaching here seem to be much different, and not in a good way. In line for lunch today (which we do not eat until 1:30pm) I was speaking with one of the math teachers at the school.

Somehow we began talking about different qualifications for becoming a teacher. You would think since she teaches math that she would indeed have a degree in mathematics. You would be wrong. Her degree, along with five out of the seven math teachers in the school, do not have degrees in math. In fact her degree is in Economics and one of her colleagues has a degree in physical education. In the States secondary education teachers go through a very in depth and rigorous process in order to enter the field. One teacher has her degree in dance. Yet she is expected to teach courses on history. Not only is this not fair to her, the students are not getting taught by teachers who know the best about the topic. The teacher in mention even told me that she felt sorry for her students sometimes for the simple reason she was not as knowledgable on history as others are. History teachers must complete a Bachelor’s in the field of history and complete over twenty credit hours of teaching, learning, and pedagogical classes. In sum, I spent well over 200 hours simply observing other teachers before student teaching. Becoming a teacher seems to be much easier here in the states.

3) Tracking occurs at a much higher rate here in England than it does in the States. “Grade” is not a word that you will hear in schools here. “Student” for that matter is also not a word that you will hear.

“Pupils” are in “years” at school. I should not digress too much, however, for I have much to tell you about the ugly beast of tracking.

Since students are not held back in the sense that we think, they are continually “grouped” together by ability. Let me break it down for you… One of my classes is “7p2.” What on earth could any of that mean? I too was entirely confused until I inquired. The “7” represents the year they are in school. For year 7 think 11-12 year olds. The “p” is a way to help keep class sizes small; both “p” and “q” are used in year 7 at Bishop Bell. The number at the end is where it gets really interesting. The lower the number the more gifted the students are, in theory at least. So a “2” is better than a “3” but worse than a “1.”

Furthermore, students tend to finish school in the same tracking group they began it in.

4) School is in session for more weeks a year. I suppose that is to help make up for the fact that the school day begins at 9am and finishes at 3:30pm. In that shorter amount of time students also get a twenty minute break and an hour long lunch. Students are only in class for five hours a day, compared to almost eight in the States.

I will finish off this post with a bit of historical humor. Today I had a student ask me, and I quote, “Why don’t we celebrate the 4th of July? I sure wish we partied like the USA on the 4th.”

The next post will surely be better suited for all you visual learners out there, I promise!

Cheers– Trevor S.

We have arrived…..

Dated October 21, 2014

 Where to begin…the past few days have been a whirlwind. Our flight landed Saturday, and after waiting an hour or more for our cab driver, we were finally on the road to our host families.

Our host mom, Rose, (or perhaps I should call her “mum”!) is such a sweetheart. She is a great cook and is always looking after us. After struggling through jet lag and finally unpacking, Trevor and I took a short nap, and then went out to meet some fellow Redbirds in the Eastbourne town center. After a 20-minute bus ride to the town center, we were ready to celebrate our safe arrival to England!

Fast forward to Sunday morning, as we began our orientation to England. We became acclimated to the town and learned about the area as well as the British school system. For the sake of brevity, the British system is very similar to the American system, but with different names, bits, and pieces. Once I am more familiar with the system and am able to speak at length about it, you can expect to see a blog post devoted entirely to that topic.

Now, for some cool stuff. Are you ready for it? I don’t think you’re ready…

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From left to right: myself, Dr. Noraian, Jenny, Trevor, and Roger


Alright. I think you’re ready. Yes. That’s a view from atop a castle. The first of many castles we will see. Let me state that again: WE WENT INSIDE A CASTLE ON TUESDAY.

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Now, I know you’re probably thinking that Matt is about to go on a history nerd tangent here, but I’m not. We visited the castle in Lewes (pronounced Lew-is), which totally reminded me of Game of Thrones. In fact, I may or may not have imagined that the 4 of us History majors were a band of weary travelers who had just happened upon Castle Black… But really though: touring the castle at Lewes was awesome. The castle was built in 1069 (which, if you’re keeping track, is older than our country. Whoa) and is presently maintained by a local archaeological society. After taking some “medieval” photographs (stoic faces and all), we continued our plans for that day. We saw the house of Thomas Paine, whose revolutionary ideals in Common Sense laid the philosophical foundation for our nation, then made our way to the University of Brighton to continue our orientation.


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On Wednesday, I took an adventure up Beachy Head with a couple of colleagues. We kind of goofed this one up – we took a tour bus from the Eastbourne Pier to Beachy Head, but missed our stop where we could climb the downs to reach the Head. Woops. Beachy Head is a notable landmark in the Eastbourne area, and rightfully so. The chalk cliffs are BEAUTIFUL and the cliff face maintains its pristine white appearance due to erosion from the sea. As such, we were advised to not get too close to the edge, since these cliffs can be rather dangerous should the face decide to collapse. Since Danger is my middle name (ok, not really. It’s Michael), I got fairly close to the edge and was able to snap some excellent photos. Beachy Head is also a premiere suicide spot in Europe. It’s so infamous that a local priest lives near the cliff in order to dissuade jumpers from plummeting to their doom. After taking in the view and reflecting upon how fortunate we are to experience such beauty, we found a nearby inn and went in for a hot meal and a nice chat.


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Matt D.

Teaching in England Necessitates Drinking Lots of Tea…..Apparently

It has been two long weeks since my last post here and that has been a direct result of my very busy schedule. Thus far every day has began at 5.45 am and ended at around 1700-1730 when I walk in the door to my house and weekends have involved a lot of travel with University sponsored trips to Paris, Oxford, and Stratford-Upon-Avon to name a few. This post, however, will focus only on the teaching side of England. With Easter Break now upon me travel will take up the majority of my time for the next two weeks so my next post will be on travel and seeing the sights out here in Europe.
So, to begin, I should probably explain the title. My daily schedule has me teaching four lessons a day, each one lasting 90 minutes. Teachers meet before school for tea, after the second lesson teachers go to the restaurant (cafeteria) for lunch….and tea, after the third lesson teachers go to the restaurant again for more tea, and finally after school we go once again to the tea cart for another cup of the stuff for our daily after school meetings. Therefore, I have learned that teaching in England requires quite a lot of tea breaks and all the teachers here look forward to them.

Now to the good stuff; teaching here has been both a rewarding and challenging experience. I am teaching at Brighton Aldridge Community Academy which caters to the lower socioeconomic end of Brighton. My students are very bright but their skill sets are definitely on the low end. Their behavior leaves much to be desired and the vast majority of them have little to no motivation to learn or accomplish anything during lessons.  My first day I was told that I would not be able to teach in the same way that I was used to in the United States, that being student led lessons with group/partner activities and independent learning. The students here cannot, and this is exactly what I was told, “be trusted to work independently”. This has forced me to slightly alter my approach to lesson planning. I still, stubbornly, cling to my old habits and luckily, because of the length of each of my lessons (90 minutes) I am able to lead multiple activities a lesson keeping my students always on their toes and not giving them enough time to get bored and misbehave.

During my time at Brighton-Aldridge I will have taught three different subjects; history, geography, and civics. Each teacher in the Humanities department is expected to be able to teach each and everyone of these subjects. This is a policy which, in my opinion, leads to some very big problems. For instance, during my first week here I observed a history lesson taught by a teacher who admitted to me that she was not a Historian and that history was her weakest subject in the Humanities. During her lesson I watched her give blatantly wrong information to students about the Holocaust and pre-war Germany. This is only an isolated incident and I have not seen it repeated since then (mostly because I have taken over the classroom since then) but I can only imagine that it has happened before and will most likely happen again. 

Now for the tricky part of my teaching experience here. Thus far I have taught five different age levels, years 7-11 (the equivalent of our grades 6-10) and each lesson has been very different. The year sevens and eights have been focused on laying a good foundation for their Humanities studies. The year nines are beginning to learn essential history skills like sourcing and close reading, this is an important year because when a student finishes year 9 they are given the option to choose to take history as a year 10 and 11 and eventually take the History GCSE. Once in year 10 the students start learning GCSE necessary topics and the teachers begin to really hammer in the skills they will need to successfully pass the exam. This is the year that I believe the whole English system really starts to disappoint me. The content that they learn is very narrow, by this I mean the lessons only focus on the topics that will be covered on the GCSE (this year that includes 1920’s America, the Origins of the Cold War, Crises of the Cold War, American Civil Rights Movement, and Norther Ireland), and that is all the students will learn for the entire year. All of year 11 if focused on preparing the students for the test. Almost every class involves one mock exam question and focuses on building one essential skill that they will need to successfully answer it. This would really be my one genuine complaint with the English system. As much as we have heard in the United States that our teachers focus too much on teaching to the test, teachers are have no choice. The GCSE dominates year 11, and to a lesser degree year 10, learning.

Since this has been a very content heavy post and in an attempt to break up the monotony a little bit here’s a picture of the Eiffel Tower and one of a statue of Napoleon Bonaparte that was in the Palace of Versailles. Next up: travels through Spain, Italy, Greece, and Croatia.

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Faculty Publications


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What can you do with a History Major?

More information on careers also available at American Historical Association, ISU Career Center, and Pre-Law Advisement Center

Email History

Department of History
Normal, Il 61790-4420
Phone: (309) 438-5641
Fax: (309) 438-5607

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