Teaching Tuesday: Reading is Optional

I’m teaching a one-credit, pop-up, style class this semester and instead of writing the syllabus at the start of the class, I’ve decided to allow the students to create a syllabus as a conversation over the course of the semester. The class is focused on a soon-to-be-demolished building on UND’s campus: Montgomery Hall.

Part of this is to give the students a bit more freedom to develop their own interest in the class, but another part of this is designed to short circuit the tendency of students to resist course expectations which fall out of sync with their interests, approach to learning, or social and economic situation. Faculty, in my experience, have a tendency to moralize student resistance and rather than recognizing it as a critique, however ill-formed, we have a tendency to see it as laziness, a lack of commitment, or, at worst, a sense of entitlement. 

Part of the project for this class is to give students more freedom to structure their learning and follow their curiosity without the pressure, necessarily, of grades, due dates, assignments, and other objects that so often form points of resistance at the intersection of the university as institutionalized learning, student lives, and faculty expectations. As part of this larger project, I’ve decided to make all the reading in the class optional, but I also wanted students to have a reasonable reading list that would allow them to at least become familiar with some of the major ways of thinking about buildings, the history of the university, or what we know about Montgomery Hall in particular.

Wherever possible, I’ve linked to the sources that I’m using below:

We’re lucky that Steve Martens has done a brilliant job describing the history of the building in his HABS report which he generously shared with us. (I provided the students with this document!)

To understand a bit more about the history of UND, you can always check out Louis Geiger’s University of the Northern Plains: a History of the University of North Dakota, 1883-1958 (1958).

Laurie Wilke’s The Lost Boys of Zeta Psi: a Historical Archaeology of Masculinity in a University Fraternity (2010) which is just a great book on 20th century campus life.

For the history of architecture in North Dakota, Steve Martens and Ronald Ramsey have published THE book: The Buildings of North Dakota (2015).

For the work of Joseph Bell DeRemer, the architect behind Montgomery Hall, Steve Martens has provided a brilliant “context study.” 

The most intriguing thing about Montgomery Hall, at least to me, is how it has changed over time, check out Stewart Brand’s entertaining How Buildings Learn. (1995): 

For some more complex ways of thinking about contemporary buildings, grounded in archaeology, check out Timothy Webmoor’s article, “Object Oriented Metrologies of Care and the Proximate Ruin of Building 500.

Or this article by Michael Schiffer and Richard Will on the archaeology of university campuses: “The Modern Material-Culture Field School: Teaching Archaeology on the University Campus.”

Or this article by John Schofield on the archaeology of modern offices: “Office Cultures and Corporate Memory: Some Archaeological Perspectives.”  

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