and Congress left through the tunnels — in 1932

The press has been looking through the past for previous examples of what happened in the Capitol last week, partly to see if they can justify using the word “unprecedented.”

It depends on the sort of precedent one is looking for. Are we looking for times when a violent group forced their way into the building? If so, it may be technically correct that a mob has not stormed the Capitol since the War of 1812, but even then, it was in a time of war, and the mob was the enemy.

Are we looking at violence in the Capitol building? There are many examples of that, including the stick fight that almost killed Senator Charles Sumner in 1856. Are we looking for times where groups of unthinking people have tried to “tear down democracy”? We can find quite a few of those too. …


The ongoing case of Dr. James Barry

Whenever historians discuss the “first” of anything, they use qualifiers. In the case of the first female doctor in the UK, there might be several candidates, depending on how one qualifies the word “doctor.” The innumerable wise women and healers who made diagnoses and prescribed treatment for centuries may be unknown to history. So we define “doctor” in terms of official qualification and credentials.

The honor of being the first female doctor in the UK thus goes to an extraordinary person, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Although she had been refused admissions to the College of Surgeons and Physicians because of her sex, she was admitted to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries because their rules stated nothing forbidding women (an oversight they remedied shortly afterward). …


The complexities of vaccination go back to the 18th century

In the early 18th century, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu would discover the inoculation process for smallpox while she was living in Turkey. She had lost a brother to the disease, and barely survived it herself. Smallpox in the 18th century was particularly virulent; the CDC says it averaged a 30% death rate for those who got it.

The inoculation was done using actual scabs from people who had smallpox, inserted under the skin through a cut. Lady Montagu had her son inoculated while in Turkey, and her daughter in England when she returned in 1721. …


Caring more may mean doing less

So many people have been thrown into online teaching and learning, and the most conscientious professors want to do a good job. And yet, as the holidays approach, many are weary of the online grind, and looking to make some changes for next time.

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Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Care for students, and professors, is different in a pandemic. Changes to online teaching methods can reflect that. This fall, teachers reported spending quite a bit of time soothing fears, making exceptions, and being kind. Many found that sticking to the syllabus and insisting on strict deadlines became too hard on them and on their students. …


How H. G. Wells created an at-home science laboratory

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Joseph Priestley’s instruments for his experimentation on gases (1775) from Public Domain Review

In 1858, the University of London began offering examinations at the Matriculation, Intermediate, and Bachelor’s level to all comers. Students could study independently, with a private tutor or without, and take the exams to earn a degree. This opportunity, previously limited to those with the money and time to study at residential Oxford or Cambridge, opened an educational door to the middle and lower classes.

Naturally, private tutors advertised their assistance. Educational entrepreneur William Briggs expanded a tutoring-by-mail project into a huge business enterprise in the city of Cambridge. His University Correspondence College offered correspondence classes by mail to students at a low cost, and he hired tutors to mark and respond to work. One of the tutors Briggs hired was a young man named H. G. …


Open the windows and don’t read the funny bits aloud

While she was not writing about people in quarantine or suffering from new viruses, Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing (1859) did advise on caring for people in their homes.

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Cover from 1946 edition (Archive.org)

Nightingale is known, of course, for her service during the Crimean War and her active reform of nursing and hospital hygiene in the mid-Victorian era. She’s the one who realized that many deaths in military hospitals were unnecessary, caused by unhygienic conditions rather than wounds or injury. …


Current efforts at pneumatic transport have a past

If one walks along Holborn in London, the street name changes to “Holborn Viaduct,” and railings appear. If you look over a railing, you’re on top of this:

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Photo by Matt Brown, Wikipedia

Engineering Timelines reports:

Holborn Viaduct is 427m long and 24.4m wide, and is a complex structure mainly of masonry. It incorporated subways for a sewer, a gas main, telegraph wires, the pneumatic despatch railway used by Royal Mail and an Edison electric power station.

It was built in 1869. Sewer, gas main, telegraph — all this we know was happening. And an Edison power station would have been a bit later, in the 1880s. But what was the “pneumatic despatch railway”? …


Why a bit of auto-grading is helpful rather than harmful

Certainly it was overwhelming to bring home an intimidating stack of exam books or papers. But it isn’t any better online. In fact, a notification that there are 173 things to grade can make you want to close your laptop and walk away.

Learning Management Systems offer to grade things for us. Set up a quiz and students can get instant results. Count participation in a forum for three points automatically. Create one rubric for all the papers.

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As professors we hesitate. This seems like cheating. And it’s letting a machine do our job, the job of assessing student work. No computer, we know, can grade an essay or walk through a science or math problem. It requires expert knowledge. …


For college profs, teaching style should lead the way

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Over the years, a lot has happened with online pedagogy, and thanks to the pandemic many professors are going online. Understandably, the focus has been on the technology, and getting it to work. But now, as many colleges and universities plan to continue extensive online offerings, we need to talk more about pedagogy. So why not a top ten list?

1. Emphasize your strengths

Our strengths in the classroom are often the same strengths online.

Good lecturers not only love to lecture, but they do it well. They tend to be organized and enthusiastic, even charismatic. At a time when lecture gets a bad rap because it isn’t considered “active learning”, a good lecturer inspires students to become interested in the subject, and provides a professional role model. …


A teaching satire

I just don’t know about teaching in a classroom.

I know we have to do it, and I am aware that we have no choice. It’s because of the emergency. In six months, for some of us less, we’ll have to be prepared to teach in an actual classroom.

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Most teachers know that this will be difficult. At times it seems impossible. How can we possibly teach in such a space? Some of us don’t have the training for it. …

About

Lisa M Lane

Lisa teaches history at community college, writes fiction, and blogs about history and teaching online.

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