The Early Modern World, a collection of essays from the early modern period and edited by Jeremy, is now available. View the table of contents and purchase your copy on Amazon.
Some of you know that I am an educator by profession and I often think about strategies to improve student learning in the humanities, which is in a dismal state thanks to the so-called “war on the humanities.” But I also think there are a set of problems, let’s call them micro-problems, driving students away from the humanities and wholly under the control of professors: course materials and teaching methods.
Many humanities professors at junior colleges like the one I teach at utilize glossy textbooks that, at prices regularly over $100, cost small fortunes for students and families who are struggling to get affordable educations. These textbooks contain historical panoramas so wide that detail and depth are hard to see, an approach that overwhelms both the student and the teacher. There is simply too much packed into the chapters.
I can remember my early years as a college student, struggling to understand, stay focused, and succeed. I failed many classes, lost my scholarships, and dropped out of the private liberal arts college I was attending. Needless to say, I was a mess, and I saw no clear path for my future. To avoid the shame of failure in my hometown, I moved away to a small university town where I enrolled in the local community college. It was there that I remember, for the first time, reading Plato and Aristotle, Burke and Paine, Wordsworth and Shelley. Indeed, whenever I re-read a book I first read then, I am transported back to those years. I remember and cherish those moments from my education, and I recognize that those moments were the ones that helped me dispel the clouds that were in my head and see the path I wanted to take.
Fast forward twenty years and a confluence of forces gives us the educational environment in which we live, one in which the community college humanities professors now seemingly prefer to “teach from the book” instead of challenging students to think deeply about and struggle with primary sources and historical documents. While I never thought I could match the glossy textbooks’ pretty images, I was fairly confident I could come up with something not only cheaper for the student, but far more beneficial… and The Early Modern World was born.
The Early Modern World contains writings from diverse authors like Christopher Columbus, Francis Bacon, Adam Smith, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Karl Marx to name a few. Generally speaking, it covers the periods from the “discovery” of the New World to the late nineteenth century. The anthology is best used as a companion in the classroom, directly introducing young thinkers to the ideas behind, and sometimes in front of, the great waves of history. To be sure, the anthology is not perfect; a multitude of important voices from the past have been silenced due to space limitations and the idiosyncrasies of education in the West. However, given the number of primary sources within it, the book provides the professor an ample amount of material to draw from in order to introduce the young thinker to the forces that helped shape the early modern world.