I am firm believer in the importance of active learning and making the courses that I teach both engaging and relevant to my students. Whenever possible my classes include primary source analysis, both written and visual. I have found that some of the most effective teaching practices involve using illustrative examples and examining historical imagery that “tells a story.” A prime example of the former is the discovery during Louis XIV’s autopsy that his stomach was twice the normal size. This memorable parable demonstrates to the students that he had an enormous appetite, both literally for food, and figuratively for power. In terms of the latter, I prefer to use the image to the left of Robert Fludd’s Integrae Naturae Speculum which is full of detail and complex imagery. It provides a striking example of his interpretation of Mother Nature, before nature was mathematized and deconstructed during the Scientific Revolution.
Creativity and humor are the other foundations of my teaching philosophy, which can best be illustrated with two of my in-class polls. The first poll involved voting for a class mascot from a selection of sea monsters found on Renaissance maps. These monsters demonstrated how little Europeans new about the wider world before and during the Age of Exploration as cartographers placed these creatures on areas that were unexplored. As Renaissance maps were filled with these sea monsters, it gave students the chance to creatively and actively work with primary sources. Of the choices, the Sea Swine was elected as the class mascot.
Another in class poll asked students to vote on the best facial hair design of the nineteenth century. This activity helped students understand the new consumer culture of the period as stores like Bon Marché and Sears made things like shaving equipment available and affordable to the masses.