HISTORY 89S: History of Good Intentions (First-Year Seminar)

Readers requirements: background in the field of History or Public Policy; a professional stake in decision sciences or decision-making; or specific interest in the topic

  1. Course Information
  2. Schedule
  3. Giving Feedback

Course Information

Instructor: Prof. Jocelyn Olcott

“We All Want to Change the World: History of Good Intentions” is a research- and writing-intensive course with an EI designation (Ethical Inquiry). Students will choose their own episode (i.e., an example of well-intentioned endeavors with unintended consequences — the Green Revolution, the War on Drugs, etc.) and then write about it along two tracks: a regular blog where they would write several times a week in a more free-form way, and the development of a research prospectus for a research project (seminar paper, thesis, etc.) that they might execute later. Readers will be asked to respond to blog posts.

Student Writing Assignment

Students will post to their wordpress sites every week along two lines:  a more informal journaling/blogging stream, and formal assignments centered on their research projects. For the latter, they write mostly about particular kinds of sources (photographic, cartographic, sonic, etc.). Each student will have his or her own page; students will also have the option of working on a project in a group, in which case the group members would effectively have two pages. The posts (both the assignments and the blogging) should be fairly short — c. 500 words each.


Student – Reader Interactions

Readers will be asked to check in on the participating students’ blogs every week or so. (Depending on the students’ sign-up response, we may make some smaller groups.) Readers will not be paired with a particular student as in other courses; instead, we’ll ask readers to make comments on any blog posts of particular interest, paying attention as well to those with no/few responses.

Giving Feedback

Responding in the form of comments on a blog post will be different than responding to a draft of a paper.

Consider these things in your comments to students:

  • Acknowledge and validate their voice as they wrestle with difficult topics.
  • Add insight or value to the blog with your comments. It’s always nice to hear, “I enjoyed your post,” but the most useful responses go on to add more for the student to consider or add depth for the author as well as other readers.
  • Politely and critically push the students: to consider counter arguments, to apply their thinking to other contexts, to look at possible consequences both intended and unintended, etc.
  • Ask questions that might encourage a conversation in the comments.
  • Consider this a community in which you are part of an ongoing conversation throughout the course, so respond to the blog post and to other comments to continue the dialogue between the students and readers.

More details about giving feedback on blogs.