COURSE COMMENTS
Amanda I. Seligman

2 May 2002
Re: History of Poverty in America (2001)
       History of Urban Problems (2002)

In a straight up-and-down urban history course, my goal is for students to leave the course with a sense of the processes that have shaped the physical and social environment of American cities. In these two courses, students look more closely at a few particular processes that affect the lives of people within those cities.

The undergraduate course on the "History of Poverty in America," which I taught during fall 2001, went very well. One of the students I am still in contact with told me that it worked at several levels simultaneously. For some students, the main benefit of the class was learning what dire poverty can be like. Even students who have been on the receiving end of modern poverty programs expressed gratitude for the relatively good conditions in which they live now. Other students, including many who are social workers or employed in other related fields, could see in their personal experiences many of the themes that the course addressed over time. The journal assignments were particularly successful in getting the students not only to read but also to grapple with the implications of the writing. In the future, I hope to add material on poverty among Native Americans and on food stamps. I would appreciate any suggestions about resources for these topics.

The graduate course on the "History of Urban Problems" is ongoing, so it is too early for me to reflect on the overall success of the course. I have decided, however, to restructure the course the next time I teach it. Because many of the students in the course are Urban Studies students, for whom methods of historical research are unfamiliar, we have spent a lot of class time discussing what primary sources are. Next time around, I plan to offer an assignment early in the course that will require all the students to work with a common set of primary sources available in local archives, with the intention of helping them to see earlier in the process what kinds of resources they need to locate in order to produce their final papers.