Academic Spotlight: The U.S. in the World

Windward Communications
In 2018-19, Windward History Teachers JP deGuzman and Dahlia Setiyawan introduced a new pilot class to the curriculum titled The U.S. in the World. To highlight this example of Windward's ever-expanding curriculum and advanced pedagogy, we sat down with JP and Dahlia to get their thoughts on the program's first year. 
 
How did this new class come together?
In response to a campus push for a more globalized curriculum, Melanie Arias, History department Chair, proposed an honors United States in the World class as an alternative to AP United States History. We designed the curriculum from the ground up, taking insights from university level United States in the World classes. Our own academic specializations (Dahlia is trained in Southeast Asian history and U.S. immigration history, while JP brings a background in United States history and Ethnic Studies) also informed our approach to situating US history in transnational contexts. In service of a classroom responsive to diverse learners, our assessments ranged from research papers to mini-documentaries to our last major summative project, an exhibition at the CTL that covered the histories of various refugee populations in the greater Los Angeles area. In order to scaffold this project, students read the acclaimed graphic novel, The Best We Could Do (a memoir of a Vietnamese refugee family), our classes visited different monuments in Westminster’s Little Saigon to understand the politics of remembering war, and local artist Trinh Mai spoke to students about using the arts to grapple with and heal from complex historical traumas. 
 
u.s. history in the world outside
 
How did the artistic elements affect/shape/enhance the more academic aspects of the class?
The artistic elements of our class included designing infographics to explain the United States’ imperial past and present, filming short documentaries about immigration in the 19th century, and, in collaboration with the CREATE Studio and CTL, creating an interactive exhibit. Students created gallery artifacts that represented an aspect of a larger history of global migration caused by war or political instability and paired them with a QR code that visitors could scan on a mobile device to view in-depth videos about the exhibition’s topics. These artistic elements helped students tap into their creative minds, and also advanced their understanding of the craft of public history. We sought to instill in students the belief that rigorous historical research can also be made accessible to a wider public. 
 
Who was the guest artist, and what did they offer to the course?
Trinh Mai is a multimedia artist based in Orange County. She spoke to our classes about her family’s refugee background and how she is able to mix different media (such as paint, stones, textiles, and historical artifacts) to tell difficult stories of war, dislocation, and resettlement in a new land. 
 
u.s. in the world
 
What was the overall reaction to the class, by both the students and yourself as an educator?

Students responded well to the class. After they completed their final exams, we asked students to write letters to future students in the class. Some offered advice on study habits and others reflected on the unique nature of the course and how it approaches generally well-known chapters of US history within a world context (such as what the King of Siam’s offer of elephants to President Lincoln during the Civil War tells us about diplomacy and war). Still other students commented on how the course helped them better understand contemporary issues in our transnational world. 

 
(JP) This was a very invigorating experience as a teacher and I appreciated the great deal of latitude we had in designing content and assessments. This course also brought to a great deal of cross campus collaborations: Drue and Jenn from the CTL helped students develop visual projects as summative assessments; Max from the CREATE Studio guided students as they built gallery pieces for another unit; AP Language faculty provided useful protocols for visual analysis that advanced student facility across disciplines. 
 
(Dahlia) It was thrilling to be able to introduce students to tools that I use in my own research, such as the declassified government documents available from the Foreign Relations of the United States digital archive, and see them analyze those materials. 
 
Will this class continue, and if so, how do you see it growing from its first year?
We hope that this will become one of the signature classes of the Windward History Department; following our pilot year, enrollment has doubled and we are excited to see how the class continues to grow in the future.