Preparing for Job Market, Grad Students Create Online Lessons for Humanities Center

Humanities grad students Hannah Ontiveros and Kelly Tang participated in the NHC pilot program.
Humanities grad students Hannah Ontiveros and Kelly Tang participated in the NHC pilot program.

Doctoral students in the humanities know they’ll be entering a tight job market. This summer, four Duke students gained an edge by building their pedagogical skills at the National Humanities Center in Durham.

Each student chose a text that addresses elements of a standard high school curriculum in American history or literature and created an online National Humanities Center lesson for high school teachers.

Johnnie Holland, a Ph.D. student in History, selected an anti-lynching pamphlet by Ida B. Wells. Ph.D. student in English Karen Little chose “Ballad of the Landlord,” a poem by Langston Hughes. History Ph.D. student Hannah Ontiveros worked with an anti-feminist speech by Phyllis Schlaffly. Kelly Tang, a Ph.D. student in Art, Art History and Visual Studies, took on Citizen 13660, a graphic novel about the internment of Japanese Americans.

The pilot internship program grew out of conversations between Richard Schramm, then the vice president for education programs at the National Humanities Center, and Ed Balleisen, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies at Duke. Four graduate students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill joined the cohort.

“Our meetings were highly collaborative, providing ample opportunity to receive insightful feedback from peers and NHC staff—often from the perspective of what works practically in a classroom and what teachers’ needs are,” Tang said. ”We were encouraged to explore and experiment at every step and were given advice on how to conceptualize our plans, not what they should be.

“And I think we felt a greater awareness of a Triangle-area graduate student community that may individually work on different time periods, source materials and methods, but share an interest in bettering classrooms throughout the United States.”

To create their lessons, the students developed a framing question, orientation for teachers, background information for students, interactive exercises and a follow-up assignment. Over four sessions, they received coaching and critiques of their work in progress from their dissertation advisers. 

In an evaluation, students reflected on their experiences, which many noted would enhance their career prospects. The National Humanities Center hopes to offer the program again next summer.

“The internship was a great experience,” said Ontiveros. “It had me thinking critically about not only my pedagogy and writing for a non-academic audience, but also about how to ask the really simple questions that cut to the core of a document—an invaluable skill for a historian. It was also inspiring to work with my fellow interns. Each person’s work raised important and very interesting questions.”