Professor Karin Vélez

“I like that we’re making connections to one specific person, and not even an important person, to learn how people behaved in the age of globalization.” –Francisco Kilgore ’17

Exploring the life and times of one 18th century Englishwoman is just part of the syllabus for a new kind of history class at Macalester. Going Global, taught by Professor Karin Vélez, is a course based on a relatively new trend within the discipline—World History—in which students cross borders of time and geography to understand the big picture.

In Vélez’s 100-level course, one of the three major texts is a 2007 New York Times notable book called The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History. This nonfiction volume follows the turbulent, globetrotting life of a woman who, along with her family members, is involved in war, empire, trade, navies, slavery, and land speculation from Morocco to Rio de Janeiro and from London to Jamaica.

“I like that we’re making connections to one specific person, and not even an important person, to learn how people behaved in the age of globalization,” says Francisco Kilgore ’17 (Sonoma, Calif.).

The course is nothing if not broad in scope. It looks at various civilizations starting in 3500 BCE (Mesopotamia, the Bantu, etc.), early empires such as Persia and Greece, and multiple empires, alliances, explorations, and revolutions all the way up to the present day. “It’s ambitious,” concedes Vélez, “but world historians are really reinvigorating the field.”

Because in most U.S. public schools, global history has replaced the traditional American and European history curricula of old, today’s college students are familiar with the epic sweep of it. What’s new, say these Mac students, is how they are encouraged by Vélez “to think critically about history and the way it’s conventionally taught,” says Cayenne Kjerland ’17 (Northfield, Minn.). A reluctant history scholar before enrolling in Going Global, Kjerland now says, “I never imagined I would end up loving this class so much.”

Vélez is a high-energy, fast-talking instructor whose own research explores Catholic expansion in the Americas, especially how Jesuit priests pitched their faith to indigenous women. Like most historians, she specializes in a certain era, which makes teaching world history a special challenge, she says. “It’s my hardest class to teach because it requires you to have such an extensive historical background—it really stretches you,” she says. “I have to do tons of background reading to teach the class.”

She also encourages students willing to stretch themselves, offering extra credit for additional readings, lectures, field trips, and so forth. Kilgore, for example, went to an exhibit on the Aztec people at a San Francisco museum over spring break and visited the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) to view ancient Chinese sculptures and decorative objects. “The class really rewards people willing to go the extra mile,” says Kilgore. “Plus I can’t wait to return to the MIA—it’s a great museum!”

Toward the end of the semester, as the Going Global group explored various revolutions (French, Mexican, Haitian, etc.), they were asked to form groups and write their own revolutionary manifestos, then compare them to Marx and Engels’s Communist Manifesto. “I ask the students to think really hard in every class,” says Vélez. “And they always end up asking really good questions, many I haven’t considered before. And when they start to make connections, it opens doors.”

You can’t ask for much more from a college class.

August 4 2014

Back to top