Ben is flippin awesome--funny, self-deprecating, and dazzles with his mini lectures and his ability to steer discussion into productive channels. For a good time, go with Ben.
Eric Foner has a cult following at Columbia, and although his lectures are interesting and he synthesizes well, this class was definitely not one of my favorite of all time and pales in comparison to the style of Alan Brinkley (with whom I took America Since 1945). A lot of this comes down to the assignments and the TA whom I had. My main complaint with this course was its often oppressive focus on historiography rather than the actual tracing and significance of historical events. So much time was spent talking about how authors perceived things and how authorsÂ’ points of views compared to each otherÂ’s that a lot of the importance of the material was lost. Granted, historiography and an awareness of the authorÂ’s perspective are useful skills to history students, but the concentration of time spent on such things in this class was far too much. For the paper, we had to read two works on the same subject and compare the authorsÂ’ analyses. Besides the fact that this was a god-awful amount of work that prevented me from doing well in my other classes, I found myself reading two books on a subject about which I was interested by just skimming for differences instead of indulging my curiosity on the topic. Thus, the paper became less interesting and more difficult to complete. The same was true about the books we read for the courseÂ—the section was spent talking about the authorÂ’s opinion more than the historical period. I learned a lot about picking an argument out of a text, but retained very little about the U.S. in the era of slavery and Jacksonian democracy. My other complaint with this class was my TA's grading standards. I am a history major who has taken many other classes in this style, and always get AÂ’s/A-Â’s depending on the level of work I do. In this class, I worked harder than I ever had before in a history lecture, participated the most in my section, and spent two solid weeks working on my paper (thereby causing my grade in another class to drop by a full letter)Â… and still received a B+. I am certain that if I had been graded by anyone elseÂ’s standards I would have gotten an A/A-. This may have been specific to my TA, however.
Foner does deserve the praise and all the raves people give him. His erudition is quite impressive and I did not find him to be egoistic or prone to "self-aggrandizement" In fact, Foner was actually quite humble and spoke of many other great history scholars. His viewpoints are interesting, creative and unique. He will get you thinking in new ways. My only complaint is that the TA's grade everything and are quite unfair and unreasonable. My entire section and other sections shared this sentiment as well as other friends of mine who took his courses in the past. Given the large number of students he can't grade himself. Talking to the TA's about the grades is useless because they will never change them instead you are told that the average class grade was a B- so anything above consider yourself lucky. Grading for papers was even worse. Foner is a great prof but if you want anything close to an A prepare to be disappointed----even with breaking your A-S all semester
The first review was a bit harsh and unnecessary, true. The truth is, when you've got multiple TA's to choose from, you'd be better off choosing someone else. It's not that Amy's terrible, but why settle for her section when you could be in Ben Soskis's section, for example? Not mean, just somewhat unpleasant.
I don't really understand why people feel the need to be anonymously vicious on culpa. So please just disregard the previous review. Unlike most grad students, Amy sincerely cares about the course material, the class and her students. She asked thoughtful questions and forces you to dig into the texts. Clearly, a lot of thought goes into her sections. When I asked her for feedback or advice, she was always helpful. Once, she stayed forty minutes after section (which was, tragically, at 8:00 on Wednesday night) to answer my questions and talk about my interests. Yes, she was intense, but face it, this is Columbia, we're all intense, and I would rather have a teacher who cares passionately about paternalism, abolitionism and Jacksonian democracy than a grad student who is totally blah. If you get Amy, you're lucky.
She's extremely intense, and seems to have had a difficult life, for which she vents her frustation in section. Her attempts at humor are really painful as well. School is hard enough, if there is any possible way to get out of this class then do it.
Eric Foner seems to be in love with himself. And so seems everybody else, which makes this class even less of a tolerable experience. I learned a total of three things: 1.) that no one can really agree on what slavery means in terms of America's historical experience. 2.) that Eric Foner uses this class as an excuse to show off and radiate his self-appointed, undisputed authority at every moment. 3.) that plenty of Columbians who get really worked up over racial and social issues that don't always seem especially pressing have no problem [CULPA censor] with the fact that our enormous load of reading does not feature a single female writer
I couldn't believe Julie didn't have a review already. She is an absolutely amazing TA who is a great facilitator of discussion, very knowledgable, and extremely engaging. She is also very helpful for those who wish to meet with her oustide of class, hand in drafts, or ask additional questions. Not a hard grader as far as I could tell. No real flaws here and someone who can truly help you become a better reader, interpreter and writer of history and leads an interesting discussion.
I wasn't really sure what to think of him at first, I hate it when people obsess over popular professors, but I have to say that in the end I think he is in fact one of the better professors I have had at Columbia. He spends the beginning of class connecting history with the current news and then goes through with his lectures often citing historiography and providing interesting tangential tidbits while giving rather broad overviews of topics. At first I thought there wasn't much you could get out of his lectures that wasn't in textbooks or hadn't been said before but then I realized the way he treats historiography, addresses topics and presents his own views and arguments subtlely is actually quite impressive. It also must be noted that he perhaps influenced much of the knowledge we have on some of these topics himself to begin with. I have to give him credit that I never really once was bored in his class despite a few what would seem to be dry and what should have become repetitive topics. He truly is a great professor and historian who is not overwhelmed by his own ego (as many highly-rated professors are) and can be understood by a student with a casual interest in history or a history major already familiar with much about the time period. If you think this period is boring, you should still consider this class because I expected to be a dull period and it has now actually become one of my favorites. He does a great job of choosing books and lecture topics.
WOW. Eric Foner is brilliant, dynamic, enthusiastic, one of the best speakers I've had the privilege of listening to. I'm usually not a fan of early American history but he makes it so interesting and relevant. I'm proud to tell people that he was my teacher. Don't graduate Columbia without taking one of Foner's classes!
Eric Foner is the world's leading scholar on Reconstruction. And he's not too shabby with 1800-1850 either. He is a tremendous lecturer, his TAs are the best in the department, and his students are genuinely interested in history. He is funny, brilliant, laid back. Any class he teaches, you should take, because teachers like Eric Foner are the reasons that we came to Columbia. Don't miss it.
Foner is an amazing, brilliant lecturer. He is very clear. By far the clearest and most organized thinker I've encountered so far here. He has a huge amount of material before him and goes through it in a very logical, sound way. He develops very important historical themes as he does this, themes about republicanism, abolitionism and others. Really goes into the ideas behind history, while detailing the events. He makes sense of everything.
To quote Flavor Flav, believe the hype. Foner really is is an amazing historian, an engaging lecturer and one of the best writers in the academic world today. He is also funny as hell, armed with the self-deprecating humor of a white opener on Russell Simmons. Some find his Radical Tradition in American Politics course to be a bit scatterbrained, but the bottom line is, if he is teaching a lecture this semester, take it. And if the course is full, sit in on it anyway.
More people have read Eric Foner's version of American History than any other historian's, since he consulted for an attraction in Disneyworld. In keeping with the theme of history for the masses, he's got major leftist roots. In addition, legend has it that Foner's great grandparents indirectly caused the Russian Revolution by booting Trotsky out of their Lower East Side apartment, the impetus for that rabblerouser's return to Russia. Foner peppers his lectures with anecdotes, some of which are relevant and all of which are amusing. Lectures often summarize the readings but don't engage them in a meaningful way. Civil War & Reconstruction Class is supposedly a lot better than Jacksonian Democracy class.