European History since 1789

Sep 2013

I just want to preface this by saying that I practically majored in Tiersten. I was a history major, and I've known Professor Tiersten for the last four years. This won't be too specific to a class because I've taken so many and my opinion of her is consistent across all classes. I've taken two lectures -- her Modern Europe class, her Colonial Encounters, a Consumer Culture seminar, AND she was my senior thesis adviser... so anything I'm about to say is not based on one class where I might've gotten lucky with a kind TA, etc. She is awesome. She is brilliant, she is entertaining and charismatic, and in response to some of the other less than glowing reviews, she is only intimidating because she does remember everything she's ever read. If you find her condescending, it's probably because you didn't read the readings or pay attention, and therefore said something absurd OR worse-- you googled ID's instead of citing unique information she told you herself--at which point, I'm sure she DID tell you off. There is no doubt that she doesn't sugarcoat anything, but that's what makes her so effective and so helpful. If her emails seem "rude" or "condescending", they aren't. She just has a million things that she has going on during her days and yet she still responds to emails in record time so... not sure what more students want. And if you reach out to her, she will be there to help you find the resources you need for writing papers, etc. In response to the reviewer commenting on how she doesn't like questions about ID's on the study guides she gives before midterms and finals, it's because everything on there has been covered in lectures and readings, so if you're asking for more than just a clarification, she knows you weren't there or weren't listening, so why SHOULD she tell you again? She is approachable, helpful, and really doesn't make it hard for you to do well, especially in her lecture courses. Both Modern Europe and Colonial Encounters cover a lot of time and places, but you learn a lot. And to everyone commenting on how fast she talks -- no doubt this is true. Just don't be lazy and type your notes instead of trying to write down every word she says. I don't want anyone to think I'm being "rude" or "condescending" myself in this mini-rant, but I just really think it would be a shame if anyone shopping for classes, especially freshmen, who haven't yet been exposed to professors like Professor Tiersten and don't know better than to solely rely on CULPA, were convinced that she wasn't worth taking. She is, and I would know, because I chose to do it four times... and I WOULD have taken more if there had been more.

May 2011

Michal Shapira is, in a word, awful. She insists on attendance at this intro lecture course when honestly I would have learned more by spending the time at home on wikipedia. This course is dumbed-down so terribly that by the end of the semester I took no notes in class and instead used wikipedia to study, and did just fine. Yes, 1789 to the present is a fairly difficult course to teach...I mean, there were more than a few fairly major events and movements that took place over the last 200 years!! However, spending 1 lecture on Freud/psychoanalysis and 1 lecture on the causes,course, and consequences of WWI just doesn't seem right. Shapira's actual style does nothing to alleviate the problem of the course's conception. She rambles on, repeats herself constantly (every 3 sentences or so, she'll repeat all 3 sentences). She has annoying verbal habits (she said "in a sense" 87 times over the course of one lecture) and she follows her fellow Barnard professors in constantly emphasizing the role of women which is fine and indeed proper except when she claims that enlightenment thought was in fact driven by women, or that WW1, colonialism, and the depression were all caused by 'crises of masculinity'. Possible IDs and Essay questions for each exam were given in advance.

Nov 2009

Professor Tiersten is, hands down, the best history professor offered at Columbia. She is so knowledgeable; the information she is able to convey coherently in a lecture setting is astounding. More importantly, she doesn't assign impossible amounts of work. For either lectures or seminars, her paper assignments are focused on quality, not quantity. Lectures require a crisp 5-7 page paper, and seminars a 15 page paper, both of which are very manageable. As for her reading assignments, I admit that she does demand a large amount of reading, and expect for it to be done. However, the reading material is always carefully selected and interesting. Perhaps the best aspect of her reading lists is that she rarely requires the reading of a whole book, but rather selects choice chapters which highlight the author's key points and argument. Professor Tiersten wants you to enjoy and learn from her classes, which is one of best traits. A true gold nugget!

May 2007

Professor Tiersten seems like a very nice/interesting/intelligent person, so I hate to write a negative review, but I was not a fan of this class. If you've taken any sort of high-school Euro history class, then this class will be a complete recap. That would be fine if Prof. Tiersten added a new perspective to familiar information, but she doesn't. This is especially frustrating because I am sure she has an interesting perspective on European history (why else would she have been hired?), but she never lets it show in her lectures. Instead, her lectures sound as if she is reading them straight out of a textbook. Not only that, but she talks SO fast. This isn't totally her fault, as 1789-present is a ridiculously large timespan to cover in one semester, but it's hard to absorb anything when she's talking that fast. Also, as much as I hate having to find room in my schedule for weekly discussion sections, I really wish this class had had weekly sections. At least then I would have been accountable for the reading. Instead, there is this awkward arrangement where we miss lecture every few weeks to meet with a TA in a small-ish discussion section. Over the course of four meetings, the TAs barely have the chance to learn your name. Furthermore, the sections are so big that it's easy to get away with not having done any of the reading. Yes, I should have done the reading anyway, but I was not engaged at all with this class and had little incentive to do all the work. Basically, if you're looking for a filler class that probably won't stress you out very much, then this is fine. If you're looking to gain some insight on European history, this isn't the right class for you.

May 2007

Since most of what needed to be said was already said, I want to add just a few quick points about Prof. Tiersten and the class, trying not overlap in content too much. First, it is easy to notice that Prof. Tiersten was a great gal in her younger years, though she’s not really old – maybe 35-40? – nowadays either. As a result, she’s really sociable in general and really cute to watch; she manages to be adorable even when she lectures. In terms of academics, all I can say is "wow". I don’t think there anything this woman doesn’t know about history. On one hand, this is a good, because if you have a question (though she doesn't take questions during lecture, given the turbocharged style described in previous posts) she has an answer – a good and long and informed and authoritative one. On the other hand, this is quite intimidating, especially if you’re new to history. She’ll tell you what the most common type of bread in Southern France 1790 was, and why that bread was replaced in 1795 with something else, and you’ll be left wondering: do I need to know this?? The good news is that you don’t; it’s just that her mind functions like a fractal – once she gets talking about something, given that she know so much about anything, details like that just pour into her brain. You have a study guide for the exams, and that’s what you need to know. As for the class, I do have some words of caution, though my final conclusion is that this is a class worth taking. First, there are a lot of posts here saying this is an easy ride. It’s true, you can skip lectures every now and then, and it’s also true that you can cram for a week before the exam and get an A, like I did. However, there’s massive amounts of information that you need to take in, and despite Prof. Tiersten’s great lectures (as someone else said before, don’t take too many notes – just write down the main ideas and enjoy listening to her; it’s really worth it), everything appears disorganized. That’s because the textbook is really poor in organizing history, skipping back and forth between the years until all you’re left with is some random dates and names and nowhere to place them. To add to this, Prof. Tiersten has her own teaching plan, which sometimes deviates from the book. Finally, you’re given a study guide before the exam in which the IDs are mixed with only slight consideration for their historical order. In the end, if you’re looking at "Red Shirts" on your study guide and you weren’t paying attention in class, you have some serious detective work to do until you find the term in your textbook – as anyone from the French Revolution to the fall of the USSR could have worn red shirts (hint: it’s Garibaldi’s troops). With these caveats (don’t expect an easy ride and pay attention in class), I think this is one of the best history classes you could take. The lectures are simply amazing and so is the teacher, the period covered is really interesting (French Revolution, Napoleon, the two world wars, colonialism, communism, post-war Europe), and, overall, it's easy to get a good grade IF you’re paying attention and spend some time studying before the exams. Although the assigned readings are interesting, the discussion sections are not that useful – on the contrary, they’re quite annoying. Make sure you attend though – they count for 15% of your grade. I have to say that I held back on the praise and addressed the rougher sides of the class solely because everything positive about it was already said in other reviews. This is a class not to be missed, and I highly recommend it. I don't think there are many students in the class who haven't enjoyed it, and that's saying a lot for a class of more than 100.

Feb 2007

I have read all of the reviews, especially the ones relating to the euro hist class, and I am baffled as to how anyone can say that L. Tiersten is either a great lecturer or the best professor they ever had. The lectures are so disorganized, and Ms. Tiersten talks as though she is in some sort of a speed talking contest, that it is pretty ridiculous. I would say, skip this class, especially if you are more interested in history than philosophy.

Oct 2006

I've had the opportunity to take two very very different classes with Lisa Tiersten. The history class, which I took solely to fulfill the requirement (I hate history) was a large lecture, fast paced and often leaving me in the dust. She goes extremely quickly, and if you don't have much of a mind for history it can be quite intimidating. The other reviewers do a good job summarizing this class, so I'll leave it there. The women's studies class, however, is quite the opposite. A small women's studies seminar can be fantastic or awful depending on the teacher, and i LOVE Tiersten for this class. While she is a little ADD and a little all over the place, her class is thoroughly enjoyable. She has a very clear idea of where she wants the class to go, and is good at linking the theoretical points to the broader climate at the time. I guess that's why she's a history teacher. In the class we have really interesting and in-depth conversations, and it really feels like a safe space to share and learn. Exactly what a women's studies class should be. I don't know if she'll be teaching it again soon, but it's much better than the other wmst seminars I've taken, I highly recommend it.

Aug 2006

Lisa Tiersten is the best professor I've had so far, bar none. She seems like a professor who isn't here to write books and monographs and up her standing; she's really just here to teach. In a class of this scope, it's very important for the professor to know how to emphasize certain events and gloss over others, how to employ anecdotes to illustrate a broader theme, and how to use visual aids successfully. She does all three of these masterfully. She successfully coveys the basic historical facts and dates, but more importantly, she gives you a feel for the period, allowing the student to transcend his present day worldview and enter that of, say, a 19th century British politician or a Russian peasant at the turn of the 20th. She's also a nice person, which counts for a lot, because she's got a great sense of humor and she's the very opposite of pompous. Finally, I got to sit in on her discussion section (props to any professor who gets involved with their own discussion sections) and I liked the way she let students think things through on their own terms but how she also wasn't afraid to tell a student when his interpretation was a bit off. You will enjoy this class so much that you won't want to take notes during classes; you'll just want to listen.

Jun 2006

This woman makes no sense. Going to lecture was utterly pointless, I would start out taking notes and end up facebooking or zoning out. If you're really interested in European History Since 1945, read Tony Judt's "Postwar," it will save you the angst of taking this class (and you will probably learn more). And, as always, grading totally depends on the TA. When I took this class, there was a WIDE range of expectations among them, especially when it came to the term paper. So that was also frustrating. Take this class at your own risk.

May 2006

I liked her a lot, overall, although maybe not as much as some of the students who wrote the reviews below. The class covers a lot of material (so much that many interesting historical events and trends have to be skimmed over or crammed into the end of lecture), but Tiersten does a good job with it. She obviously knows her stuff, and she's especially good at linking major historical events to the intellectual and artistic trends that they influenced. (Her interpretations are pretty standard, but she always provides a couple alternative analyses for each major topic.) Even though she speaks very rapidly, she's usually very engaging and almost funny at times. She was always running out of time, but that's the nature of a course that attempts to cover as much as this one. I liked her lectures most of the time and would definitely consider taking more classes with her.

Apr 2006

Tiersten's class seemed very boring to me and I didn't particularly like her lecture style. She didn't utilize visual aids much and she overwhelms you with information, often talking so fast it's hard to understand her. She handed out outlines at the start of the class, but the material all seemed to be crammed together so that it didn't seem as structured as maybe she intended it to be. She was a little confusing at times. She was, however, always prepared. And even though her lectures were rather vapid, part of that may have just been the course itself. Covering so much history in so little time tends to make the course more about names and dates since there is less time to go indepth. Survey courses in history are, perhaps, inherently bad.

Apr 2005

By far one of the best professors I've ever had, met, or heard of. He's brilliant, funny, and very, very nice. He teaches the years the years 1500-2000, and does them all well. His breadth AND depth of knowledge are incredible, but, as previous reviewers have pointed out, he's not at all arrogant. His lectures are fun, his discussions are engaging, and he asks really good questions -- discussion questions that could be essay questions, rather than the all-too-common "guess what word I'm thinking of" strategy that so many professors employ. I would recommend him more strongly than any other professor I've had -- to history majors and non-history majors alike. To anyone who likes nice, smart people. P.S. Poverty and the Social Order in Early Modern Europe is possibly one of the potentially most boring subjects in history, but the class was great, anyway. Now that's saying something. Anyone can make the French Revolution interesting, but to make 16th century poor relief interesting!! Brilliance.

Jun 2004

Highly recommended course. While many will assert (rightfully) that Professor Carnes (America Since 1945) is more "entertaining" given his nonesuch ability to tirelessly expound delectable witticisms (you will find yourself laughing every class, sometimes even uproariously...his personality more than compensates for the mordacious, I-was,-like-a- loser,-at-the-West-End-until-5 a.m. eye-stinging that the 11 a.m. start time will probably bring about), Dr. Plaa's course is the (emphasis on the) history course at Barnard that you will enjoy due to the actual content of the course and not, say, your professor's affected erudition or ability to constantly titillate your fancy (like a personal minstrel!). Do not be mistaken: Plaa is an excellent, knowledgable professor (you will be in awe about how much he knows about the time period and European history on the whole) who is blesed with the ability to relay his knowledge in a perspicuous and engaging manner. While he does lecture with a certain degree of "note-taking unfriendly" celerity, one becomes inured to this after two weeks so do not fret; moreover, forasmuch as Plaa uses a great deal of statistical substantiation for nearly every assertion (for an instance, he evinced the Cold War economic strength of the USA/Western Europe vis-a-vis the U.S.S.R. with consumer data such as television sets per household in each respective country, etc.), you can generally ignore about 1/3 of the things that he will say about what he posits insofar as such statistics are not (as far as tests are concerned) pertinent. I should add that you still ought to listen, though: Plaa is truly a fascinating lecturer and what he has to say is always interesting. The salient feature of Plaa's character, however, has to be his affability, this in and of itself serving as an incentive to enroll in his course. While I obviously have not met every professor at Columbia, I cannot imagine that there is another knowledgable, PhD- holding historical or otherwise savant who is more or even as likeably pleasant as Plaa: he really has no ego or, if he does, dissembles such narcissism impeccably well as he does not interminably prattle on about himself and/or his accomplishments/publications, is readily avaliable for discussion outside of class (more or less) and is exceedingly genial (he actually greets you if you have his discussion section!) If you're a history-loving frosh who is also a sap for personalities, make Plaa's course your first history one because such a) will benefit you inasmuch as Eurpe Since 1789 is an intro course b) will allow you to lead a decadent lifestyle with impunity (it starts in the afternoon in the Spring) and c) will allow you to enjoy the class to the fullest and not be afflicted with an anticlimax malaise due to a previous entertainment of Carnes' "America Since 1945" (a mistake I made... but Dr. Plaa also has the right to be full of himself but admirably chooses not to be...he is certainly on that Foner-Carnes level). In short, do not graduate without having taken this course if you have even a modicum of interest in history.

May 2004

I absolutely loved this class. Prof. Plaa alone made me happy that I was a history major. His breadth of knowledge is beyond anything I could have imagined; Prof. Plaa is understanding, fair, and easy to approach. I highly enjoyed his lectures (although they tended to move at an extremely fast pace) and he prepares his students very well for the midterm and final. He is one of those few Ph.D's that does not live to hear the sound of his own voice (quite the of the nicest professors I've had) and communicates extremely well with his students. Although I'm a psych major now, Prof. Plaa made me almost regret leaving the history department. I highly recommend his class to anyone looking for a clear, concise, and sometimes humorous overview of European history.

Sep 2003

Professor Plaa is amazing. He is perhaps the nicest Professor I have ever had, completely devoid of a bad attitude and limitlessly available to help. He passes out detailed outlines which he sticks to, making sure to incorporate the topic headings into his lecture, so you leave the class with impeccable notes. He will read your papers before handing them in if you ask and he is a fair and kind grader. His lectures are exciting and animated. Fantastic class. Fantastic Prof.

Jun 2003

Plaa is a frequently visiting professor from NYU. He really prepares for his lectures, and crams them with as many facts as possible. He is a big fan of using statistical data to show historical trends, and will suddenly start zipping through the factory output in several different cities in northern Belgium to show how it was slowly becoming industrialized. Despite all the details, the course covers too much material too quickly to give him time to truly go into depth about any one topic. Outside of class, he is highly approachable and interesting to talk to. Overall recommended for an easy, enjoyable overview of modern European history.

May 2002

Lisa Tiersten may be the best professor you will ever have; not one of the best - THE BEST. She is fascinated with history; she is monumentally enthusiastic; she is an excellent lecturer. She will give you an outline of every lecture complete with ID's which will turn up on the study guide for both mid-terms and finals - so if you do them as you go, you will have half of your studying done by exam-time. You might really want to consider this because her exam-style is to give out prepatory essays and a slew of ID's. If you prepare the essays and the ID's you will do well - that's all there is to it. But there are a lot of essays (between 5 and 7) and ID's (around 50) to prepare. They require a good deal of thought and a really thorough knowledge of lectures, plus some of the text and readings but they show up word for word on the exam - no curve balls. While she does tend to digress, it's only because she can't stand not covering items of interest more thoroughly than she gave herself time to do on the outline. This means that she talks REALLY FAST; it's good to study with others because it's almost impossible to get it all and her lectures are she so interesting that there will be times you simply won't want to be distracted by taking notes. She really cares about her students; wants their input and will be blunt, but never rude, if she doesn't agree. She is probably the world's most popular adviser so her office hours really fill up but she will always make time - just be prepared and realise that, just like class, she will talk fast. I would take any class with this woman. She could probably make tax code exciting. Any class you take you will walk out having been thoroughly grounded in key ideas, read some excellent stuff, seen a few good movies, and , on top of it all, it's impossible not to catch her enthusiam. I wonder how many people she has converted to the major.