Professor Linn is a great seminar leader. She really made me appreciate the history we were studying, and helped me learn a lot about how to analyze historical sources, use data, and write strong historical papers. I came into Junior Colloquium expecting to be bored, but it was consistently one of my favorite classes of the week. Professor Linn mixes her own insightful comments with student participation, and at connects peoples' thoughts to the broader discussion. You basically read a book a week, or several readings. These range from more academic history books to more popular books. Some of the readings were better than others, and most people don't do all (or most?) of the reading. But Professor Linn did a great job of emphasizing the most important material in class discussions. You'll write one book review on an urban book, do a "mortality analysis" using historical data, and write a term paper on a historical urban topic of your choice. It's pretty light, and if you choose an interesting topic for your paper, that's fun. Professor Linn also gives really thorough comments on your written assignments. And she's really nice and warm in person. Is this the most exciting urban studies class you'll take? No. But Linn does a great job of making it engaging and worthwhile.
Meredith Linn is an awesome seminar leader. Every class she came prepared with some background information, larger context, and some of her own thoughts on the topic of the book we were discussing that week. Then we went on to have a larger class discussion, or split into groups, offering our viewpoints. Here Ms. Linn did an excellent job of keeping the class from veering off on tangents while still being respectful of student opinions. You could tell she occasionally found some comments stupid and/or mildly offensive but she managed to keep a straight face. Plus, she wasn't inclined to act like she knew everything about everything, which is refreshing from Columbia/Barnard faculty. With our book review and term paper, she was super approachable and helpful in terms of guiding you in the right direction. She's really just a genuinely nice, happy person. Regarding the books--it was a mixed bag. Some were super detailed, well researched, and applicable. Others were collections of obvious truisms illuminating little. Eh, what can you do.
She spends most of class name dropping politicians and asking "open-ended questions" where she expects a specific answer. We also didn't really talk about the readings, but about New York City, sometimes in ways related to the syllabus, other times not. There were several times that I wanted to shout an opinion, since that's the only way to really get heard, but just as many times where I just didn't want to bother. Just letting the clock tick down and sometimes doing reading for other classes was less aggravating. Not because she is intolerant of other opinions, though she sometimes is, but simply because it was about obscure issues in New York that I just couldn't contribute anything about, and wasn't really interested in anyway. Not a horrible class and easy enough to cruise through without doing much work (she doesn't care if work is late and you can get by without really doing reading), but not a favorite class by any means.
The course is standard regardless of the section you are in. It took a little warming up to Liz. At first I thought she was close-minded and aggressive, but as the semester progressed she became much more likeable. I would even willingly take another class with her. She doesn't take anything too seriously (aka you don't have to stress out, just enjoy the discussion and work) however she is very knowledgeable and clearly prepared for class. I liked that she let and encouraged strong discussion and disagreement. The course is reading heavy and the weekly response questions are a bit annoying and mostly useless. The hometown paper was one of my favorite papers to write so far in college.
Professor Mellis (Delia, as she goes by), faced an unfair disadvantage in that the seminar was far too large. Eighteen people is not appropriate for a class in which discussion is 40% of your grade. As such, competition to speak was intense, and impatient students cut others off while others' comment were truncated. Professor Mellis could have moderated better, being more decisive in allowing people to speak or shutting them off. Nonetheless, she is a caring and considerate professor who makes a strong effort to allow every person to tackle what is mostly well-written and interesting urban history material. The reading requires skimming from the get-go because it is so long, which is unfortunate. Professor Mellis, knows the subject well and tries to draw you into it, but would have been more successful if she lectured more. Granted, it was hard for anyone to get much more than a word in edgewise. Overall, I really enjoyed Professor Mellis but would have liked her to be more assertive, especially in clearly defining the requirements for each of the three presentations we had to complete.
When I signed up to take Gutfreund's section, I thought I was in for something special. I was terribly wrong. His teaching was uninspiring and tedious, and what makes it all the worse is that he is the DEPARTMENT HEAD of urban studies. I really expected more out of a department head. It seemed as if he wasn't very enthusiastic. I felt he was kind of dismissive of our interests and opinions and didn't do much to stimulate our interest in urban studies. What really got me, though, was when we were presenting our final research papers - 25-page papers we had clearly spent a lot of time and effort on all semester - and all Gutfreund really seemed to care about was whether we went over the ridiculously short 5-minute time limit. What's more important here?