I came out of this class with very mixed feelings. So rather than ramble, I'll list the pros and cons. PROS: - Professor Esch is an inspiring, engaging, fascinating lecturer. I always came out of this class thinking about something she had said. She was really good at weaving a narrative of history that crossed the normal divisions of historiography. She was also very successful at engaging students during lectures which could be tedious at times but overall was a good thing. - The primary source material, specifically the government documents, was really informative and interesting. CONS: - The syllabus tried to cover way too much and as a consequence, covered very little. To cover the history of the US in the world from 1776 to the present is simply too much. Our lectures began to run a week or two behind the readings, which got very confusing. This course should either be more focused thematically or chronologically to avoid these problems. - The reading material was way too light and one-sided. While I agreed with a lot of the authors we read, there was very little conversation going on between them. Our core text by Sidney Lens was very unscholarly, making baseless claims. The other books were good but we should have read some articles as well to widen our perspective. We got a very narrow, leftist point-of-view of history that really should have been broader. Overall, I'm glad I took the class. I wish we had covered a lot more material or else covered the material more in-depth but with some tweaking, this could be an awesome class.
An argument against the critiques of Esch: 1) "She doesn't use facts in her lectures, only her opinions" No. First of all half of what she talks about the most in class are POLICIES. These are real legislative documents that exist. Half of my notes for this class are various laws, acts, executive orders, or Supreme Court rulings. Also she frequently brings in statistics and raw numbers relating to the economic conditions of what period she is talking about. Also the reading she assigns is loaded with numbers and facts, but if that isn't reassuring enough here are some numbers for you to look at: 457579348577. That just happened! that is a fact! Feel better? 2) "Her lectures aren't organized" No. She has a microsoft work document up on the screen at all times that has key terms and dates that take place during the period she is discussing. If you find yourself in class and are frightened and confused simply lift up your head and point your eyes at the screen and then read the words, this should help with your feeling of bewilderment. 3) "She's biased!" Yes. Everyone is, just sometimes we don't agree with it or sometimes people don't make interesting or compelling arguments to back up their own arguments. As already noted in #1 Esch uses many facts and statistics as evidence for her particular interpretation of history. Every professor you take a class with is biased, whether its history, literature, economics, or science. There is no way to convey knowledge to other without interpretation and through this process we must use our own subjectivity. If you don't agree with her politics then fine, but to say her politics make her a bad professor is ridiculous. I've had many professors who are liberals and I don't agree with their politics but some suck at teaching and others don't, see the difference?
Professor Esch is by far the worst professor I have had so far in the history department at Columbia or Barnard. People complain about her spewing her views in class, which is true, but that is not the main reason why I find her to be such a bad teacher. Indeed, it was sometimes very nice when she brought in modern comparisons and she begins discussions in lecture. The problem is that she has no facts whatsoever, she zips through her lectures, which are highly disorganized, and does not support any of her claims or give any insight deeper than what one receives in a middle or high school education of the subject. I took US in the World with Professor Esch, and she focused the whole time on racial relations in the United States proper instead of focusing on foreign interactions and wars (which I would have expected from the US in the world course). When we did talk about foreign affairs, it always had the bent of a racial thesis. There was never any in depth facts about anything in the course, rather just platitudes about how the US treats other races awfully. This is not to say that the US doesnâ€™t treat other races awfully, but simply that Esch did not teach the class I signed up for, and the class she clearly was trying to teach, about American Racial Relations was fraught with a lack of narrative and facts. She is all over the place and awful. If she is teaching a class about race relations, fine, but if she is teaching anything about general US history, STAY AWAY!