There's nothing new to say about Foner, he's brilliant and everyone knows it. This class, for those who have had plenty of American history, is interesting in that it covers the movements of the American left since the Revolutionary War...but there's little mention of the American right. Fitting for Columbia. Foner himself is from the radical tradition, so don't expect an unbiased class. The class is very left-wing oriented, which some people didn't like. Generally, if you're not a left-wing hippie/anarchist/communist, don't take this class.
Definitely an engaging an humorous lecturer. I agree that he really demonstrates the complexities of history without romanticizing, as some professors tend to do when they're teaching on subjects they feel strongly about. While you may find some of the radical movements more boring than others, the class provides a good overview and still allows you to examine those you find interesting in more depth. Since Prof. Foner assigns all the TA's in the department, he naturally kept the most outstanding for himself. The discussion section for this class was the only productive section i've had in my three years here; Courtney was really good at focusing the discussing and leading us to draw connections between the movements.
Everything people have said about Niki is true- she is one of the nicest people I've ever met, and certainly the best TA I have had while at Columbia. She was 100% accessible and understanding to students needs. Our section was more of a 50 minute conversation than a class. Unlike other discussion sections I have taken in the past, I genuinely came away from section with a better understanding of the course materials. I also liked that if Niki couldn't answer a specific question, she would get back to us on it asap through email. She clearly cared a lot about her students, and I know I definitely appreciated having her as a TA!
obviously knows a lot about the subject. reasonably interesting, generally organized. i got bored with some of the focus on labor history, and is general danger of thinking the radicals are mainstream, but thats the nature of the class. in general, good course.
Foner is easily the most engaging and hilarious lecturer in the history department. but contrary to what one might think having heard about his political leanings, the class is not leftist dogma at all. Foner's lecturers are full of subtletities that in fact show you that history is too complex to be described and summarized with simple labels. It's as much a study of the practice of history itself. Foner shows you various radical movements strengths and weaknesses, too, and doesn't overromantacize needlessly. Oh, yeah -- he's also awake, alive, and obviously well-prepared and very open and tolerant of people's ideas and questions. Can't say that about some of my other profs. Incredible.
WARNING TO ALL FRESHMEN AND SOPHOMORES: The class is comprised mostly by junior and senior history and english majors. I would not recommend that one begin a history major with this course. Although it is a survey course, the lectures assume that the student already has a pretty thorough background. The T.A. sections are mandatory- and are generally used to discuss readings. Although the lectures are not too difficult to follow, the weekly readings are! They are long and time consuming. Furthermore, they are a crucial part of the class because they supplement the lectures. In general, however, the course gets across one major point: history is complicated. And if youre not coming in with a solid background, youll leave this course a mighty fine dabbler, at best. Prof Foner, I might add, is brilliant, and accessible. He is extremely funny and sarcastic and has the class laughing out loud.
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.