I would have to disagree with the other review about Prof. Conant. I personally liked Prof Conant's lectures and found them to be very stimulating. Also, he gave outlines during each class and a small map so that you could keep up or get from Courseworks if you missed class....he's pretty organized!! As a person, he can stay focused on anything he talks about without going off on tangets (unlike other profs in the department!)....I went to office hours and to talk to him and found him to be the sweetest person within the histor department. He's got a PhD from Harvard and knows his stuff, but he's definitely down to earth and easy to talk to. Overall, a gem.
Professor Conant is by no means the greatest history professor one might encounter at Columbia. That said, however, he is among the better ones. His lectures are extremely informative but rather uninspiring. On occassion, however, he manages to sparkle and infuse his talks with some quality beyond the mere fact dump. This occurred, however, more typically toward the beginning of the semester. Toward the end, unfortunately, he seemed to rush through broad and important topics like "Towns and Trade" at one point even conceding that "we gotta get through this stuff" as if it were a heavy burden. Prof. Conant might want to consider severing the post-Carolingian period from his syllabus since it seemed to have held comparatively little interest for this Early Medieval North Africa specialist. For someone who devoted a surprising amount of the class' energy on economic history, he seemed to be captivated very little by it and would give stilted, canned answers to questions of that regard. Nevertheless, for any question of political or religious significance, particularly in the middle portion of the period (from the Romans through the Carolingians) Conant is virtually an unparalleled expert with whom it is inspiring to speak. If only he could have brought more often the passion of such conversations to each and every lecture. A definite plus was Lee, the class' TA, who is among the most fantastic I've experienced at Columbia. He brought important concepts integral to the class alive in ways Prof. Conant sometimes failed to do, and at that was adamant in his insistence we learn proper, sceptical methods of documentary interpretation.
This class overall was very interesting and thorough. Professor Conant as well is very thorough, and I would recommend taking a course with him. HOWEVER, if you expect an interactive professor who engages the class during the lesson then look at other options, because Conant would not be your man. He is the archetype of an academic lector, although not at all a boring one, but one nonetheless. If you ask him a question during the specified five minutes before class is dismissed he'll give you a stale answer. If you email him a question he emails you back within 48 hours with something much more thorough. The TA for our class, Lee H., was very nice and extremely helpful but also a difficult grader who hardly gives out any A's, likewise he almost never gives out anything lower than a B.
Sorry folks, Prof. Conant is only teaching here this year because both Adam Kosto at Columbia AND Joel Kaye at Barnard are on leave. Next year *sniff* he'll probably go back to Harvard or something. Too bad, he's really cool. Early Medieval North Africa was my first seminar, and it is HARD AS HELL, but really interesting. I won't review the class, because if you're reading this, it's too late to sign up. But you CAN take him for Later Middle Ages in the Spring... I can't predict how well he'll do at that, since he's an early middle ages specialist, but I anticipate he'll probably do a good job. BUT it's a pity you can't take this class w/ Prof. Kaye, who is great! Maybe wait a year??? hmm...
Prof. Conant is incredibly organized, approachable, and understnading individual. There are handouts for every lecture to help you when you review for the exams. There is a midterm, final, and a paper due the last week of class- the topic is basically up to you so feel free to pick any interesting primary soure to write about! His grading is definitely fair and I would recommend him to anyone interested in learning about the Middle Ages. He shows you all kinds of cool slides and makes learning about the time period really interesting. :)