Barbara Fields

May 2021

I took this class because I thought it would be a good idea to take a course on American history, and this one / Professor Fields had "life changing" reviews. Having completed the course I would say those reviews are off. The only "life changing" info the course offered was Field's idea/book "Racecraft." Ideas related to this aspect of the course have definitely shifted my thinking (as someone who has already learned a lot about critical race theory, etc in college) but you could get it from watching an interview with her and/or reading her book. Her takes on the American colonies are also interesting— but that's only the first few weeks of the class. As others have mentioned it's a LOT of reading and most of it feels EXTREMELY specific/unnecessary. I'm talking like 10-15 pages about mules in Virginia specific. Also, I found her lecturing style kind of strange. It's exactly like she's just reading a book out loud— not very conversational or engaging. Unless you're majoring in American history or have some reason for being really into the South, I feel like your time could be better spent elsewhere... ALSO NOTE that she apparently has her own grading system (which I only discovered after I received my final grade because it was not referenced anywhere on the syllabus— NOT COOL!). You have to get above a 96 overall to get an A!

Aug 2020

This is an extraordinary class that completely changed the way I understand America's founding myths. Professor fields is an absolute legend, surpassingly articulate and fearsomely smart. Her lectures read like cogent essays, sprinkled with moments of humor and even the occasional accent or impression--a welcome release during otherwise intense, adrenaline-pumping classes. The readings are long and dense but completely worth the time, and TA's help you figure out how to triage and summarize main points in discussions. It's an extraordinary look at a part of the country so often written off by New Yorkers and other Northeasterners like me, but it's more than that; Fields will reframe your entire perception of American history through the lens of race and class. Even if you don't take the class (WHICH YOU SHOULD), read her book, Racecraft, and you'll get an idea of her biting Marxist take on the American class struggle and the invention of race.

May 2018

Professor Fields is one of the most incredible professors that Columbia has to offer. Although initially intimidating, she is a warm spirit that is truly interested in cultivating the next generation of future historians. While she does read from a sheet during lecture, her insights are so fascinating and particular that I never felt bored. With that said, Professor Fields expects a great deal from her students, particularly illustrated in her decision to assign on average 200 pages of reading a week. You are also expected to complete reading journals accompanying each of the texts and should be incredibly familiar with not the only major themes of the texts, but particular details. This is all made easier by the fact that Professor Fields has the most amazing TAs on campus. My TA was Scot McFarlane, and he not only had an incredible grasp on the material but also ensured that everyone felt encouraged to participate in discussion by not only having us discuss the material all together but regularly splitting us into small groups of 2-3 to tackle particularly difficult topics. Our discussion section became one of my favorite parts of the week. The TAs (Scot and Lindsey) also held two review sessions before both the midterm and final which I highly recommend attending as they give you a clear understanding of what they personally are expecting, and help clear up questions on IDs that may not have been covered. I absolutely recommend this class to anyone at Columbia, but particularly encourage History majors to take the opportunity to learn and listen to a leading individual in the field. I do warn that you must be committed to this class, particularly in keeping up with the readings, as it is necessary for the midterm, final, and research paper.

Jul 2015

History of the South was a really interesting class. It gave me a view of the South that I'd never seen before, and Professor Fields definitely made an effort to look at all sides of a lot of issues--not just spinning the popular interpretation, as many professors do, but really positing her own deeply thought-out conclusions about things. She was a pretty intimidating woman, though, and didn't really invite people to question her interpretations or to participate in any sort of discussion. The readings were generally very long, but usually fascinating. Discussing them in section was usually one of my favorite parts of the week, especially because my TA, Lindsey, was THE best TA I've ever had or will ever have. Lindsey knew the texts inside and out and really knew how to explain the complicated issues that Professor Fields didn't get into in class. She also required us to turn in multiple stages of our final paper ahead of time, which made me much more time-conscious on the paper and made for a much better paper in the end. Lindsey's line edits on our papers were also priceless.

Feb 2014

By far the best professor I've had at Columbia. If it weren't for this class, which, admittedly, I stumbled into during my sophomore spring and almost dropped after the first lecture, I wouldn't have decided to major in history and would have no idea what to do with my life. A Marxist of the old-fashioned sort that we don't see too often these days, Fields is explicit in her approach to history. I learned in her course what type of distinctions count as historically meaningful, what particular features of the past count as explanations rather than things to be explained, and how to begin to distinguish a particular society at a particular time from any other at multiple levels of analysis (economic, political, ideological, artistic, etc.). She is extremely attentive to detail, and insists on proper use of terminology (expect to be corrected on things you've never even thought of), especially concerning race. Having never previously questioned the validity of the concept of race, her lectures on the subject were particularly revealing for me. I could go on, but you can spare yourself my gushing if you simply TAKE HER CLASS. If you're a junior or a senior looking to find those classes you missed out on before you started digging into your major, this is one of them. If you're a freshman or a sophomore still figuring out what you want to study, take this class and the decision should be pretty easy (major in history).

May 2011

Professor Fields does have her idiosyncrasies. She does not use email, she does not collect any written work except your final paper proposal until the last day of class, she does care about the formatting of footnotes, and she will give you a 12 page document of her written style and word usage pet peeves. She will also treat you with more respect in the classroom (which entails challenging you to really substantiate your assertions and back up your reasoning) than almost any other professor I have had. Fields is initially intimidating, but incredibly kind (go to her office hours) and a brilliant and accomplished scholar. Disregard the negative reviews. If you are prepared to work hard and to be taken seriously, take this class.

Apr 2009

All the bad reviews were clearly written by one person because this woman is one of the kindest most accommodating Professors at Columbia. Kindness, however, should not be mistaken for intellectual coasting -- she is a very opinionated and intelligent and she will tell you when you are being an idiot. She is very incisive in her historical analysis and made me look at history from a new perspective, but that being said, I can't call her one of the greats of the History department. There are some lectures that are fascinating in which she makes a decisive and insightful point about Southern history. But, at other times, it feels like I'm listening to the audio book of a high school text book, her just listing important events and dates. All in all, you'll learn a lot and her lecture and article on Race and Ideology is a must. She's really good, but not great.

Dec 2008

Fields is one of the great lecturers of the history department. If you leave columbia without taking her class, especially as a history major, you've missed something very special. Her lectures are pieces of literature that will probably be published as a book someday. You should probably have some background in American history before you take the course otherwise it might seem overwhelming, but if you have Matt Spooner as your TA, you should be fine as he is really good. If you have Gregory Baggett, however, look out. The man is insane and made a girl cry in my section because she didn't have good manners when entering the room. Baggett is the greatest danger in this course, but even if you have to brave his insanity, it might still be worth it to get to take the course with Fields. I know many people who became history majors after taking her course.

Jun 2008

Best class of my year—most rewarding, most interesting, and most insightful. A class, especially a history class, should be more than the sum of its reading list, and Professor Fields’ History of the South excelled in that regard, an impressive feat considering the high quality of the assigned texts. Nonetheless, don’t enter the class expecting to tackle the reading list. I doubt I finished half of it, and agree with other reviewers that it is an unreasonable amount. I’m far less likely to read even 200 pages a week if 450 have been assigned, which was not uncommon in this class, whereas I’m more likely to read 200 pages if only 200 pages are assigned. Weekly response pages increase the burden and hold you accountable for the reading, however attention in class, selective reading, and the occasional JSTOR book review can keep you on track and engaged. Professor Fields is an impressive and powerful lecturer and very open to undergraduates in office hours. Be warned though—she is very particular about word choice, which can make asking questions difficult (“Do you really mean ‘fundamental’? I don’t think X was ‘fundamental’ at all.”), and she insists on using the phone rather than email. In this regard, having a great TA (as my class did) makes a huge difference, especially since s/he grades all undergraduate work. Workload and communication qualms aside, I highly recommend this class. A serious, honest effort can earn you an A, but more importantly give you a huge appreciation of Southern history.

Sep 2007

This is still the best lecture class I have ever taken, even if it is at a much higher level than most any taught at CU.

Apr 2004

I'm pass/failing this class so that I can concentrate on other classes in my major. Having said that, I like Professor Fields. I don't think she's as mean as people claim because when she smiles her whole face lights up. Mean people dont smile that way. But she assigns a lot of reading material, takes attendence during every lecture (sign in sheet), politely requests that students not stuff their faces during lectures, and requests that students arrive on-time. I think those are reasonable requests. Habitually tardy students and food chompers are unbelievably annoying. Yes it's a hard class, but you will learn things not tought elsewhere and emerge from this class with a new outlook even if you pass/fail it. Besides, this is Columbia!

Oct 2003

Professor Fields is one of the most inspiring and challenging professors I have had at Columbia. She takes a historical problem or question, measures its precise dimensions, and then deftly slices it open to make visible its structure. In other words, her analyses are incisive and highly enlightening. She is relentlessly logical, and demands a high level of thought and writing from her students. This can seem like a heavy load to bear as a student, but it's quite worth it. No professor has ever given me as much thoughtful feedback on my papers as Prof. Fields.

Jan 2003

The problem with Professor Fiedls is not whether or not she teaches well. it is an established fact that she is a magnificent historian with immense talent. What concerns us students is whether a teacher can inspire you, can spawn an interest, and can cultivate your respect for the subject. While Professor Fields may teach you the mechanics of history, she will revulse you from the art and significance of history. Nagging students about footnotes and innundating them with undoable workloads will only revulse students from the subject. While Professor Fields may be hailed as a great historian, she utterly fails to be anywhere near a great teacher.

Jan 2003

Some of the negative comments made in earlier reviews of Professor Fields are really misleading. If you are willing to put effort into the class and keep up with the heavy workload, taking a class with Professor Fields will be a very rewarding experience. She is extremely intelligent and her comments constantly challenged me to reinterpret and reconsider the works that we read in class. She is very warm and accessible during her office hours and will be happy to give you personal attention and detailed comments on your work. Because she has high standards and is a demanding professor, I found myself becoming much more engaged with the reading and the papers, and ultimately found the experience far more satisfying than many other classes I have taken. Her seminar is one of the best classes that the history department has to offer.

Jan 2003

I just wanted to speak up in Professor Fields' defense- I was shocked to see how many people hated "People of the Old South." Professor Fields is often serious, but not mean (she's very friendly during office hours), and as far as I saw in class she does not try to make students feel bad. I thought she was a basically warm person who was very serious about history. She IS very demanding. On the one hand, this means that her responses to your in-class comments will usually be humbling, her grading is tough and meticulous and the workload is very high. On the other hand, it means that, unlike most other professors I've had, she actually takes your work and comments seriously. When you bust your ass to write a 12 page paper, most professors and TA's will only write a short paragraph of comments at the end, and maybe a few in the margins. Fields actually engages with your arguments and writes detailed responses- to everything: the weekly journal entries that she has collected, your rough draft, and your final paper. If you have the time to spend on these things, she gives back as much as she expects, which is saying a lot. She's intelligent and inspiring and I learned a lot in her class. DONT take this class if you don't want this kind of challenge. I wanted a challenge and I really enjoyed and looked forward to this class.

Dec 2002


Dec 2002

Okay, admittedly I took this class 13 years ago, but I can see things haven't changed for Prof. Fields since 1989. I admire her commitment to making students work hard, but it's the nitpicking I object to. When I took the class, she actually took points off essay questions if you wrote OUTSIDE THE MARGINS in the blue book! Jeez! Lighten up lady!

Dec 2002

I am writing this review in response to the prior comments about Professor Fields. This teacher is fantastic if you know what you are getting into. She will inspire and elevate you. I would recommend students to enroll only if they have time to dedicate to this class. It is a difficult yet rewarding and enriching experience. She will question your every thought, analyse every word, and force you to construct your thoughts with total accuracy. This class is many roled into one: history, philosophy, writing.....great experience

Dec 2002

If you want to enjoy college, then one word of advice: avoid this class. let me repeat, AVOID THIS CLASS!!!!!! (not only the class but the Professor as well) It will ruin your semester. This teacher is apathetic to students, harsh in her teaching methods, and ruthless in her grading. The experience was so demoralising that I sincerely wish that no other students sign up for her class. (Imagine this scenario: I am a history major and have gotten A's in all my history classes. I will be ecstatic if I pull of a B- in this class.)

Nov 2002

If you take a class with Barbara Fields, I feel confident it will be the WORST experience of your life. There is absolutely nothing positive about this woman.She is cold and heartless, unaccessible and unapproachable. I walk out of her class every week and feel completely demoralized about my intelligence and my character. Her grading is simply mean, she works so hard to prove to you that you did a bad job and to make you feel stupid and inferior to her and to the rest of the class (when in truth she is mean to everyone). Unless you enjoy doing obsessive amounts of work, with overly harsh, demoralizing criticism, Fields should be avoided. Avoid this woman like the plague.

Nov 2002

ok guys, let me be blunt, do not take this class unless you are a historiography nut who enjoys reading 800pages a week, submitting weekly 4-5 pages jounral entry, and being totally demoralised as a historian because you do not know how to rpoperly format your papers. Fields is a cold, self-elevating, and demanding professor whose iddeology of instilling self-confidence in her students ends up revulsing them from the subject of history. this is the type of class where you will forms eternal bonds of sympathy and friendship with your classmates and you will whine and moan and cry on each other's shoulders the entire semester, lamenting the ridiculous fact that you willingly signed up for it in the first place. this class is conducted like a graduate seminar course and she requires to accomplish work that goes far beyond the normal capacity of any student. i warn you, unless you love the topic, or for some mystical reason the teaching methods of Barabra Fields, do not sign up for this course. if you have, may God have mercy on your soul, this class will dictate a horrific semester.

Jan 2000

This course covers the creation of Race, the history of the South, and how the American dream was a crock for African-Americans (as well as most white Americans). Fields is very friendly, although she can appear and come off to be quite intimidating. Her delivery is bland and dry, but the information is very interesting. I recommend this course to any aspiring United States history majors, or anyone interested in learning about the creation of race.. and of the history of the South and its significance for the United States. Fields is definitely to the LEFT, politically -- she's not a wishy washy liberal. She's pretty left and pretty vocal, but it takes time to get it out of her. She's also (the only?) African american female tenured professor in the history department, and indeed at Columbia university. She's considered to be one of THE authorities in her field, and she's quite prominent and reputable. She's quite intimidating, but it's worth getting over the fear because you can learn alot from her. She certainly change many points of view I held prior to meeting her.