professor
Ellen Baker

Jul 2007

This review in a nutshell: "When it comes to Baker, do yourself a favor: DON'T TAKE HER!" This class was so painstaking for what feels like so little gain... Granted, Baker was a nice person and she was very intelligent, friendly, and obviously interested and highly informed about women's issues... but this class was mostly a drag. The expectations on assignments were ambiguous--I don't think anybody quite figured out how to write an "abstract" of an article, something that sounds simple but you wouldn't believe how confusing Baker will make it. Everybody ended up doing something different and I still don't know what Baker wanted from us even though we wrote about 3 abstracts this semester. Another part of the problem is that Baker only returned two (harshly graded) assignments in the beginning of the semester (a summary and an abstract)... and then never gave anything else back with feedback/grades until about a week before the class was over. So we never had a clue about how we were doing in the class, no idea of how/what to improve, and barely an idea of how to write the "abstract"... because the one abstract she did return with a grade was nitpicked to death over the smallest minutiae and had little feedback of any real substance on it. The packet of papers she turned back a week before the class was over was the same deal—Baker will mark every tiny grammatical error until you will become paranoid and start pulling your hair out over your papers. If you make the tiniest typo, she will find it. Example: if at one point in your paper you accidentally put two spaces between two words where you (obviously) should've just put one, she will find it and mark it. (This literally happened to me.) And then if you forget to put a space before an ellipsis (...) in a quotation, she will find that too and mark it. Stuff that is obviously typos--she'll mark it up and you'll feel like the hugest jerk. So be really super paranoid about your papers and make sure you don't put a single comma out of place, because you’ll get your paper back with a B on it and there will be no comments about the content of the paper but there will be tons of markings for every possible grammatical or typographical error, no matter how small. Don't expect much in the way of comments/analysis about the content of what you wrote--you'll be lucky if you get four sentences from her on this. You will memorize the Chicago Manual of Style handbook and have nightmares about it (because you need to please someone who seems especially anal-retentive about bibliographies and footnotes--these had better follow the guidelines perfectly), but you will learn relatively nothing about feminist methodology--which supposedly was the real point of the class. We spent weeks and weeks obsessing over a group research project on Mormon women which was interesting at first until it dragged out forever... (it consisted of assignments to write things like "primary source reports" which again had unclear guidelines so everybody did it differently, not really knowing what was expected). And in the beginning of the semester we read a lot of articles on feminist methods/theories... that were never really connected to the research projects we did later... so you were left wondering what the point of having read all that was, if we weren't going to actually be taught how to apply it... and the methods/theories themselves were poorly explained in class. For example, if you knew what the "deconstructionist method" was before you got to this class, you understood it. If you didn't, you still don't know what it is. Some students asked for explanations and said they didn't understand it, to which she replied something along the lines of "Oh, well that's okay if it doesn't quite make sense right now. We'll flesh this out later"... basically, she didn't answer their questions then and she never did because we never did "flesh it out later." Don't expect fast replies to questions sent via email either. Generally it's better to hunt her down in person or else you'll be waiting for days. The best class we had was taught by Sarah Witte, the librarian. One good thing about the class is you'll learn how to use Columbia's databases to find just about anything (especially primary sources), but you don't really need Baker in order to do that (just talk to a reference librarian). I also happened to like my classmates and thought the dynamic between the students was a good one (everyone talked a fairly equal amount and everyone was respectful/helpful to each other). And again, I'll reiterate that I think Baker was intelligent and well-meaning. But I definitely would NOT take another class with her (and definitely not a small discussion-based class… maybe she's better in lectures, especially since the TAs will grade your papers instead) and I definitely would've dropped this class if it wasn't a required course for Women's Studies majors. I got a good grade in the class (so my criticisms don't stem from dissatisfaction with my final grade), but struggling to get through this class put me on the brink of tears too many times for me to recommend that anyone else should take it with this professor.

Dec 2006

A great professor that will keep you engaged in lecture even at 9 in the morning, not to mention funny and enthusiastically helpful. Her office hours were the best I've gone to at Columbia. The course itself has such a wide range of material that most people will find at least a third of it utterly-to-mildly boring, but Professor Baker's contextualization of every bit of info given makes the boring stretches well worth it.

Aug 2004

The class is defnitely informative, though the overall structure could be improved upon. In the lectures, she basically gave an introduction and outline to the topics, and left the rest to us, which sometimes felt like a lot of holes to deal with. Material was also sometimes dry for a 9 am class, though anything would seem dry that early in the morning. However, I would still recommend the class. Baker is very helpful and encouraged everyone to visit her during office hours, which you should definitely take her up on. Greatest word of caution that must be reiterated: in the words of the previous reviewer, choose you TA wisely, because it can completely ruin your experience.

Jun 2004

Professor Baker managed to keep the class interesting, while keeping all of us awake despite the class beginning at 9:10am! Professor Baker is awesome. She remained approachable, composed, and pleasant despite the TA strike which undoubtedly bogged her down with grading all of the papers, finals, and revisions from a class large enough to require 3 TA's! I highly reccommend History of the American West and professor Baker particularly. As for the TA's, check Culpa, and choose your section wisely !

Aug 2001

An overall nice person; but knowledge is generally not stunning and impressive in the way that one would expect from Columbia. A competent instructor, but course not spectacular enough to accomodate into a tight schedule.

May 2001

I completely disagree with the above review. Professor Baker is intelligent, committed, and understanding. Although she might not be the most inspiring teacher I've ever had, I walk out of her CC class with a firm grasp of the material and memories of some great discussions. Baker's flaw, if anything, is that she is not active enough in steering class discussions and will often hold herself back from shooting down students' opinions, even when they are, in all fairness, complete bullshit. That's a small nit to pick, though, and if you draw Baker for CC you can expect a solid grounding in the texts and an enjoyable trip through the canon. One more thing to know about Baker: never, ever crack a Barnard joke in class. She'll take it badly.

Jan 2000

This course covers working conditions, culture, union and political struggles... it is a basic synthesis of the experiences of working class men and women (there's quite a bit on women!) from 1880-2000. I learned a ton. Baker is extremely approachable, and sooo nice! Very smart, too. Her lectures are very easy to follow. I would reccomend the course to anyone.

Jan 2000

If you plan on majoring in U.S. history or American studies, this course is absolutely seminal, a "must have" for the understanding of this country's past and development. However, if the title doesn't sound interesting to you and you're not a U.S. scholar, stay away. Baker's lectures are solid, fact-filled, and energetic enough to keep you awake even at 9 am. The textbook is absolutely worthless, but Baker makes up for it with the primary source reader she compiled especially for you, which is fascinating. Depending on your TA, it's possible that you will have lots of fun in the mandatory weekly section which mainly consists of discussion of those primary source readings.

Jan 2000

Among the most terrible experiences in my Columbia career. She seemed to have little grasp of the material and never had her own point of view of the texts read. Taking cc with her really made me doubt the validity of the core.