In my four years as a history major at this university I have never had such an awful class. We were assigned about a book a week, but we almost never discussed the actual readings-- the class mostly consisted of the students going around discussing instances of personal discrimination. Or watching movies. Or talking about current events. Or how the US sucks because we occupy everyone or something and so we deserve whatever bad happens to us. Yes, it was one of those classes. Bottom line is-- don't take this class if you want to learn or discuss anything of value. No matter how hard you work or how excellent your final paper is, it won't matter. Grades are random and she will never respond to your emails. She is THE WORST professor I've ever had, and I would never recommend this class to anyone.
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!
Anyone who wrote a negative review of the powerhouse that is Elizabeth Esch is a complete and utter fool who probably should just stick to taking classes where they know that they will get an A without having to produce any writing that is actually of quality. Having Elizabeth Esch in front of the classroom is like having Jay-Z himself spitting rhymes of fire in your bedroom--it was awesome. Esch is firey, fierce, and the kind of professor that will not let anyone get away with saying an inane comment in class just for the sake of putting their arm in the air and feeling important. If I may, let me say that Elizabeth Esch is the dominatrix of the History Department-- she will own you, and you will like it. If you want to leave a lecture feeling inspired, overwhelmed, stimulated, and able to actually change the world, then you absolutely should take Esch's class. If you are afraid of being challenged by a paper or having a powerpoint slide not match up with a lecture, then I suggest you not only stay away from her class but that you immediately attach a bucket around your neck in order to capture all your tears that will most likely result from the realization that an essay concocted off a Sparknotes idea will not score you an A and then send me the concrete manifestations of your sadness for I bathe in the tears of such fools as yourself to stay young and fresh.
Esch is a phenomenal and compassionate professor. After reading a wave of negative reviews from her American Civ class (um hello guys it's an intro course, it's gonna suck!) I felt the need to defend her as hands down the best prof I have ever had at Barnard or Columbia. She is extremely interested in her students and the level of commitment and concern she shows let's you know that teaching is definitely her calling. She's great, hands down.
Professor Esch is vibrant, passionate and obviously mad about the subject she teaches. She has a wry sense of humor, and seems to enjoy student input and participation very much in the classroom (she began each lecture with "so, does anyone have anything interesting they would like to talk about?"). I found her to be an interesting and effective lecturer, but I had a problem with the prompts for our papers. We only had two papers to write over the course of the semester, along with which our participation (determined by weekly discussion postings, and an oral preparation of questions on a particular reading we were assigned in sections), and our final exam, made up our final grade. I found that many students, as well as our three TAs, were confused and a little exasperated by the essay prompts. For our first one we had to respond to a quotation by a dunning school scholar and for the second we had to write a 7-10 page research prospectus for a 40 page research paper that we would never write. The final was long-- we had 15 IDs and 2 essay questions, but was easy to prepare for because she gave us all the questions ahead of time.
These reviews are pretty much on the opposite ends of the spectrum -- and I'm pretty convinced that the reviewer below me is in my discussion section. In any case, Professor Esch is...i'm honestly not sure. I was not particularly pleased with this class, or her lecture style. She had missed a good amount of lectures because of health issues, and it may be the reason why we rushed through so many things. But this is an 1000-level history course, and I'm simply taking it for my history req. at Barnard. History isn't my forte. Esch's lectures jump around in topic a lot and she goes on these tangents that lead to the end of the class question, 'Wait what was the topic of today's lecture again'. I do agree about the readings. They are interesting (some of them, except for the unholy book, The Golden Gulag) , but she fails to integrate them properly into the lecture. The TA's are great, but an hour a week can only help us understand the readings by so much. Esch seems to concentrate on the corruption of every aspect of American history, which is a good thing. But she also assumes that we know this and that we agree with her standpoints. Her lectures are peppered with random facts and then a 5 minute long rant about 'I want you to think about this....and its effect......'. And her finals ID's will include terms like "1877" and "Feminism". Essentially, how you experience Esch's class is how you prefer your professors. She is definitely one of these professors where you can just sit back and listen, learn some interesting stuff, etc, etc. But it's not one of those classes where you can take coherent notes, and if you're that kind of person, then don't take this class. Her essay prompts are horribly unclear, and while they are challenging in a somewhat good way, her lectures did not help me at all with writing it (aka spamming my TA's inbox for dear life hoping he'd help me). I wouldn't recommend this class, but take it if you have background about American history because she probably won't help you with that. Oh and she never uploads anything she gives out/outlines onto Courseworks.
This was by far the WORST history class I have taken in my time at Barnard. The lectures are poorly organized and she rarely sticks to the outlines she has up on the screen. She also does not post any of her outlines or the syllabus online so good luck figuring out what reading to do or when something is due if you loose your syllabus. The most frustrating thing about this class was that it was full of her own personal opinion. I felt that I didn't really learn any American history. I was expected to know all the events we covered and then she just added her own opinions. These opinions could be quite offensive and when a student tried to question her, she got defensive and nasty. I can honestly say that all I know from after World War Two is that she dislikes consumerism and hates Reagan. If this was a seminar I think it would be great because there could be discussion and plenty of room for her input but for a introductory survey course, it is horrible! If you are unsure about how you feel about history DO NOT take this class. I really believe the only reason I made it through this course without screaming was because I had an amazing TA.
I really have absolutely no idea what anyone of these review are talking about! This was by far the WORST class I have ever sat through in my entire life. She teaches nothing at all. All she does is throw out her negative opinions- which 99% of the time make 0 sense- and makes it impossible to differentiate between fact and stupidity. Both paper assignments were extremely unclear, poorly written, and had little do with what we were learning. The reading list was ok except they were all pretty much silly books that got boring after awhile- not to mention she has yet to mention a single one in class and the entire final is based on those books. She reads off her notes which sound like wikipedia articles- but worse- and teaches from a slide show consisting of 3 terms per page ( of which none are explained). Perhaps every discussion section was spent bashing her and talking about how horrendous the class was. Half the time we could not even have a conversation because none of us had any idea what the hell the class was about. I really do not know how she has great reviews being that I have spoke to around 40 people in the class who HATE it. DO NOT take this class unless you want to be miserable!
Professor Esch is one of the best lecturers and professors I have had. She is passionate, engaging, and truly cares about the students' interaction with the material. She is enthusiastic and ensures that lectures are never boring. She also incorporates video footage into lectures, and is very approachable to talk to. The class itself is a great introduction to American history, though it is not a cut-and-dry names and dates course. The focus is definitely on race and social movements. Definitely take this class if Esch is teaching it!
What a phenomenal woman and intellectual. There are many professors at this University revered for their academic accomplishments and reputations but out of this pool there are few who actually can teach. Professor Esch is destined to be one of the star professors like Foner, and like Foner she is also a professor who can actually teach! She is phenomenal at conveying history and theory and communicating with students, and what makes her even more impressive is that she genuinely cares about students. She doesn't act like meeting with students constantly or regrading papers again and again is a chore but she really does all this work with enthusiasm and compassion. If she doesn't get tenure here I will seriously have to build a mass student movement to protest, she is amazing!
Prof. Esch is amazing! I took the course just to take a history course in an area I was familiar with to see how it was, and now I'm a history major considering getting a PhD in history (switched from poli sci). She is engaging, approachable, and passionate about what she was teaching. I looked forward to the readings every week. We read W.E.B. Du Bois' Black Reconstruction in America, Upton's Sinclair's The Jungle, and Fast Food Nation, among other readings. If you are looking for an introduction to the history major, or just want to take a great class, take it!
One word: awesome. Barnard got it totally right hiring her (now let's see if they can actually hold on to her). Her seminars are interesting, and she makes class discussions comfortable and engaging. Even better, I have never met a professor more helpful and approachable in office hours. (Added bonus: she is extremely down-to-earth...she's got all the brains minus the academic ego.) She takes a sincere interest in her students, and it shows both in and outside of class. Take a class with her, you won't regret it.