Nancy Collins

This professor has earned a CULPA silver nugget

Jun 2011

This is the section that you want to be in, if you're ready to work very hard and learn a ton. Professor Collins is tough but cool. She asks a lot of students, but meets them more than half way. I knew nothing about Hegel, Nietzsche, or Kant when I came into the class. Some of the other students were already familiar with the texts, but for me, they were all new. It wasn't a problem because Collins was thorough, starting discussions by bringing out a few key points, usually controversial ones to get everyone talking, and then letting the students take it from there. The seminar room was never quiet, and it was pretty much non-stop debate/discussion. It's all pretty informal, but don't be misled the casual style, it's way serious and intense, just done in a quiet way. If you're looking to coast thru CC, you should skip this section, because Prof Collins expects everyone to make a contribution to each and every class. It's at whatever level you want to, and in my class, students' comments went from high-level/smart, to somewhat ill-formed, but you gotta say something. And that's what I loved about this class. Everyone's involved; it's super-focused; and even if you're only half paying attention, you'll learn much.

Jun 2011

If you want to walk into class every day scared and ready to be made to feel stupid, then Nancy Collins is your ideal CC professor. The workload is a joke (seriously how can a CC class only have 10-20 pages of reading per class), but she overcompensates by asking ridiculously hard questions that are usually beyond the scope of the reading. She gives a list of related readings which consists of 4 or 5 books that are pertinent to the assignment and somehow expects that everyone has read them. Often when a student asked a meaningful questions she would respond, "Did you read the additional readings?". Obviously no one is going to spend their time reading those extra books and inevitably Professor Collins would then simply not answer the question and instead suggest that the student read the extra books. She also can get very defensive in class and during office hours, often blatantly denying things she said in class and getting upset and aggressive when pushed on those issues. Overall, the class was really disappointing for me. If you're someone who wants to read the texts and get something out of the class Professor Collins is not for you. However, if the appeal of minimal reading and no papers is enough to make you sit through two hours of terror twice a week she is not a bad option. My takeaway from the class was that Professor Collins is a great teacher, but she simply did not care about CC. She likes talking about how much she knows about all of the authors but gives her students only a superficial understanding of the ideas in the texts. Her not having long readings and no papers is not because of some lofty interpretation of the role of CC (as she says it is), but probably just because she doesn't want to spend her time preparing or grading papers (and I can't really blame her). Ultimately, her combination of cold-calling, ridiculous questions, and absurd standards made the classroom at best uncomfortable and sometimes a little hostile.

May 2011

Many people in my class didn't seem to like this woman. But I adored her. As someone with no background or prior interest in this stuff, I can tell you that I learned more from this class than from any class I've ever taken. Why? (1) Nancy knows what's up. She seems to have spent half of her life pouring over the complete works of Kant (and Hume, Mill, Marx, Freud, et cetera—probably all of them), and the other half traveling around the world to hang out with nearly every political leader and diplomat you can name. So, when she ends a thought with "frankly," what she means is "as I've gathered from the last twenty-five years of my research and experience." On the rare occasions when she says she really isn't sure about the answer to a question you ask her, she probably means that she's read only a dozen or so books on the subject. (2) She has clearly spent a long time thinking about the best way to approach the material, the goals of CC as a course, and how to structure the class in order to reflect these goals. A typical class involves Nancy bursting in with a big smile, asking us all how we are (she brought chocolate once on a visibly awful day for everyone in midterms season), calling people at random to ask—fairly informally—their initial thoughts on the reading. She will then ask two students who have been assigned to prepare discussion questions to write their prompts on the board; while they do, she will give some useful contextual points about the author (not just "here are some things that were going on in the world that are worth knowing," but "here are some things you should know about Hannah Arendt that will make her arguments a lot easier to wrap your brain around"). The rest of the class ends up being, miraculously, an entirely student-led discussion in which Nancy will intervene only occasionally when the discussion isn't getting to the heart of the author's argument or that, as she would say, isn't going in a "pedagogically useful" direction. Whether you are usually shy or fairly talkative in class settings like this, you and your peers will learn a lot from each other, even when you forget that Nancy is sitting at the head of the table. That said… (3) Nancy is demanding. She insists that you call her Professor Collins. She bans the word "interesting" from class discussions. She gives you extremely short excerpts from each author, as long as twenty pages to as short as three, with the expectation that you will spend as much time on each assignment as you would if it were 100 pages. For the same reason, she expects that you will eventually read more of the author's work and look at some of the secondary sources she lists on the syllabus (not always necessary, but certainly useful for her exams). She will get somewhat passive-aggressive if you ask a question she's already answered ("I think we've already gone over that," for example) and avoid answering questions that she thinks would be more instructive for you to figure out on your own. She will make fairly obvious who her favorite and least favorite students are by making both feel awkward in front of the whole class. Basically, if you're caught texting or unprepared for class… get ready. In spite—or, I think, because—of all this, Nancy is still a brilliant teacher. Though she sometimes makes the class feel like a needlessly intimidating graduate seminar, she is very sensitive to every student's level of comfortability and familiarity with the material. She will never let you feel totally lost and is always willing to take a step back to break down the more difficult parts of the course. Her class really is, as a previous reviewer said, a uniquely intense, focused learning experience. You may feel totally frustrated with it at the time, but ultimately, you won't regret being in her section.

Mar 2011

Brilliant. Professor Collins is extremely knowledgeable about European affairs and transatlantic history. You'll learn about modern Europe over the last couple hundred years, and how the idea of Europe has been in transformation (economic) religious, legal, political, etc), caused by various big conflicts/wars as well as new ideas/innovations (science & technology). Topics include national unity movements in 19th century (think Germany; Italy); as well as Greater Europe movements (think some WWI and WWII leaders), as well as more peaceful transitions (European Community to European Union), as well as Europe and the World (so, colonization/decolonization; engagement with the United States; trade with China and Southeast Asia, Northern and Western Africa, etc) Lively class discussions and thought-provoking themes. Course asks the big questions.

Jul 2010

Professor Collins made CC what I never thought it could be: interesting, engaging, and most significantly, not boring. The depth and breath of Professor Collins' knowledge really enriched class discussions. She did an excellent job of answering student questions and outlining the material. Pedagogically very very good- did a great job of translating that to the students. She effectively provoked class discussion. She was very approachable and I admire her a lot for her dedication to our class. Thanks to her, our class is anything but a stereotypical CC class: it is a unique, focused learning experience.

Jan 2010

Professor Collins is an absolutely wonderful teacher. I learned a lot from her course and always looked forward to attending. She had an appropriate mix of lecture and discussion and was effective at including everyone in the class. Her extensive knowledge of the subject area is truly impressive. She is one of the few professors who is evidently incredibly brilliant but also very approachable. The best part of the course was learning how to interpret primary source material -- it was challenging but very valuable as a historiographical skill which we do not get to practice much. The emphasis placed on connections between historical themes across time and national boundaries in this course is extremely valuable in understanding the history of modern Europe. The research paper in particular was very rewarding. I will absolutely try to take another course with Professor Collins.

Dec 2009

A heads up to anyone considering this course: the two 15% "response papers" each require 50 sources minimum, all from the same academic journal/newspaper, an endnote library, bibliography and photocopies of the sources. In total, these took about 20 hours each to complete. Not to mention the final 10 page paper, also 50 sources, but at least not all from the same journal. Collins is nice and full of fun, interesting stories about world leaders who she's met, but about an hour of each class is spent listening to her stories, talking about the news, etc. All this is really awesome if you don't want to talk about the reading (which is very light, just a few primary docs a week) but ultimately a waste of time. She is extremely knowledgeable, thoroughly informed about euro history, definitely an expert in her field (she's the head of the Euro Research institute) but I would NOT recommend this class.

Jun 2008

This class was excellent! My first history seminar, I walked away with an exponentially better knowledge of the French Revolution than when I first started. Nancy Collins rocked as well-she is brilliant and funny and really makes things interesting and informative. Do make sure you pay attention and that you hand in your assignments on time-she really has no patience for people spacing out or turning in things late. The workload is pretty good for a history seminar-2 3-page papers and 1 15-page research paper. The readings until the last 3 weeks are 4-5 pages of primary documents-that's it! At the end they are 30-40 pages, still not alot! Absolutely recommended if you like history!

Apr 2008

Professor Collins starts off class either by asking everyone to write a word or phrase on the board taken from the reading that really seems important to them OR going around the table, cold-calling on whomever she pleases, until the discussion starts to carry itself. Be aware that she will ask everyone to bring in a precis every Monday (except for Mondays that papers are due) which is basically a one page single-spaced argument about one extremely focused topic taken from the reading for that day. She will also make everyone sign up for a Wednesday on which they will prepare questions for the class to help focus the readings and then to lead the class discussion for 15 minutes or so. Leading the discussion is not too bad if you do the readings (and a big plus with Collins is that she'll shorten the readings into EXTREMELY manageable chunks - she's more interested in you doing some pretty close reading of the small bits than trying to cram the whole thing into an evening), and she'll usually jump in and take it away from you if you start to run out of steam. She is pretty darn up on her history, so prepare for a lot of historical context behind each and every work. That is my one complaint with her, really - a little heavy on the history, a little light on the content. Other than that, she's a pretty laid back lady - she let us sign up to bring in snacks every class (I'm talking about bagels from Nussbaum, muffins, apples and bananas - good spreads!) and she twice supplied us herself with cupcakes from Magnolia! She is cool with you volunteering information and loves to see you tie things from class into current events or interesting historical events. Important things to know: Tended toward a history lecture more than I would have liked, good bite-sized chunks of the text that are manageable, pretty chill (though she does have a sort of passive agressive manner about things if you tick her off).