Diversifying Your Syllabus with the Library

5 September 2023

Some time ago, I began a conversation with Claudia Peterson (Head of Reference and Instruction) and Brie Baumert (Reference and Instruction Librarian for Languages and Cultures) about how the library and the LTC could collaborate to help faculty interested in diversifying their courses.  The result is a rich new Library Guide, Diversifying Course Content: A Resource for Faculty.

When our courses connect with our students’ lives, experiences, and identities, they help create the sense of belonging and relevance that are so important to good environments for learning. But it can be time consuming to change readings and examples and to rethink topics to be more inclusive. Fortunately, we have a great community to turn to at Carleton for help. The library liaisons are key partners in this work.  There is some great advice from colleagues on several recent LTC panels:

And, finally, I thought I’d share a strategy that I am finding helpful which include an important shout out to a Carleton alum, Dr. Jacqueline Lombard (Lecturer in Art and Art History at the University of New Hampshire), who has very generously shared her wide knowledge of medieval racial attitudes and contemporary conversations about the field.

As I have been working on my own courses, I have found that it is often easier to diversify the course content (for example, by going global and by attending more carefully to LGBTQIIA+ histories, disability history, the history of color prejudice and race), than it is to diversify the scholarly voices that we read and study. Searching for authors who are writing in the global South or who actively connect their historical work with their identities is a bit more time consuming.  The search has, however, led me to some wonderful work that I might have missed otherwise.

Using the approaches to course development that I have tended to use in the past like identifying books from publishers who are likely to produce interesting and affordable materials or scanning journals and databases for articles on interesting topics can replicate the dominance of majority scholars in England and America.  It is an interesting and worthwhile challenge to work in the other direction by identifying scholars from previously marginalized groups and regions and then figuring out how to highlight their work. 

As Brie recommends in the library guide, professional organizations and conferences have been a key resource for me.  For example, the Race B4 Race conference series based at Arizona State’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies features global scholars who are eager to bring new approaches to the field of medieval studies.  Here an important and debated topic (is the concept of “race” relevant to the medieval world?) becomes the focal point for encountering the work of scholars who are committed to understanding the medieval past in relation to the exclusions of present-day academia. I am spending more time looking up the scholars who appear at conferences and on editorial boards to find out whether and how they are talking more broadly with what it means for people of their identities to research and publish. My goal is to give my students access to excellent and current disciplinary knowledge and an understanding that “being a scholar” looks like a whole lot of different people with a whole lot of different lives and experiences… and that it is important for us to learn from them all.