New Course Offers Insight

With course selection coming up next week, students should be on the look out for a new class that is being offered for the first time in the spring of 2015. Entitled “How the Great War Made America Modern, “ this course will be offered not only to ten Dickinson students, but also to ten students from the Army War College. It will be taught by both Professor of English Wendy Moffat and by Dr. Stephen Biddle, who is a Fellow and historian of strategic studies and military history at the War College. Part of the initiative was funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation. When students look online for the course in the catalog, they will see that it is cross-listed with several departments, more so, in fact, than any other course in the college’s history: Political Science, English, American Studies, International Studies, Sociology and History.

When asked what the idea behind this course is, Moffat stressed the importance of raising awareness to Dickinson students about the War College. “Most people don’t know that this tremendous resource exists only a mile and a half away from campus, or even what the Army War College is.” An increased connection with the War College is important, commented Moffat, because “the community and faculty are a boon to Dickinson.”

The developing relationship with the War College is not the only aim for the course, however. According to Moffat, “[Biddle and I] want to bridge the military and civilian divide because those two cultures are further apart than they should be.”

In terms of the course’s content, Moffat and Biddle are primarily interested in America’s role in the First World War. As Moffat mentioned, “We looked at holes in the scholarly research of this subject and found that there is considerably less about the American experience of this war.” The hope for this course is that students can become more aware of this history. “This war changed the perspective of American social history and put the United States on a global stage for the first time,” said Moffat. “It also represented a domestic change in the modernization of the United States, especially in the development of an American national identity.” Moffat continued, “From a military perspective, this war showed the professionalism and maturation of U.S. forces, and led to the development of modern American warfare.”

Because this course is cross-listed with several departments and is connected to the War College, its creation did not come without a few minor issues. According to Moffat, “we talked to the Academic Programs Committee to get feedback about the structure, design and content of this course. There is still a lot to accomplish, and we do have to work out some of the logistics. For example, there are two schedules to combine, and electives do not begin for the War College until March.”

But despite these few problems, Moffat is still looking forward to the class, and believes that it will have a strong impact on the college community. As she noted, “Even with the kinks, there has been a great amount of expertise and support surrounding the creation of this course, because it really represents the spirit of the liberal arts. The faculty members involved [including Professor of Political Science and International Studies Douglas Stuart and Professor of Anthropology Ann Hill] have been really flexible and enthusiastic, because I think they have a sense to seize this opportunity.”

Students who take the course can plan to gain “an interdisciplinary understanding of how complex and engaging this war was, and how it made the United States modern,” commented Moffat. “We think the students in the course will also teach us about the relation of military and civilian culture in the United States. I cannot imagine that this course won’t deepen the ties between our two institutions of learning.”

In terms of whether this course will be offered again in the future, Moffat said, “I am not sure if that will be feasible, in terms of the time, money and energy which have been dedicated to completing this project. Not only does the course include supplemental materials and field trips, but there is also the difficulty of determining how to find staff, and what student interest is. For now, we are seeing it as a one time shot because trying something so new like this can only bring insight.”