Teaching and Research

Statement of Teaching Philosophy

The study of history should create informed and responsible global citizens.  My teaching methods are thus oriented towards two metagoals for my students.  I want students to be able to: (1) identify and discuss the relevant historical context of complex current issues; and (2) be able to analyze primary sources, synthesize secondary sources, and write history.  I want them to understand the relevance of history and be able to “do” history, both of which are skills necessary for individuals to better navigate the increasingly globalized information age.  To reach these goals in both entry level surveys and upper-level courses, I believe teachers must carefully balance content with analysis, maintain a commitment to responsibly using methodological innovation and technology, and foster a student-centered democratic classroom environment.

Building a democratic classroom environment means creating a climate of mutual respect in which everyone feels that they have a stake in the learning process.  It means acknowledging that learning is a social process that should involve the entire class, not just the teacher.  There is no simple key to fostering a democratic classroom.  It takes experience and constant adjustment, and it begins with a good rapport between the teacher and the students.  Teachers should cultivate relationships with students based on trust and accountability.  They should trust that students want to learn and will give their best effort, and students need to be able to trust that the teacher is doing his or her best to help students learn.  This both keeps the professor from entirely blaming the students when the class does not understand a concept, and it creates an atmosphere in which rigor is both expected and appreciated.  I utilize small group discussion exercises and unguided class discussions in order to remove myself from the center of conversation.  For larger classes, I use strategies such as taking polls and soliciting answers to low-stakes questions in order to engage the class and stimulate their curiosity.

In order to balance content and analysis, I organize my classes around central themes and questions.  This creates a consistent and dependable framework for analysis with which students can practice analyzing historical events and sources throughout the course.  For example, I organize my modern American history survey (since 1865) around the themes of freedom and citizenship, which helps to both provide a relevant context for current political, economic, and social issues and narrow the content to avoid overloading students with excessive material, all while stimulating critical thinking.  My lectures are highly interactive and are organized around a clear thesis—which I explain at the beginning of each lecture—that ties into broader course themes.  I also use regular, more sustained discussions as a class and in small groups, typically involving primary sources, to help students see the interconnectedness of historical events.  This ensures that students can always answer the question of why we are going over a particular topic, and they can more fruitfully analyze each historical fact we cover.  I also like to use assessments similar to the Document-Based Questions utilized by Advanced Placement exams, which assesses both content knowledge and critical thinking.

My teaching methods are a careful balance of innovation and time-tested techniques.  Lectures, discussions, and the Socratic mMethod still have value, and I use them all regularly in my classes.  However, I regularly experiment with new models and technology.  I have experience teaching with a few intriguing classroom models, including the flipped classroom and Reacting to the Past and have taken ideas from them.  I have taught with technological applications like Kahoot and Pear Deck, which facilitates greater student participation in discussion.  I like using online learning platforms like eLearning Commons and Blackboard because they promote greater communication between teachers and students; their online discussion forums can extend classroom discussions outside of class; and they can be an effective vehicle for providing additional readings, handouts, and detailed instructions on assignments.  These technological applications can create a more engaged and student-centered classroom.

As tools of historical analysis, technology can be useful but only if used carefully and with an eye to student-learning objectives.    In order to avoid the trap of using innovation for innovation’s sake and technology for technology’s sake, I evaluate them carefully according to their ability to help reach these objectives.  Perhaps the most effective use of technology in my history classroom involves the use of the many digitized databases of primary sources easily accessible to students.   I have assigned projects, for example, in which students do genealogical research using ancestry.com and oral research methods and then, utilizing digitized newspapers and periodicals, they place the stories they uncover in historical context.  I have also used smaller-scale assignments in which students find newspaper articles in a database and simply bring them to class to discuss how they support or challenge textbook interpretations of history.   These projects help me to both reinforce the idea that history is open to interpretation and push them to a higher level of analysis.  I have found that creating products like Facebook pages, blogs, and Wikipedia pages with these digital resources can help students take control of their own learning, and the public nature of these products push them to do good work.  However, they should not entirely replace the old-fashioned research paper.  The research paper is still the most effective way of teaching students how to analyze primary sources.  In entry level classes, I use assignments scaffolded over the course of a semester to help students learn how to analyze historical sources before requiring them to write history.  In upper-level classes, I prefer using drafts, feedback, and revisions to improve students’ analysis and writing.

In terms of reading assignments, I think that it is important for students to read both primary sources and secondary sources.  For weekly readings, I assign textbooks that provide concise introductions to classroom lessons.  To that end, I prefer textbooks that focus on general themes and narratives and do not overload students with heavy content.  George Tindall and David Shi’s America: A Narrative History, James Henretta et al’s America: A Concise History, and Eric Foner’s Give Me Liberty work well for this purpose.  I also assign weekly readings from a reader of primary sources that directly relate to the central themes of the class.  I’ve found Eric Foner’s Voices of Freedom to be a good collection aimed at the theme of freedom.  I also assign from two to five books, depending on the level of the class, that include both primary sources—oral histories, memoirs, etc.—and secondary sources.  For example, I’ve found Peter Jenkins’s memoir, A Walk Across America, to be helpful for analyzing the turbulent social and political climate of the 1970s and the transition toward conservatism. Good entry-level secondary monographs include Scott Nelson’s Steel Driving Man and Philip Paludin’s Victims. These books, although rigorous scholarship, are aimed at popular readers, so they are helpful at drawing non-major students into the world of history scholarship.  Generally, the higher the level of the class the more secondary sources I assign that are written primarily for scholars.    

As one final point, being an effective teacher, above all else, takes experience and continued humility and self-reflection.  Learning from past mistakes and successes is absolutely necessary, as teaching involves doing a million little things right but often not knowing what those things are until you gain the benefit of hindsight.  Lectures can always be tweaked.  Concepts can always be more clearly explained and framed.  Discussions, readings, and assignments can always be aligned better.  Learning more about the subject itself can reveal new connections and new ways of conceptualizing the material that helps me explain the subject matter to classes with varying dynamics.  Thus, good teaching means being a dedicated and lifelong student.

Excerpts from Course Evaluations

These are a few of the comments left by my students in the course I taught in the fall of 2015, the second half of the American survey.  I had 28 students, 23 of whom completed the course evaluations.  Each comment below came from a different student.

About me as a teacher…

  • “I like Professor Manget a lot, he is very instructive without being a micro-managing professor. He gives us the tools and information we need to make our own conclusions and analyses.”
  • “He was more approachable and interested in the subject matter [than other UGA professors]! I felt like I could email him at almost any point in time or come by the flexible office hours with questions/concerns.”
  • “I really liked him. I felt like he had good control over the material and he explained concepts very well. He was definitely one of my top professors and it was great to be in class with him.”
  • “Luke really took time to learn our names and who we are. I’m a freshman so I am enrolled in mostly lecture classes with hundreds of kids. So it was refreshing to have a teacher who knows who I am.”
  • “He was definitely the most challenging and helpful of all my professors so far. I really enjoyed having him as a professor.”
  • “The professor was very thorough and made tough concepts easy to grasp; given that, the professor ranks among the best I have had so far at UGA.”
  • “This professor was one of my most helpful professors at UGA. He was always available for office hours when I needed to talk to him, he always responded promptly to emails, and was willing to work with me to make sure I understood the material.”
  • “Manget is actually my favorite professor. Very smart, personable, and helpful. I would take one of his courses again if it was offered.”
  • “Professor Manget offered some of the best structured lectures I’ve taken this far at UGA.”

About the course….

  • “It was probably my most demanding course, but not in a bad way! All the assignments were necessary and helpful. Especially all the writing, I feel like my writing skills have improved a lot thanks to this course.”
  • “The course has broadened my perspective towards history in the sense that now, as opposed to seeing history as merely facts, I can see history as a culmination of varying ideas and interpretations.”
  • “The lecture style with occasional discussions was enough for me to learn about the information from the professor while still collaborating with other students and thinking critically about the information in discussions.”
  • “I see history in terms of logical sequences now and think about the bigger picture.”
  • “It definitely has [encouraged me to think more about history or to see things in a historical perspective. This course has made me appreciate history more. I even have considered taking another history course, which I didn’t coming into school.”
  • “After taking this course, I actually contemplated being a history major.”
  • “The firsthand accounts that were used to explain history offered a number of perspectives and really showed the way history can sometimes gloss over dissenting views.”
  • “It was difficult, but in a challenging way. I never felt like I was drowning, but you definitely need to go to class and do your work to get everything you can out of the course.”
  • “The readings and assignments were never hard to understand and they corresponded with the discussions and lectures given by the professor.”

Course Syllabi

 

These are sample syllabi for courses that I have developed.

American History Since 1865.  This is an introductory survey to modern American history.

American Environmental History.  This upper-level course explores the dialectic between nature and culture throughout American history.

African Environmental History.  This upper-level course explores the complex relationship between Africans, Westerners, and the African environment.

Appalachian History.  This course explores the role of environment, capitalism, and cultural pathways in shaping the history of the Appalachian region, as well as the ongoing dialectic between reality of life in the mountains and outside perceptions of the region.

The American Countryside in the Age of the City.  This is an upper-level course on American rural history that explores how rural life changed as urban-industrial society grew from 1877 to the present.

 

Statement of Research Interests

My expertise is in environmental history and the history of the American South, primarily during the long nineteenth century (1790s-1920s-ish).  My research explores the intersections of capitalism and nature.  More specifically, I am interested in how ecology, markets, and communities created landscapes of subsistence in the southern countryside and how and why those landscapes changed over time.  These landscapes, products of nature and culture, included both agricultural and non-agricultural ecosystems, a fact that many agriculture-oriented rural historians tend to overlook.  Non-agricultural landscapes, such as streams, rivers, lakes, forests, and swamps provided valuable sources of food, medicine, recreation, and supplemental income.  Rural communities developed a complex system of use rights under which unimproved, non-agricultural land remained something of a de facto commons where people harvested plants and animals for both their use value and their market value. Questions of who could access these spaces and what resources they could use were answered partly by negotiations on a local level between landowners and commons users and partly by global currents of capital and national-level politics.  Indeed, the social, political, cultural, economic, and ecological factors that created this complex web of use rights changed significantly over time. The framework of political ecology offers an instructive way to explore these layers of interactions that determined who could access what resources.

The conservation movement that emerged around the turn of the twentieth century took aim at these common rights and attempted to impose another use regime onto the landscape. Conservation historiography has long been dominated by a focus on federal conservation policy as it applied primarily to the western United States, including forestry, reclamation, and grazing.  But the conservation impulse was present across the South as well, where it involved more of a widespread renegotiation of common rights on the local and state level.  From this vantage point, we can see that movement was a more general attempt to replace the vernacular landscapes of subsistence with a more rationalized and orderly landscape, and it involved the grassroots as well as policy makers.

In my dissertation, “Root Diggers and Herb Gatherers: The Rise and Decline of the Botanical Drug Trade in Southern Appalachia,” I argue that the Appalachian forest commons underwent significant changes over the course of the nineteenth century.  During the antebellum era, the forests of Appalachia was utilized extensively by yeomen and landless farmers as a way to supplement farm production.  Over the course of the late nineteenth century, animal furs and skins declined in commercial importance and, in some parts of Appalachia, roots and herbs became the dominant commons commodities.  As markets for indigenous medicinal plants grew and expanded around the globe and as the agricultural economy of the southern highlands struggled to recover from the Civil War, more people became more dependent on roots and herbs.  In areas like northwestern North Carolina where the botanical drug trade reached unparalleled heights, people could find a wide variety of marketable roots and herbs on the forest commons, and many became specialists at harvesting them.  This greater reliance on medicinal plants had significant impacts on the forest commons, as well as perceptions of Appalachian people.  It led to the rapid depletion of some of the more lucrative plants like ginseng, or “sang,” as it was widely known.  In communities like Pocahontas County, West Virginia, the disappearance of ginseng and the emergence of a class of people called “sang diggers,” who spent half the year searching for the root, generated tensions within communities.  This led to a renegotiation of common rights that took the form of state conservation laws aimed specifically at the sang diggers.  In the 1870s, the name “sang digger” was used in local politics as a derogatory reference to someone opposed to progress, and over the next decade, a sang digger myth emerged in the pages of urban northern newspapers and magazines that painted the group as lawless, lazy, and degenerate.  This myth served to reinforce the changing political ecology in the United States.

In addition to the botanical drug industry in Appalachia, my other research projects include a social history of fence laws in the South.  From the 1870s through the 1920s, the  grazing commons underwent a significant renegotiation.  In the antebellum era, many livestock owners turned their stock out into the forests—regardless of who owned it—to forage on chestnuts, acorns, and other spontaneous productions of nature.  However, by the late nineteenth century, southern communities took measures to curtail these rights and impose order on the landscape by passing a new round of fence laws that required livestock owners to fence in their stock.  Because states like Georgia and North Carolina allowed local communities to vote on these measures, historians can access a plethora of sources that uncover the seams of conflict that divided communities over the fence question.  Much of the scholarship on fence laws in the South are highly localized studies, and scholars generally disagree over what animated fence law proponents and opponents.   In the future, I hope to place the fence laws in a broader discussion of the changing political ecology of the southern countryside.

My M.A. thesis addresses another aspect of this shift in political ecology in the South.  It examines the campaign of rural reformers, such as Wilmington, North Carolina, businessman Hugh MacRae and University of North Carolina Professor of Rural Economics, Eugene C. Branson, to reconceptualize the relationship between rural communities and their environment.  Part of the Progressive attempt to impose order on the countryside as a way to stifle what they saw as the deterioration of rural life, this group of men and women sought to redirect the modernization of Southern farms toward what I call the “community ideal,” a cooperative community model based on intensive cultivation of truck crops that aimed to preserve the small, independent yeoman farmer.  This impulse created a few experimental communities and led to an influential but ultimately unsuccessful campaign to secure federal funding to create model communities.  These progressives diverged from many of their contemporaries who believed that agriculture should adopt industrial methods of organization and production.  However, these reformers, like other agricultural reformers, all but ignored the importance of non-agricultural landscapes of subsistence to the maintenance of rural communities.  Indeed, they all wanted a rationalized and ordered landscape oriented toward efficient production.  As a future project, I hope to write a more comprehensive study of how elite reformers, from country lifers of the Progressive era to the Regionalist school of the 1920s and 1930s, sought to reconfigure the rural landscape.  I would also like to examine the history of utopian experimental communities from an environmental perspective, something that has not yet been done.