Most graduate students have had the experience of reading work written by their professors in classes. In the courses I’ve taken at the GC these class sessions have often included useful conversations on the processes of crafting and completing academic research and writing. My professors have discussed how they formulated their research questions, problems or surprises they encountered while writing, and sometimes information about how they took their work from dissertation to book. For me, these class sessions served to demystify completing and publishing academic work, and to combat conceptions of teaching and research as inherently separate endeavors. These discussions impressed upon me that my professors were involved in both the dissemination of knowledge and its production, and that each pursuit could reinforce the other. I also began to feel that in my classes I was also participating in this production, which I hoped to further through my own research as well.
A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to teach a class that covered my own published research for the first time in a U.S. History course at La Guardia Community College. The article explored a conflict over marijuana policy that emerged in the late 1930s and early 1940s between New York City’s Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and Federal Bureau of Narcotics officials. The piece was well suited to the class at La Guardia since I had performed a significant portion of the research at LGCC’s archives. The discussion covered the historical context of the article (alcohol prohibition and the passage of federal marijuana prohibition in 1937), larger themes about race and class and criminalization, the connections between politics and scientific research, and the powers of different entities within the state. We also discussed the research and publication process and how students might publish their own papers and research in journals through LGCC.
As a scholar and instructor this was an extremely valuable experience for me. I was forced to explain my ideas meaningfully to the students, and to make connections with larger historical themes and trends. I could see which parts of the article came across most clearly and where the students struggled. I also got to see my research at work in the classroom, which was very exciting. The students made creative connections between my work and other pieces that we read, and brought up questions and ideas that had not occurred to me. I left the class with new ideas about how to continue developing the themes that we had discussed.
Students also seemed to enjoy and be stimulated by the discussion. I cannot, however, know for certain what they got out of the class. They were engaged, and most participated in a vibrant conversation, which leads me to believe that they felt interested and challenged. Some expressed a desire to continue thinking about the themes that we discussed in one of their class papers. They were also exposed to some of the possible avenues for research available in the archives of their own college. Although I can’t know how they felt about the class, I hope that they gained some of what I believe that I gain when I get to discuss a work of research with its author. Ultimately, I felt that getting the opportunity to lead a class discussion on my own published research illustrated the possible ways that teaching and scholarship can reinforce each other. I hope to keep exploring these connections through my own research and pedagogy.