National Collegiate Honors Council


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Copyright 2013 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


Teaching does not happen in a vacuum just as good courses do not fall from the sky in whole cloth. How and what we teach is woven from any number of past or present influences that include, for instance, tradition, conversation with colleagues, student requests, job market demands, curriculum committees, popular culture, academic advances in a field, or how an academic unit has developed over time. Many honors programs or colleges, however, teach a course sequence that is anchored in the classics and has core texts that one might think are somewhat immune to change. While all such course sequences had a beginning and a developmental trajectory, I would wager that often their genesis is forgotten even if the success of the honors program or college rests on them. Remembering the roots, however, serves as a touchstone when pedagogical or developmental crossroads arise. Knowing why a course was originated and how it developed can facilitate decision-making, clarify the program’s mission, and allow experimentation without losing the program’s focus. Historical consideration of the genesis and development of a course sequence teaches us how to gain institutional support, develop a foundation, achieve collaboration inside and outside the program, and enhance faculty development. The evolution of The Human Event, a course sequence at Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University provides a case study of using a program’s history to understand its present and improve its future. While Barrett is situated at a public university with 76,000 students and is now a large college in itself with 4,803 honors students, it grew out of a much smaller program. From the beginning, The Human Event sequence has been a part of it and has contributed to its health and growth. Thus, the experience and insights drawn from considering its history might be of interest to honors programs and colleges of any size and at any institution as an example of what can be gained from studying the origin and development of signature classes.