During Centre College’s CentreTerm, a three-week January term that gives students the opportunity to explore unique topics, a group of first-year students are examining the historical development of the American calendar and investigating ways of understanding ritual events surrounding the holidays.
“This course examines how America’s holiday calendar came to exist,” said Tara Strauch, assistant professor of history. “We learn about how holidays have been invented, changed, challenged and forgotten through America’s history. The class introduces students to important historical events and contexts, like how Memorial Day developed out of the Civil War, as well as introducing them to how scholars talk about rituals, holidays and celebrations.”
Strauch added that the purpose of the course is to give first-year students the tools to understand the world around them.
“My goal is that my students learn to use their ‘historical sense’ and realize that even events as seemingly static as holidays have complicated histories,” she said. “I want my students to realize that we can and do change holidays all the time. It is one way that individuals can articulate and execute the world in which they want to live.”
In addition, there is a strong emphasis on oral presentation, including an in-class production of “A Christmas Carol,” as well as writing for general audiences.
“l love watching them perform ‘A Christmas Carol,’” she added. “In the 19th century, people would stage impromptu performances of the story in their homes with family and friends at Christmas-time. It was meant to be fun—a diversion from regular life. My students often start off class dreading performing for one another but end up having fun and realizing that a big part of a holiday is doing activities that would be ‘weird’ or unacceptable on any other day.”
Since the course is taught during the month of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Strauch said she enjoys taking her students to the celebrations, as it is a recently created national holiday that is important on college campuses and in African-American communities.
“Celebrating with our class and the community never fails to be a moving and educational experience,” she concluded.
by Kerry Steinhofer
January 16, 2019