Course Moments

You are here



  • English Professor Ed Whitley speaking about Uncle Tom's Cabin in an Earth and Environmental Studies first-year seminar on the underground railroad
  • Earth and Environmental Studies Prof. Joan Ramage Macdonald speaking about the geography of the underground railroad in an upper-division English class on 19th-century American literature
  • Lehigh Environmental Science student Brianna Gipson speaking about her research on the underground railroad in English class on 19th-century American literature
Profs. Joan Ramage Macdonald (Environmental Science) and Ed Whitley (English)


Joan: I was a guest presenter in Edward Whitley's English class on Antebellum Literature and he was a guest presenter in my class on the Landscapes of the Underground Railroad (Following the Drinking Gourd: How Terrain Shaped the Underground Railroad). One of my former students and I showed how we were using maps to illustrate and understand the relationships between the landscape and the patterns and success/failure of migration. Ed Whitley visited my class to speak about the significance of Uncle Tom's Cabin, one vignette from which was a real event that we were studying relating to crossing the Ohio River from slavery to freedom.

Ed: Joan came to my course (ENGL 377 American Romanticism) after my students had read a number of texts from the mid-nineteenth century about slavery in the United States: the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, and slave narratives by Frederick Douglass and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Joan spoke with my students about the history and geography of the Underground Railroad. She shared with them a number of GIS maps that she and her students had created about the

Underground Railroad. One of Joan's students, Brianna Gipson, also came with her to my class. In turn, I visited with Joan's class (the same class that created the GIS maps) and spoke with them about the literary history of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Joan's students had read a few chapters of the novel, so I shared with them more about the novel as a whole, its impact on U.S. culture, and its role in the abolition of slavery.



Joan: See the relationships between landscape, history, and literature and the synergies between Earth and Environmental Science and English (Literature)

Ed: My learning goals for Joan's class was that the students would (1) appreciate the role that Uncle Tom's Cabin played in the abolition of slavery, and at the same time (2) take Uncle Tom's Cabin to task for its latent racism and its poor allyship to African Americans.

My goal for Joan's contribution to my class was that she would help to tee up the Underground Railroad assignment I gave my students. Part of that assignment involved exploring historical maps of the Underground Railroad, so it was a major goal that they would become familiar with available maps.



Joan: It was inspiring to interact with Ed and his class - they asked great questions. In my class the students didn't seem as prepared in terms of the reading so I was disappointed about that. However, I was fascinated with what Ed presented, and I would love to be a student in such a class again! In the big picture, it would also be nice to see students studying related material get together.

Ed: For the presentation I gave to Joan's class, the greatest success was being able to provide greater context and insight about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Since Joan's class is about the history and geography of the Underground Railroad, it was important for them to have this context and insight about a literary text that loomed so large in the culture of the abolitionist movement. 

For Joan's presentation to my class, the greatest success was the wealth of information that she had to provide about the history and geography of the Underground Railroad.



Profs. Maria Barbara Zepeda Cortes (History) and Luis Brunstein (Economics)


On November 21st, 2019, I [Barbara] taught a 75-minutes lecture in Luis Brunstein’s ECON 303 class on Economic Development. My presentation’s title was “Mexico in the last hundred years: a long struggle against socio-economic and political inequality”. I retold the history of Mexico since the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) with an emphasis on the human experience of inequality. I also added my own personal narrative of how my family, living in the state of Michoacán, saw their economic and social mobility opportunities growth or shrink at different periods in time.



Learning the basic narrative of the history of Mexico in the last 100-years was one of the most obvious objectives given the fact that in that class, according to Brunstein, they rarely focus on a single case study in their discussions about development policies. The main learning goal, however, was that to school students in historical empathy. The creation of empathy between modern U.S.-based students and the historical subjects involved in my account could be achieved with the help of visuals and with a handful of open discussions.



A success was that students in the ECON class, with a professor they did not know, ventured to participate. Prompting students to participate in brief discussions when you have not established a previous relationship is challenging. My use of striking visuals helped and at least 10 or 12 of around 25 students participated.

Prof. Ginny McSwain (Physics) and Lois Black (Curator, Special Collections)
  • Physics professor Ginny McSwain talking with students
  • Astronomy 301 students at Special Collections


My ASTR 301 class visited Special Collections to view the historical Astronomy and Physics book collection. We discussed the scientific, religious, and cultural impact of early scientists including Galileo, Newton, Copernicus, Kepler, and Brahe.



Galileo published his works in Italian, for example, so his discoveries were much more accessible to the average Italian citizen than the works of other early scientists. These discoveries contradicted the Catholic Church's teaching that the heavens were perfect and unchanging, the realm of God. Galileo also proved that the Earth must orbit the Sun, another contradiction to the Church doctrine of the era. These publications threatened the authority of the Church, which is why he was arrested by the Italian Inquisition.



Students were in awe of the rare historical manuscripts, which they got to handle and browse at their leisure. They were very interested in the cultural connections to the astrophysics they had learned in class. One student remarked just how much Galileo's drawings of sunspots from the early 1600s resembled modern-day images from NASA's SOHO mission. She had just completed a project in which she had measured the rotation of the Sun from these images.

Additional recent course moment experiences facilitated by the Humanities Lab include:

BIOS130 Biostatistics (biostatistics, biological sciences, English, and psychology);
Film/Chinese298 Chinese Film in the World and IR1090 U.S. China relations (modern languages and literatures and international relations);
BIOS098 Plants, People, and Agriculture (religion studies and biological sciences);
BIOS097 Neurobiology of Traumatic Memory and Social Identity (English and neuroscience);
REL 096 Bioethics and the COVD-19 Pandemic (indigenous studies, political science, ethics);
ENG100 Working with Texts (English and the Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation);
MECH003 Fundamentals of Engineering Mechanics (mechanical engineering and mechanics and theatre studies).