No Experience as a Historian? Don’t Let the Past Stop You!

A black and white photograph circa 1960 with four people gathered around the UNIVAC I keyboard, which was the first commercial electronic computer.

Grace Murray Hopper was an American mathematician who helped devise the UNIVAC I keyboard along with COBOL, a computer programming language designed for business use. The history of technology and business is one of the topics discussed in 21H.991. (Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution on Wikimedia Commons. License CC BY.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

There are many ways to investigate history, many lenses through which to look at the past: political, demographical, military, cultural, technological—the list goes on and on. Typically, instructors who teach courses on historiography assign students a writing assignment that enables students to familiarize themselves with one method or another—what are the main schools of thought, who has propounded them, what the core issues are.

But for her class, 21H.991 Theories and Methods in the Study of History, Professor Anne McCants decided that this kind of assignment, which works well for students pursuing careers as professional historians, might not make sense for her students, who were mostly first-year graduate students in the Doctoral Program in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology and Society, and who were mainly interested in domains other than history. If 21H.991 was going to be the only history course they would take, McCants wanted it to be a vibrant experience. So instead of assigning the typical historiographical essay, she invited students to dive in and make history the old fashioned way—by doing research with original materials:

“I wanted my students to have a chance to think about a real problem and to actually try their hand at solving it with archival materials that they themselves had identified.”

Professor McCants discusses this assignment in the Instructor Insights of the course’s This Course at MIT page. She admits there are risks associated with asking students to engage in open-ended research: “Several students may never manage to identify a problem, or an archive to address their problem, or they might fail to understand what the literature has already said about their problem so that it becomes a trivial exercise.”

But she has found that the payoff is more than worth it. By meeting or communicating regularly with students, she was able to guide them all toward productive and interesting projects that they could complete in the allotted time.

Professor McCants discusses other aspects of her teaching, like exposing students to the various professional standards espoused by historical journals and making use of guest speakers, in her Instructor Insights.

One of the first participants in OCW’s Educator program, she also shares Instructor Insights for her course 21H.134J Medieval Economic History in Comparative Perspective.

Four MIT Faculty elected AAAS Fellows (MIT News)

Portait photos of four men.

Clockwise from top left: Professors Karl Berggren, Edmund Bertschinger, Victor Zue, and Gerald Fink. (Photo credits, clockwise from top left: MIT Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, MIT Department of Physics, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Whitehead Institute,)

Four MIT faculty have just been elected AAAS Fellows, in recognition of their “scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications.” OCW is please to have course materials by all three.

As MIT News reports:

Karl K. Berggren, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a researcher at the Research Laboratory of Electronics, was recognized for distinguished contributions to methods of nanofabrication, especially applied to superconductive quantum circuits, photodetectors, high-speed superconductive electronics, and energy systems.

Professor Berggren is a co-instructor on OCW’s 6.781J Submicrometer and Nanometer Technology, which features several videos demonstrating experimental instruments and techniques.

Edmund Bertschinger, a professor of physics and MIT’s Institute Community and Equity Officer, was recognized for highly visible, national-scale promotion of diversity in the fields of physics and astronomy, and for intellectual contributions to the field of gravitation and cosmology.

OCW has three courses by Professor Bertschinger: 8.224 Exploring Black Holes: General Relativity & Astrophysics (with selected video lectures), 8.942 Cosmology, and 8.962 General Relativity.

Gerald R. Fink, a professor of genetics within the MIT Department of Biology and a founding member of the Whitehead Institute, was recognized for his distinguished contributions to genetics and to science more broadly through his involvement as a leader of major scientific organizations, including AAAS.

Professor Fink is a co-instructor on OCW’s 7.03 Genetics, which includes complete lecture notes and 12 years’ worth of homework and exam problems for study.

Victor W. Zue, the Delta Electronics Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and a principal researcher at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory was recognized for distinguished contributions to the field of computational spoken language and language understanding, and for contributions to the strengthening of academic computer science research; as well as for distinguished contributions to acoustic phonetics, phonology, and speech recognition, and for leadership in the development of human language technologies.

Professor Zue is a co-instructor on OCW’s 6.345 Automatic Speech Recognition, which features complete lecture notes.

Congratulations to Professors Berggren, Bertschinger, Fink, and Zue !

Happy 100th birthday General Relativity!

Graphic representing spacetime warping around the earth, with small inset photo of Einstein.

The general theory of relativity conceives of gravity as a result of curved space-time. (Public domain image by NASA.)

November 2015 is a landmark anniversary in the history of science. One hundred years ago this week — on November 25, 1915, to be precise — Albert Einstein unveiled the key equations underlying his theory of general relativity.

Learn more about this revolutionary insight into the physical world with these OCW courses and resources.

Starting points
8.022 Physics II: Electricity and Magnetism is designed for students seeking a deep and challenging introduction to electricity and magnetism. Professor Gabriella Sciolla’s notes for Lecture 11 (PDF) and Lecture 12 (PDF) explain how relativity is integral to a deep understanding of electricity and magnetism.

8.033 Relativity, normally taken by physics majors in their sophomore year, focuses on special relativity and an introduction to general relativity. OCW’s version by Professor Max Tegmark includes a complete set of lecture notes plus assignment and exam problems. Additional assignment and exam problems can be found in Bruce Knuteson’s month-long intensive course 8.20 Introduction to Special Relativity.

General relativity
8.962 General Relativity is MIT’s primary graduate course in general relativityOCW’s version, by Professors Ed Bertschinger and Scott Hughes, includes a detailed reading list and complete homework assignments.

Relativity and cosmology
Close observation of black holes and other cosmic phenomena has provided some of the best experimental validation of Einstein’s theories. Two OCW courses with video lectures — Alan Guth’s 8.286 The Early Universe and 8.224 Exploring Black Holes: General Relativity & Astrophysics by Ed Bertschinger and Edwin Taylor — are sure to illuminate these mysteries.

History and social context
Einstein’s work on relativity did not occur in a vacuum. Get the entire picture from Professor David Kaiser’s STS.042J Einstein, Oppenheimer, Feynman: Physics in the 20th Century includes an extensive reading list. (And although it’s outside of OCW, check out Professor Kaiser’s November 8, 2015 piece in the New York Times, “How Politics Shaped General Relativity.”)

The inspiring story of Ahaan Rungta

Photo of young man working at a table in MIT dining area with his laptop, writing in a notebook.

Ahaan Rungta, MIT Class of 2019 (Photo by M. Scott Brauer)

“Some people think I’m gifted, but I don’t think so. OCW was a gift to me. I was lucky to be born at the time MIT was opening up education to the world and extra lucky that OCW brought MIT and me together.”

By Laurie Everett | MIT OpenCourseWare

Ahaan Rungta and his family moved from Calcutta, India, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2001, the same year MIT announced OpenCourseWare (OCW), a bold plan to publish all of MIT’s course materials online and to share them with the world for free. Little did his parents realize at the time that their two-year-old son—already an avid reader—would eventually acquire his entire elementary and secondary education from OpenCourseWare and MITx, and would be admitted to the MIT class of 2019 at the age of 15.

“When I was five years old my mom told me ‘there’s this thing called OCW,’” says Ahaan, who was homeschooled. “I just couldn’t believe how much material was available. From that moment on I spent the next few years taking OCW courses.”

When most kids are entering kindergarten Ahaan was studying physics and chemistry through OpenCourseWare. For Ahaan’s mother, the biggest challenge to homeschooling her son was staying ahead of him, finding courses and materials to feed his insatiable mind.

“My parents always supported me and found the materials I needed to keep learning. My mother was a resource machine. As I got older, I studied math through OCW’s Highlights for High School program, and when I was ready for Linear Algebra, I watched all of Professor Gil Strang’s 18.06 video lectures. From the time I was five I learned exclusively from OCW. And I knew then I wanted to go to MIT.”

Rattle your assumptions with anthropology

Left: photo of young boy having his head shaved. Right: A human form stands in darkness, wearing a bodysuit illuminated from head to toe with various multi-colored circuits.

Left: a young Burmese boy has his head shaved by an older monk as part of a Shinbyu ceremony — a rite of passage considered in 21A.150J Teaching and Learning: Cross-Cultural Perspectives. (Courtesy of Dietmar Temps on Flickr. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.) Right: Wearable technology is one of the technologies considered in 21A.500 Technology in Culture. (Image courtesy of Keoni Cabral on Flickr. License CC BY.)

By Joe Pickett, OCW Publication Director

Think of the phrase “challenging course at MIT,” and what might spring to mind?

Probably advanced courses with heady mathematics and intimidating titles like 18.338J Infinite Random Matrix Theory, and 8.325 Relativistic Quantum Field Theory III.

But MIT has many challenging courses of a different kind—courses that rattle your assumptions about what is normal and show you a side of life you never imagined. The MIT Department of Anthropology offers a full array of courses that fit this bill, pushing students to open their minds and expand their cultural horizons. Recent Anthro publications cover a variety of concerning and thought-proving topics with curated reading lists. Most courses include links to films and videos as well. Here’s what we’re talking about:

Going to school is just one form of knowledge transmission and skill transfer. This course looks at social learning, apprenticeship, initiation, rites of passage, the development of identity, along with the traditional Western model of schooling.

The syllabus sums it up nicely: “This course examines the contemporary problem of political violence and the way that human rights are conceived as a means to protect and promote freedom, peace, and justice for citizens, as well as to restrict the abuses of the state.” Do universal human rights overlook the varying needs and values of different cultures? Are there valid justifications for suspending human rights during emergencies? No easy questions here!

While it may be comforting to think that slavery ended in 1865 at the courthouse in Appomattox, slavery and the selling of human beings persist around the world. What factors make this possible? The course explores the prevalence of forced sex work, child labor, the illicit trade in organs, debt bondage, and other disturbing topics that we often prefer to tune out.

The conference room is double-booked again. Management has been tracking your keystrokes. Your cell phone has already given up your location.  But we love technology! This course asks, “Does technology save us work? Improve our health? Ameliorate social inequality?”

Political marketing was invented in the United States in the 1930s with the wide acceptance of radio and film in American culture, and it became one of America’s most successful exports. This course looks at its variants in Latin America: “By looking at the debates and expert practices at the core of the business of politics, we will explore how the ‘universal’ concept of democracy is interpreted and reworked as it travels through space and time. Specifically, we will study how different groups experimenting with political marketing in different cultural contexts understand the role of citizens in a democracy.”

October’s fall harvest: ten new courses

Image of a full moon rising.

How is art impacted as creativity becomes rationalized and absorbed by managerial philosophies? Unmanageability: Pathless Realities and Approaches examines this theme and techniques to access ungoverned courses of life, toward the development of a personal emancipatory practice.

During the month of October, OCW published ten courses. Seven are brand-new subjects on OCW, and three others are updates of previously published courses.

New Courses

Updated Courses

Education is key in MIT’s new five-year plan for action on climate change

Arial photo of MIT campus.

Photo: Christopher Harting/AboveSummit

Yesterday MIT introduced a sweeping new five-year plan for action on climate change.

This plan embodies the fundamental agreement across our community that the problem of climate change, the subject of serious work at MIT for decades, demands society’s urgent attention. Given the Institute’s mission, history and capabilities, MIT has a particular responsibility to lead. Yet addressing this global problem will take deep societal change, and that means there is a role – and a personal responsibility – for everyone: every nation, every sector, every institution, every firm, every individual human being.

MIT News summarizes that the plan focuses MIT’s efforts in five areas whose elements have consensus support within the MIT community:

  1. research to further understand climate change and advance solutions to mitigate and adapt to it;
  2. the acceleration of low-carbon energy technology via eight new research centers;
  3. the development of enhanced educational programs on climate change;
  4. new tools to share climate information globally; and
  5. measures to reduce carbon use on the MIT campus.

Also noteworthy: the plan rejects the proposal for MIT to divest its investments in fossil fuel companies in favor of a strategy of active engagement; and specifically asserts the need for a price on carbon in order to align the incentives of industry with the imperatives of climate science.

The focus on educational programs is of particular interest to us at OCW. Enhancing the extensive educational opportunities currently available, the plan describes how MIT will:

  • offer an Environment and Sustainability undergraduate degree minor beginning in Fall 2017;
  • develop an online Climate Change and Sustainability credential offered through MITx on edX, building on Professor Kerry Emanuel’s outstanding course on climate change;
  • and, in a joint effort between MIT’s School of Engineering and School of Architecture and Planning, find ways to insert principles of “benign and sustainable design” more widely throughout MIT’s engineering and design instruction.

Stated simply: “Perhaps the most powerful way to trigger new thinking on climate is to educate a new generation of innovators—here on our campus and around the world.”

OCW heartily supports this effort. Check out our list of forty OCW courses on climate change and sustainability. We look forward to adding many more resources on this vital topic in the months and years ahead.