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Alternative story forms: a fresh approach to historical case material

Students taking the new bachelor’s course ‘Social Movements and Political Violence’ are about to do something new. In addition to studying textbooks and academic articles, they will actively work with multimedia materials and engage in online storytelling. Course instructor Corinna Jentzsch (Leiden University, Institute of Political Science) believes that alternative story forms can be a a valuable teaching tool, enabling students to develop a deeper understanding of the cases they are confronted with.

Grassroots grant

Jentzsch is one of seven winners of a Grassroots grant for the academic year 2016-2017. This initiative of Leiden University’s Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences aims to stimulate innovation in teaching methods. In Jentzsch’s case, the grant helps developing new course content and pioneering an inventive student assignment.

Generating enthusiasm for historical case material

‘My course Social Movements and Political Violence is about explaining the emergence and evolution of social movements and their use of violent and non-violent tactics’, says Jentzsch. Much of the theory is building on historical case material—which interesting and illuminating, but perhaps not as captivating as contemporary instances of soical protest. ‘In my experience, students have a hard time relating to those empirical examples from the past, expecially if the course material is limited to textbooks and academic articles. That is why I applied for, and luckily received, this Grassroots grant. I want to generate enthusiasm for and understanding of historical case material.’

Food for thought and discussion

Jentzsch is currently selecting audiovisual material from various sources and preparing video lectures. Her students will be viewing these lectures before or in class (depending on copyright issues), as background information and food for thought and discussion. ‘I expect that this will help my students to better understand the historical cases, and to gain more insight into the existing theories about social movements.’

Engaging the audience

Use of multimedia is not only passive. Students will also actively engage in what is called ‘alternative story forms’. Jentzsch: ‘This method is more common in creative writing and composition classes, for example for teaching journalism, but I am sure it can work in political science as well.’ Students will be assigned to create an online, multimedia case study of a specific social movement, ‘telling its story in an interactive way—engaging the audience with text, images, videos, graphs, timelines, etcetera.’

Thus, the Social Movements and Political Violence students are going to work with primary and secondary sources in a way that makes the object of analysis tangible and more understandable. Furthermore, Jentzsch expects that they will be stimulated to collaborate and develop valuable presentation skills. 

Soon in this theatre

This Summer will be quite busy for Jentzsch: Social Movements and Political Violence, a course for third-year students of the BSc Political Science: International Relations and Organisations, is scheduled for the first block (September-October) of academic year 2016-2017. A promising project! ‘Soon in this theatre’, as the saying goes.

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