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November 20, 2008
By Patrick McDonnell
The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) have named University of Nevada, Reno history professor Scott Casper as the state winner of its 2008 U.S. Professors of the Year award. The award, founded in 1981, is the only national program recognizing excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring.
Casper, who has taught at the University since 1992, will receive recognition at a luncheon honoring state and national winners today at the Willard InterContinental hotel as well as at a Congressional reception at the Folger Shakespeare Library Exhibition Hall in Washington, D.C. He won the award in a category for higher education professors teaching at doctoral and research universities.
Casper teaches upper-division courses on Revolutionary and 19th-century America, the history of the book in America, and the Civil War in American culture, as well as the Core Humanities course “American Experiences.” He wrote the 2008 book, Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine, as well as Constructing American Lives: Biography and Culture in Nineteenth-Century America, which won the 1999 Book History Prize from the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading and Publishing.
“My approach is hands-on history, getting students’ hands on primary-source materials, visual material and historical documents so that they can understand what those sources tell us about the past,” Casper said. He described his work as part of the Department of History’s collective endeavors in undergraduate education.
“Our role as history teachers is to give students a whole new idea of what history is: not just learning information, but crafting and expressing their own interpretations of the past based on evidence and analysis,” he added.
Students in Casper’s Civil War class have told those stories by writing papers, creating web sites, analyzing historical re-enactments, and making movies.
“Students are a lot more tech-savvy than they used to be,” he added. “They have a whole set of tools at their disposal that they didn’t have previously, certainly as compared to when I came to the University 16 years ago.”
Yet a teachable moment can still involve a professor telling a simple story.
“George Washington’s teeth are a way to connect the past to the present,” Casper said of the life and times of the United States’ first president. “He had teeth, just like you and me, but those teeth seem so primitive. They make him human, and, at the same time, make the past really seem foreign to us.”
Casper works with the Northern Nevada Teaching American History Project, a collaboration between the Department of History and the Washoe County School District. He also teaches in summer and school-year workshops for George Washington’s Mount Vernon and for the Center for Civic Education’s We the People: The Citizen and the Constitution program.
Top U.S. educators and other active participants in education select recipients of the U.S. Professors of the Year award, sponsored by CASE and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Previous winners from the University include Cheryll Glotfelty, Paul Starrs, Philip Boardman, Dale Holcombe, Eugene LeMay, Gary Norris, Gary Hausladen and Meggin McIntosh.
“This award reflects the work that my colleagues in the Department of History have done collectively to enhance undergraduate education at the University,” Casper said. “We have emphasized primary-source analysis in all our courses, as well as requiring a senior thesis for history majors. None of these things is my work alone.”