Associate Professor and Director of Social Studies Education
"I bring in the issues I'm facing in my own work and say 'Here I've got this big mound of material, how do we make sense of it? I've got this document that contradicts that one - how do we look at that? How do we phrase a good research question?'"
"To be a good history teacher you have to be a good historian," says Diana Turk, assistant professor of Social Studies Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning. "That's why all my students -- undergraduate and graduate students alike -- undertake research in my classes. I bring in the issues I'm facing in my own work and say 'Here I've got this big mound of material, how do we make sense of it? I've got this document that contradicts that one - how do we look at that? How do we phrase a good research question?'"
Turk's first book was so refined by her students' participation. Bound By A Mighty Vow: Sisterhood and Women's Fraternities, 1870-1920 examines the beginnings of organizations colloquially known as sororities. It is the first major academic study of the subject, and now that it is poised on coming out, Turk looks forward to engaging her students in "talk about the process of writing, of coming up with a topic, and of dealing with studying organizations that are defined by their secrecy. These issues come up every day for historians." Eventually, says Turk, her students will want to pass along these discussions to their students. "Everything I teach ideally translates to my students' students."
Turk's other recent research includes a just completed three-year grant from the Dirksen Foundation. A curriculum development project that she also worked on with her students, the grant looked at ways to help underprivileged students become more engaged in civic processes by, for instance, critically evaluating campaign advertisements. Turk's teacher education students then used the resulting curriculum with their own students at schools like Marte Valle Secondary School and Murray Bergtraum High School.
Turk's current research project concerns ways of using "material culture" in the classroom. "That's the stuff around us: bowls, buildings, hair combs, etc. Using it is a way to really reach students who don't read that well, or may not be excited about what they read. We're tapping into different intelligences - visual, spatial - people who want to touch and manipulate things. This is really exciting to me." This research recently garnered Turk a Curricular Challenge Fund Grant, which will support her in building a website featuring images of material objects. The website will eventually be available for use by her students, both in their classes at NYU and when they start teaching.
Turk says her passion for American history began in a way that most historians won't admit to: "Growing up I read lots of historical fiction!" But while that reading made her love history, she was always aware of how poorly American history is often taught. "I thought if I could use the interesting facets of history - the music, the dance, the clothing, the documents - then that could help students love history, too." She received her Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1999 and a month later came to NYU "because the Department gave me an opportunity to combine two passions of mine: the study of history and culture around me, and how we go about making what we do as scholars meaningful in the schools."
But it is the students of the Department who seem to provide Turk with her greatest satisfaction. "You could not ask for a better population of students than people who want to be teachers themselves," she says. "Because they are interested in the process of translating academic concepts to their students, they are automatically the most interested and excited - as well as interesting and exciting - students."