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Douglas Bradburn

C-SPAN takes viewers inside professor's classroom

By Eric Coker

Douglas Bradburn
Professor Douglas Bradburn meets with the C-SPAN production team before his lecture.
> Watch the lecture online

A C-SPAN appearance on prime-time television brought great exposure to history professor Douglas Bradburn and Harpur College.

"It was fun to do and exciting to do," Bradburn said about having C-SPAN cameras in his Lecture Hall classroom. "It's a great way to publicize my skills as a teacher and I like the added profile it gives to the institution and the History Department. That's important and means something to me."

Bradburn, who also serves as the History Department's director of graduate studies, was featured at 8 p.m. March 2 and at midnight and 1 p.m. March 3 on C-SPAN3's American History TV. The "Lectures in History" series showed a talk on the development of colonial politics that Bradburn gave last November in his upper-level Politics and Society in Colonial America class. The talk can be seen online on C-SPAN's website.

Bradburn was recommended to C-SPAN by fellow history professor Stephen Ortiz, who was featured on the series in November 2011.

"(C-SPAN) wanted something to do with colonial America, but not anything dealing with wars," said Bradburn, who wrote the 2009 book The Citizen Revolution: Politics and the Creation of American Union, 1774–1804. "So I pitched a lecture on the making of American politics with an emphasis on the colonial period. It's really about the fundamentals of political thought and political practice."

In the 75-minute class, Bradburn took his students — and viewers — through the early 18th century, examining why Great Britain had political stability while colonial American politics were fractious and unsettled. This political development would lay the foundation for the American Revolution.

Bradburn and the students then discussed "The Candidates," Robert Munford's 1770 comedic play about Virginia elections. The lecture continued with a look at New York politics in the 1730s, as historical figures such as William Cosby and Rip Van Dam ("not to be confused with Rip Van Winkle or the guy who kicks people," Bradburn said jokingly to the class). The class ended with a discussion about the Zenger Trial, in which a printer is accused of libel after criticizing Cosby, New York's colonial governor at the time.

"What you see is basically what I do in every class," Bradburn said of the lecture-discussion format. "I want to take the students through the documents myself because I enjoy that. One of the exciting things about getting students engaged in history is having them read the texts from the past, struggle with their meanings, realize how different these people are from them and then try to articulate that in class itself."

There were some challenges in preparing and delivering a lecture for C-SPAN cameras, Bradburn said.

"You have to try to strike a balance between getting the information across to students who are familiar with me and have been in class and recognizing that a C-SPAN audience is going to come at it fresh," he said. "They don't know anything about me."

Bradburn faced an uncomfortable moment when he began asking the students about "The Candidates." His first question about the play was greeted with a long silence before a hand went up.

"I was confident they would participate because this was a really good class," he said. "We had all read the play together in the previous class. So I knew that they knew the play. ... I was disappointed when I first posed the questions (about the play). Ultimately, it worked out fine. They settled down. They were nervous. It was a nervous energy that took them awhile to get over.

"By the time you get to the final discussion, there is a much broader, more comfortable participation from the students. That's more typical of what you get in the class."

C-SPAN's "Lectures in History" usually features a Q&A session from students at the end of a class, but Bradburn said he told network officials that he leads the discussions in his courses.

"C-SPAN said, 'We just want you to do what you normally do,'" Bradburn said. "C-SPAN was great. They were easy to work with."

Bradburn said he thought the class went well and that his students agreed with the assessment.

"This was a thinking piece about the making of American politics," he said. "It lays out a way to understand why the American colonists fought mundane battles over things like patronage power. But they quickly get escalated into this language of rights and constitutionalism. That was very different from what you see in Britain at the time."

Bradburn hopes that the national audience left the show knowing more about colonial America and Harpur College.

"I want (viewers) to get a basic picture of how this class is taught at (Harpur College)," he said. "I want them to be surprised and informed—to say 'I didn't know that.' I think people will enjoy it."


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Last Updated: 11/14/16