As every international relations major will recall — with a shudder or a smile, I can’t tell — TRN250—Empire, Nationalism, and the History of International Relations certainly leaves its mark on the soul.
TRN250 is not for the faint of heart. Students have eight months to learn just under 400 years worth of modern world history — stories that stretch from the corners of a revolutionized Haiti all the way to the very last harbour in Meiji Japan. There are books to read and papers to write, and the underlying course theme of nationalism and nation-building is a complex weave that takes all eight months to navigate. Whether they’re spent reading about the Wilsonian Moment or debating whether the Cold War era was fought as nation-states or empires, not a second is spared within the four walls of this classroom each week.
Props have to be given to Professor Katie Davis for taking on the challenge. Coming in as a first-year professor the year I took the course to teach such a high-stakes course could not have been easy on her end, either. Yet here we are, two semesters later. Monarchies have seemed to domino into democracies, and empires have turned into nation-states in front of me. At last, my paper on nationalism in the Chinese Civil War has been submitted. What needed to be done was done; what needed to be known was taught.
Professor Davis kept us on a tight, well-organized timeline, was thorough with her lecture content, and ultimately ensured that all 400 years of wars and European barbarism — I mean, colonialism — were crammed into our skulls. To answer the million-dollar question for every U of T student: grading was — tragically — on the harsher side, but it came with reason and valid criticism. If anything, I’d like to think it helped me improve my analytical abilities. In the grand scheme of things, despite TRN250 probably being my most difficult and time-consuming course both semesters, it was far from a horrible experience.
However, success is never without shortcomings. U of T students know that no class in this institution is ever perfect and, unfortunately, this class was not an exception.
Throughout the year, the most prominent complaint I had was about the course delivery — not what Professor Davis taught, but how she taught it. Professor Davis employed a seminar-style method of teaching, lecturing with very minimal visual assistance, such as lecture slides or powerpoints. Lectures resembled a two-hour long speech: one where nearly every sentence was testable information, that is.
Thus, it became the burden of the student to transcribe words as they were being said. This posed an issue not only for the sake of convenience, but on a deeper level of accessibility as well. With recording disallowed, students who could not type or write fast enough struggled immensely and scrambled every class in a kind of stress that could have been entirely avoidable.
If a student was sick and unable to attend one week, there was absolutely no way to remediate that absence; no lecture slides, no recording, no written information beyond what their friend might have taken down. And even then, the student’s friends probably couldn’t record everything either — this one comes from personal experience.
Other items that put a damper on the overall experience included what I felt was a lack of clarity on the formatting and grading of upcoming assignments, and a grading scale that felt heavily uneven, where a large majority of our final grade was made up of just two major tests.
Yet, I don’t want to discount the class as a whole. The content was interesting, albeit rather eurocentric. And credit must be given where credit is due: Professor Davis put in the effort for us. That is more than can be said for some.
For better or for worse, my year with TRN250 has finished. This review exists not to praise it nor to bash it but to reflect on it. To hopefully guide whoever comes next — the next professor who rambles on about the Potsdam Declaration, or the next student who has to carry a dozen books on the Haitian Revolution home in time to write their gargantuan final paper. My best wishes to you.
One last thing, by request of my fellow classmates who watched me type this up: shoutout to Sam, the best TA anybody could ask for. You are a gem, and the academic world would be lifeless without you.Isabella Liu is a third-year student at Victoria College studying public policy and international relations. She is an Associate Comment Editor at The Varsity.