Catherine Denial is the Bright Professor of American History and the chair of the history department at Knox College. Her current research examines the early nineteenth-century experience of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing in upper midwestern Ojibwe and missionary cultures. By analyzing oral tradition, Ojibwe pharmacological knowledge, and the documents left by traders, missionaries, and government officials, she explores the differences between each cultural group’s ideas about infancy and childhood. These differences add to our understanding of why the Ojibwe so firmly rejected the practices of the missionaries through 1850: to Ojibwe eyes, the missionaries practiced something close to child abuse. This research is an outgrowth of her book, Making Marriage: Husbands, Wives, and the American State in Dakota and Ojibwe Country (2013), which focuses on marriage as a means of understanding gender, sexuality, race, and nation building in the upper Midwest. Through the stories of married, and divorcing, men and women in the region, Denial traces the uneven fortunes of American expansion in the early nineteenth century and the nation-shaping power of marital acts A first-generation college student and former director of SPARK, Knox College’s summer bridge program, Denial currently directs the college's Bright Institute, a program that supports fourteen faculty from liberal arts schools across the United States in their teaching and research. She is a member of the Educational Advisory Committee of the Digital Public Library of America and the winner of the 2018 Eugene Asher Distinguished Teaching Award from the American Historical Association.
Pedagogical kindness is a subject that — when raised — often initially elicits baffled responses from faculty. There are pressures that are bought to bear on our classrooms from outside our colleges and universities under the banner of standardization, testing, and rote assessment that seem incompatible with kindness. We are sometimes also asked to “be kind” in a way that suggests we’re pressing a band-aid over deep fissures in our communities. Many of us internalize rigor as if it is antithetical to compassion in the classroom; we want to do the best for our students, but confuse that with severity. We often perceive that offering sustained kindness can be draining, or is the ineffective strategy of simply “being nice.” Yet kindness as a pedagogical practice is not about sacrificing ourselves, or about taking on emotional labor, but rather about being on the cutting edge of pedagogical practice. Rigorous pedagogical kindness is about believing students and believing in our students, allowing them to be co-creators of their learning experiences. This means rethinking the ways we construct our syllabi to encompass skill-building as well as content delivery, and making room for students to offer feedback on the subjects about which they have a hunger to learn. It means offering transparent assignments that clearly show students how to succeed, and thinking about grading as an active conversation instead of a chore.