In Perkiss’ classes, she guides students through thinking about the processes of change-making, the evolution of ideas and actions, and the ways in which context, perspective, and evidence shape our understanding of the human predicament. She asks them to look at history as a series of deliberate decisions by individuals and the intended and unintended consequences that emerge as a result of those decisions. She wants students to leave each semester with an understanding that the world in which they live was not a naturally occurring enterprise. In her classes, to study history is to recognize that the present was not an inevitability.
Perkiss is trained in the innovative Reacting to the Past pedagogy. Through elaborate role-playing modules, Reacting brings students into historical moments and calls on them to play out the parts of historical actors in key moments of change. As students enter the worlds of 1775 New York at the onset of revolution, of 1945 India on the brink of independence, or of 2009 Copenhagen in the battle over climate change, they are called upon to make historical arguments and then support those arguments with contemporary secondary scholarship and with the documents and sources that were available to them in that historical moment. As they work to contend with bedlam in the streets of Manhattan, to claim power in the struggle between religious sovereignty and nationalism, or to enter into treaty negotiations to reduce global pollution, students experience firsthand both the work of an historian and the way history gets made: the feelings of impotency in the face of chaos, and the very human impulse to react and respond to situations without taking time to deliberate and evaluate.
Perkiss is collaborating on the development of two new Reacting modules – Changing the Game: Title IX, Gender, and Athletics in American Universities (with Kelly McFall) and Memory and Monument Building: The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, 1981-1982 (with Rebecca Livingstone and Kelly McFall) – and she coordinated the development of a chapter-length module on the 1913 Paterson Silk Strikes (written by Mary Jane Treacy) with the New Jersey Council for the Humanities, specifically for use in high school classrooms. She is a member of the Reacting Consortium Editorial Board.
Similarly, in her project-based courses, she has developed models that allow students to apply their study of the past to issues of contemporary relevance, and to hone their skills as historians through meaningful application-based collaborative inquiry. In the spring of 2016, she worked with students to examine the history and memory of black life at Kean University. Using the university’s special collections as well as primary sources from other local archives, students in this class worked to build an institutional history of race relations at Kean, telling the story of the dynamics of race and power at the school and on its grounds over the past 250 years. The course culminated with the development of The BlacKeaning: Illuminating Black Lives at Kean University, a campus tour highlighting this racial history of the school. Materials from The BlacKeaning tour are now housed at the Kean University Archives.
Teaching in the News
American Law and Liberty
Civil Society in America
Emergence of Law in Society
History and Memory
History of the Black American, Pre-1900
Taught as campus/public history, spring 2016
Modern Civil Rights Movements
Oral History Methods
Perspectives in History (Praxis II Preparatory Class)
Post-Colonial African Genocide
Cross-listed with MA Program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, fall 2015
Reacting to the Past Game Development
Taught as 20th Century US History
Twentieth Century Black History
U.S. History, Post-1877
Worlds of History