Skip to main content
Back to Results
Cover image of The Amateur Hour
Cover image of The Amateur Hour
Share this Title:

The Amateur Hour

A History of College Teaching in America

Jonathan Zimmerman

Publication Date
Binding Type
Request Exam CopyRequest Review Copy

The first full-length history of college teaching in the United States from the nineteenth century to the present, this book sheds new light on the ongoing tension between the modern scholarly ideal—scientific, objective, and dispassionate—and the inevitably subjective nature of day-to-day instruction.

American college teaching is in crisis, or so we are told. But we've heard that complaint for the past 150 years, as critics have denounced the poor quality of instruction in undergraduate classrooms. Students daydream in gigantic lecture halls while a professor drones on, or they meet with a…

The first full-length history of college teaching in the United States from the nineteenth century to the present, this book sheds new light on the ongoing tension between the modern scholarly ideal—scientific, objective, and dispassionate—and the inevitably subjective nature of day-to-day instruction.

American college teaching is in crisis, or so we are told. But we've heard that complaint for the past 150 years, as critics have denounced the poor quality of instruction in undergraduate classrooms. Students daydream in gigantic lecture halls while a professor drones on, or they meet with a teaching assistant for an hour of aimless discussion. The modern university does not reward teaching, so faculty members at every level neglect it in favor of research and publication.

In the first book-length history of American college teaching, Jonathan Zimmerman confirms but also contradicts these perennial complaints. Drawing upon a wide range of previously unexamined sources, The Amateur Hour shows how generations of undergraduates indicted the weak instruction they received. But Zimmerman also chronicles institutional efforts to improve it, especially by making teaching more "personal." As higher education grew into a gigantic industry, he writes, American colleges and universities introduced small-group activities and other reforms designed to counter the anonymity of mass instruction. They also experimented with new technologies like television and computers, which promised to "personalize" teaching by tailoring it to the individual interests and abilities of each student.

But, Zimmerman reveals, the emphasis on the personal inhibited the professionalization of college teaching, which remains, ultimately, an amateur enterprise. The more that Americans treated teaching as a highly personal endeavor, dependent on the idiosyncrasies of the instructor, the less they could develop shared standards for it. Nor have they rigorously documented college instruction, a highly public activity which has taken place mostly in private. Pushing open the classroom door, The Amateur Hour illuminates American college teaching and frames a fresh case for restoring intimate learning communities, especially for America's least privileged students. Anyone who wants to change college teaching will have to start here.

Jump to
Quick Add
The Amateur Hour

Jonathan Zimmerman

Publication Date
Binding Type
Request Exam CopyRequest Review Copy
Related

Related Books

Cover image of Democracy's Schools
Democracy's Schools

Johann N. Neem

$22.95
Quick Add
Democracy's Schools

Johann N. Neem

Publication Date
Binding Type
Cover image of A History of American Higher Education
A History of American Higher Education

John R. Thelin

third edition
$39.95
Quick Add
A History of American Higher Education

John R. Thelin

third edition
Publication Date
Binding Type
Preorder
Replayed

Henry E. LowoodBRedited by Raiford Guins

$50.00
Quick Add
Replayed

Henry E. LowoodBRedited by Raiford Guins

Publication Date: June 6, 2023
Binding Type
Preorder
Making Machines of Animals

Neal A. Knapp

$60.00
Quick Add
Making Machines of Animals

Neal A. Knapp

Publication Date: May 9, 2023
Binding Type
Preorder
Cover image of A Centaur in London
A Centaur in London

Fabian Kraemer

$60.00
Quick Add
A Centaur in London

Fabian Kraemer

Publication Date: April 25, 2023
Binding Type
Reviews

Reviews

In his provocative new book, The Amateur Hour: A History of College Teaching in America, historian Jonathan Zimmerman chronicles more than 200 years of the quality of instruction in higher education. It's a history filled with noble but failed efforts to improve and reform college teaching, marked by student-led protests and solitary campaigns led by individual professors or administrators.

His story is not for pollyannas, but rather for those who relish absurdity, black humor, irony, and, I fear, dashed dreams and heartbreak.

The Amateur Hour is the book to read now as we ponder our post-COVID higher education future.

Zimmerman excels in discussing the stories of great lecturers and efforts for reform.

This important contribution to scholarship will be welcomed by historians of education, scholars of higher education, as well as faculty and administrators more generally. It should also find an audience in the broader public because it explains why the college classroom functions the way it does.

See All Reviews
About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
312
ISBN
9781421439099
Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction. Personality over Bureaucracy: The Paradox of College Teaching in America
Chapter One. Between the Two Ends of the Log: Teaching and Learning in the Nineteenth

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction. Personality over Bureaucracy: The Paradox of College Teaching in America
Chapter One. Between the Two Ends of the Log: Teaching and Learning in the Nineteenth Century
Chapter Two. Scholarship and Its Discontents: Teaching and Learning in the Progressive Era
Chapter Three. The Curse of Gigantism: Mass-Produced Education and Its Critics in Interwar America
Chapter Four. "Teaching Made Personal": Reform and Its Limits in Interwar College Teaching
Chapter Five. Expansion and Repression: Cold War Challenges for College Teaching
Chapter Six. TV or Not TV? Reforming Cold War College Teaching
Chapter Seven. The University under Attack: College Teaching in the 1960s and 1970s
Chapter Eight. Experimentation and Improvement: Reforming Teaching in the 1960s and 1970s
Epilogue. The Decade of the Undergraduate? College Teaching in the 1990s and Beyond
Appendix. Archives of College Teaching
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Jonathan Zimmerman

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of the history of education at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of numerous books, including Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education and Campus Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know.