Faculty Highlight: Heather Bryson Finds Creative Ways to Bring History to Life

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

By Claudia Zequeira

Heather Bryson, professor, history, has very unique ways of bringing history to life.

When her students study the 1960s -1980s, for instance, they complete a setlist (or playlist) for a band tasked with performing the most politically powerful music of the era. Nina Simone, Marvin Gaye and Bruce Springsteen often make it to the concert.

She then asks her students to discuss the music of their generation and discuss how that relates to the cultural and political discourses of today.

“It is a nice way to discuss and try to understand the cultural conversations of the last half of the 20th century,” said Heather, who teaches Early and Modern Western Civilization as well as United States History to 1877 and U.S. History 1877 to Present.

In her classes, students studying the 1950s and 1960s examine the cultural messages in advertisements geared toward middle-class suburban women and compare them to present-day messages targeting a similar demographic.

Over the course of the lesson, students look at about 10 advertisements from the era to examine what the ads encouraged women to do, including cleaning house, looking young, being quiet, taking care of the kids and making sure a nice dinner was placed on the table all while “making their husbands feel like a king.”

Students then study current ads and compare them to those of the past, analyzing what is different (wives are not shown at home while their husband works as frequently) and what is the same (physical appearance continues to be prioritized).

“I think that this sort of learning, one in which art, literature, music and visual cultures are included, is interesting for the students and it makes the past feel less distant,” said Heather.

“It makes sense to our students that music can be a political expression or that advertisements can be sexist, so I think that it helps students to be curious about the past when they can see its parallels in the present.”

Heather’s students have also drawn scenes from Europe after Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which challenged the all-powerful Catholic Church, and have created illustrations of Russian Tsar Peter the Great, responsible for expanding the Russian empire, while including what is historically important about him in his portrait.

“When I have students create their own art, it is usually an attempt to have students focus on one person or event while drawing out the complexities of that individual or event,” she said.

“I was an art history minor in college and anthropology minor in graduate school, so I always like to get the students thinking about visual or musical cultures in different eras,” said Heather, who has been teaching at Valencia since 2011.

“I also like to have students create visual depictions of certain aspects of history so that they can build visual representations into their learning.”

Heather said she was inspired to teach this way in part because of previous experiences as a middle-school teacher as well as her readings about brain-based learning.

According to The Glossary of Education Reform, Brain-based learning, refers to teaching methods, lesson designs and school programs that are based on the latest scientific research about how the brain learns, including such factors as cognitive development — how students learn differently as they age, grow, and mature socially, emotionally, and cognitively.

“I have been using these sorts of assignments for years,” said Heather. “As students increase the ways in which they think about a certain concept or era, the connections serve to make the concept more meaningful and applicable.”

Do you know a faculty member doing great work? Or, perhaps you’d like to share the work you’re doing? Send the colleague’s (or your) name to us at  The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu and include Faculty Highlight Nomination in the subject line of your email. We might just feature your colleague (or you) as an upcoming Faculty Highlight.


  • Jed Broitman said:

    Heather's work gets to the core of what Valencia is all about and I'm proud to call her a fellow professor here on campus. This article peels back the curtain to see the magic in the classroom, she's a gem!

    AMFri, 20 Nov 2020 09:18:36 +0000Fri, 20 Nov 2020 09:18:36 +0000am20,9:18 am

    • Heather Bryson said:

      Jed, what a generous comment. Thank you. I am proud to call you a colleague as well. Have a wonderful break. Hope to see you around soon.

      AMFri, 20 Nov 2020 10:10:54 +0000Fri, 20 Nov 2020 10:10:54 +0000am20,10:10 am

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