In Princeton historian Jeremy Adelman's popular course "A History of the World," the world isn't just the subject, it's also the method.
University undergraduates join learners around the world through the edX online platform for an introduction to the history of the modern world that examines the environmental impact of human development, the role of wars and empires in shaping world power and the transformations of global trade, finance and migration.
Much of the learning happens online, including Adelman's lectures, and Princeton students join with learners around the world for interactive discussions and presentations.
"Teaching online is a way to collaborate with my students and to get involved in debates and discussions with students and learners elsewhere on the planet," Adelman said. "We learn through exchanges, through teamwork. If we are going to share this planet, we have to develop skills to be able to work together while understanding our differences across global divides."
The global approach to learning is a natural fit for Adelman, the Henry Charles Lea Professor of History, who has lived and worked in seven countries and four continents. He has published books on the history and development of South America and is a co-author of the book "Worlds Together, Worlds Apart," a history of the world since the beginning of humankind.
"An important goal for me is to have my students think of Princeton, this course and their relationship with me as portals on the wider world," Adelman said.
A 2004 winner of the President's Award for Distinguished Teaching, Adelman has also taught survey courses on modern Latin America and seminars on topics such as the age of revolutions, U.S.-Latin America relations and the history of money.
Throughout his work teaching and advising undergraduates on their independent research, Adelman said the learning is a two-way street.
"The best part of teaching Princeton’s undergraduates is what I learn from them," Adelman said. "In my lectures, precepts and in advising students on junior papers and their senior theses, it is often reciprocal learning. This enhances what we all get from reading, discussing and presenting.
"At the end of a good teaching day, I think differently about a subject than when I woke up. That’s what I aim for — and to ensure that my students have the same intellectual experience as I do."
Princeton presents a special opportunity for undergraduates because that type of intellectual experience extends well beyond the classroom, he said.
"The learning we are involved in is committed to exploring your place in the world," Adelman said. "From the conversations in residential colleges over dinner to the hours in the lab or library, what I see happening to my students at Princeton is a widening of personal horizons while developing a profound sense of where they see themselves making their mark in the world."
Such interactions happen easily on Princeton's campus.
"Another great thing about Princeton is the scale: I can get around to see my students — if they are playing volleyball or over lunch in their residential college," Adelman said. "Of course, the fact that I am an avid biker helps. Actually, I take my passion for history to bicycles and have a small collection of vintage Raleighs from the 1970s. Maybe some day I will teach a course on the history of the bicycle, from the Tour de France to Mao's China!”