ITA 2016 Assignment Winner: Maddalena Marinari Posted on October 25th, 2017 by

This is one of a few interviews conducted by Lili Rothschild ‘17 with winners and previous nominees for the Gustavus Innovative Teaching Award. Nominations for this year’s awards should be emailed to by November, 10th.  More details can be found at

Maddalena Marinari, Department of History, was awarded the Innovative Teaching Award (Assignment) for her Shanghai Refugee Project implemented in World History (HIS-105) in Fall 2015. As a part of this semester-long research assignment, students were required to extensively analyze newly released primary records from the U.S. Consulate General in Shanghai, China from 1946 to 1951 in order to understand and react to the stories of Shanghai visa applicants. “I want my students, regardless of the level of the history class they take with me, to get a real sense of what doing and writing history looks like,” said Marinari, describing her rationale for engaging students in research as a part of HIS-105, “I don’t think we can understand how historians write books unless we work with primary sources.” After seeing students become more engaged in the course material as a result of extensively researching a single refugee, Marinari hopes to continue to utilize this project as part of HIS-105. She also plans to expand the project by having each student research multiple refugees, allowing for more direct comparison of refugees and increased discussion of specific issues, such as gender and geography, in the process of obtaining a visa.

In discussing the ways she generates and develops ideas for making changes to courses, Marinari said, “Something I always have in the back of my mind when I create new assignments is ‘How can I make this relevant and interesting?’” She approaches assignments with the goal of making them interesting and/or novel to students, while simultaneously using projects as a way to connecting historical content to the students’ lives. This allows her to emphasize the importance of history in the present and “demystify the idea that history is all about dates you need to memorize.” Her advice to other faculty considering implementing new assignments or courses is to be clear from the beginning about expectations and guidelines for students and to work ahead in the planning process to allow for students to benefit from new material without becoming confused or frustrated with the assignment itself.  Throughout the process of executing this assignment, she felt Gustavus students themselves really aided her process. “I think Gustavus students make it easier for us to try new things, because they are so open and willing to try,” said Marinari, “If you are teaching a class that inspires you and you’re committed to, try something innovative and the students at Gustavus will surprise you in all sorts of great ways.”


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