May 27, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 17

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    [moishe postone] by jason smith
    moishe postone

    Moishe Postone, Associate Professor in History

    By William Harms
    News Office

    As a Quantrell Award winner, Moishe Postone had an excellent role model: Karl Weintraub, a history professor and two-time winner of the honor that celebrates excellence in teaching in the College.

    “What I remember most is Weintraub’s engagement with the material,” said Postone, Associate Professor in History and a graduate of the College. “He was able to convey his sense that the issues raised by the texts we discussed were really important, which is something I try to do as well.”

    Weintraub, the Thomas E. Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor in History, received the award in 1960 and 1987.

    Postone carries on Weintraub’s tradition of teaching excellence as an instructor of the College Social Sciences Core sequence Self, Culture and Society. “I have been teaching it since I came here in 1987 as a Harper Instructor, and have been Chair or Co-chair of the sequence since I was appointed to the departmental faculty in 1990.

    “Like my colleagues, I try to help students learn to read texts critically. This is particularly important in the social sciences, since most students entering college have never read primary texts on the social world. By reading such texts, students learn to grapple with various approaches to and understandings of our social universe, and they come to understand that learning about the social world is not simply a matter of acquiring information.

    In Self, Culture and Society, learning how to read critically involves examining works of seminal authors in the social sciences, such as Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber.

    Those texts often generate lively discussions, ones that change with each set of students.

    “When I teach, I try to generate discussion, but I see myself as more than just a facilitator,” Postone said. “What I try to teach students is not primarily an author’s position. Rather, I want them to become aware of the authors’ arguments, their presuppositions, internal coherence and implications.

    “In this way, I try to help develop the critical skills and intellectual autonomy of the students,” he explained.

    Writing assignments also help students develop that autonomy, Postone added.

    “I have them write essays that are not research papers but rather pieces in which they develop an argument. And I ask students to write them in a way that others can understand what they are trying to communicate.

    “That is, I do not want students writing papers just for me, their teacher, but to take responsibility for communicating what they think so that others who are not familiar with the texts can understand what they are arguing.”

    Developing greater intellectual autonomy and maturity is a complex process, Postone said. Ideally, over the course of the year, the teacher-student relationship changes as students become more critically independent.

    “The process is interactive. The more successful I am, the more autonomous the students become. I enjoy teaching at the University a great deal. I draw considerable energy from it.”

    After completing an B.S. degree in biochemistry, Postone changed his research interests and pursued an A.M. in history at the University, where he studied ancient Greece and Europe since 1815. He continued his work at J.W. Goethe-Universitšt, Frankfurt, where he received a Dr. Phil. in 1983.

    Before coming to the University, he was a research fellow at the Center for Transcultural Studies in Chicago. He became a William Rainey Harper Instructor in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division in 1987.

    He is a specialist on Marx and Critical Theory and the author of Times, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory (1993), which was awarded the theory prize of the American Sociological Association in 1996.