The course list is understandably intimidating. How can someone, especially a student new to the school, identify the courses that are right for them? If they have a concentration in mind already or if they want to get requirements out of the way, then the choice is easy. Yet, if you’re trying to pick between, say, five courses that all sound interesting and insightful, and one of those courses is taught by Professor David Baum, the choice is, to my mind, obvious.
But why am I talking about his courses collectively rather than just one course of his? Shouldn’t class reviews be just about one class? Well, I’m going to be reviewing all of his courses as a unitary entity because, while the subject matter is different from course to course, the courses will basically be the same in terms of the experiences you’d have in them (which, after all, is what these reviews are really about).
Let me get one thing out of the way before I continue this review: Baum’s courses can be difficult, largely due to his odd class structure. In a typical Baum course, 30% of the final grade is derived from the midterm exam, 30% from the final exam, 30% from a large paper you’ll write in the middle of the semester, and 10% from participation. You may notice that there’s no mention of homework in this grading structure. That’s because there is no actual homework in his classes, just a substantial amount of reading. You will do a lot of reading, that is, if you want to pass his classes.
His exams are designed to identify the people who did not do the reading and punish them. As with other aspects of his class structure, this can easily be construed as a feature or as a bug. It’s also important to note that, even if you have studied and done all the reading, his exams are stressful, even by the standards of Simon’s Rock. You will be expected to identify a bunch of people, places, or concepts, write a very detailed timeline, and write a 2-3 page essay, all in an hour and a half. Did I mention each of these exams counts for 30% of your grade in the class? He’s not an overly harsh grader, though, so as long as you pay attention, do the readings, and actually study for the exam, you should come out all right.
Right, so that’s the grading and test stuff. But what about the classes themselves, you ask? Why am I still recommending his classes, even after mentioning the insane stress of his tests? The answer is simple: David Baum is great. He has the driest sense of humor of anyone I’ve ever met, he’s tremendously knowledgeable about every single facet of his subject matter, and loves questions. He makes his classes interesting, provides and ensures excellent in-class discussions and debate, and tells you what he thinks every step of the way, all the while giving you the space to contradict him and/or develop your own analysis of the history. Yet, all that’s just a long-winded, fairly pretentious way of saying that David Baum is awesome and that his courses are awesome. Take it from me: 10/10. You will learn so much and you will have such a fun time.