Huffington Post's “Coolest Class”
Interview with Dr. Rosana Barbosa (History professor at SMU) and Erin Brazil (Fourth-year SMU student)
Dr. Rosana Barbosa has taught Latin American history at Saint Mary’s for the last decade. But in 2013, she had an idea to teach 20th century Brazilian history through a new lens: soccer. The response was overwhelming. Students from all three faculties flocked to the course and the Huffington Post included it on their list of Canada’s Coolest Classes.
We spoke with Dr. Barbosa and one of her students, Erin Brazil to find out more about this unique course in the University’s History department.
Using soccer as an interface to open up a larger study of Brazilian culture is such an interesting approach. But it’s also a bit unconventional; it’s not something you see all the time when you look at university history courses. Were you surprised by the amount of interest you received from students?
RB: Yes, I was. The first time I taught the course, I had more students than the cap (which was 30). But since the course is about history — not about soccer — when I let the students know this on the first day, I expected some of them might drop. But they all stayed! Despite the fact I was not talking about the rules of the game, they found they could learn a lot about the history of the country by looking at events that all related to soccer. And I believe that they really enjoyed it.
EB: I had never heard of a class like this before, a class that explored how a sport could shape history in a country. It was a completely different approach to history.
What is the classroom experience like?
RB: Everyone seems to enjoy the course. We seemed to be happy to be there. You cannot understand soccer without looking into immigration, race relations, economics, urbanization, music, religion, gender, so many different things. So there is a lot to discuss. When the classes are capped at 30, it makes it a lot easier for students to participate. I teach my class very interactively with the students. There’s a lot of participation. Students ask questions, make comments, laugh. The environment is very good. Both times I taught the class the students had no problem approaching me.
EB: The class was really fun and interactive. There were a lot of group activities
Are most of the students in the class history majors?
RB: No, not at all. We had people from all three faculties. Even some students who had never taken a history course before.
EB: And since there were very few history majors in the class, everyone brought their own perspective.
Was this the first course of its kind at SMU, or have there been other courses about sports taught in the past?
RB: The History department has always taught courses about sports. And there are plans to offer more in the future, both in-class and online. But this is the first course about the history of soccer. I’m actually planning to do a research project on soccer in the future. Teaching this class has made me want to do more with the topic.
Even though it was a course that hadn’t been taught before — and a somewhat different approach to studying the history of a country — was it easy for you to get the course approved?
RB: Yes. The administration was very open to the course. I had support at all levels.
That’s what I love about Saint Mary’s. From the president to the janitor, you can approach people here. It’s a very good environment to work in because of that.