Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sushmita Hodges, PhD - My Absent Narratives Journey: Bringing Human Connections Into Focus

Dr. Sushmita Hodges currently teaches courses in world history (10th grade) and global issues (senior elective) at St. Paul Academy and Summit School in St. Paul. During her 15 years at SPA Hodges has advised student groups including Women in Learning and Leadership and Intercultural Club and Common Ground (affinity group for students of color). She has also held adjunct positions at Hamline University teaching the South Asian immigrant experience as well as courses for the Asian Studies department at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. Hodges’s focus as a historian has been to develop curriculum that engages students in critical thinking and problem solving skills through relevant collaborative projects.

As a historian and globalist who has taught for 25 years, both in higher and secondary education, I deeply value and support the humanities as a core aspect of a liberal arts education, and believe they can help build a globally competent society. Regardless of whether students pursue science, technology, or business, the humanities provide the tools necessary for individuals to relate to each other in the real world. The humanities are the window into the past, present, and future from which we can learn and build a better, more sustainable and equitable future. I believe – both on a personal and a professional level – it is the humanities that provide a cross-cultural context to recognize the importance of how all humanity is inter-connected.

Over the course of the last three years the various professional opportunities that the Minnesota Humanities Center has afforded me have strengthened and informed my work as a historian. Starting with their foundational workshop, Increase Engagement Through Absent Narratives, to participating in the year-long Absent Narratives Collaborative, utilizing the Digital Suitcase curriculum resources on human trafficking, taking part in the Humanities Center’s Educators’ Institute pilot program, and finally, collaborating on the development of  curriculum resources for use with the Blues Vision anthology of African American writing in Minnesota, the Humanities Center has raised my consciousness exponentially about the real impact of history on marginalized communities at the local level. I have always—in my curriculum development and teaching of world history—been aware of the dominant Eurocentric narrative and have made a concerted effort to teach with a focus on voices in the periphery such as the working class, women, indigenous people, slaves, and the global south. However my association with the Humanities Center, and continued work with the absent narratives pedagogy, has further helped me fine tune and hone in those skills.

Throughout writing lessons for my 10th grade world history classes I am conscious of the power of words and descriptions of the historical narrative. I see the importance of teaching students to question and challenge the master dominant narrative as they engage in this writing exercise. Teaching about the modern period in history I constantly struggle with trying to help students be open to new ways of knowing and being that are different from mainstream cultural norms. This teaching process frequently involves critically examining how the idea of “modernity” is only defined through the lens of Western values. For example, I have shown students how the “colonial enterprise” flourished as a result of the exploitation and oppression of the colonized peoples which resulted in the demise of traditional cultural practices, quashed by European ruling class practices. Once students can attribute the “rise of the west” to the resources, labor, and land of the colonized, and not merely to the prowess of the colonizer, they are able to begin opening their hearts and minds to an honest narrative. Understanding a more multi-dimensional narrative makes room and space for communities and groups whose voices have been historically silenced.

For students to gain insight and build empathy it is important to develop authentic projects that are inquiry-based and include a problem solving component. Teaching students the framework of grassroots movements, how to campaign and resolve conflicts as well as build a future based on equity and justice. To arrive at this juncture I emphasize the value of dialogue and conversation rather than simple debate. The absent narratives method has taught me to move beyond deconstruction and “healthy skepticism” to understand and embrace experiences that have been historically undermined. It is important to recognize not just adoption of the additive approach to absent narratives but also being willing to accept the value of different worldviews.

As a teacher in the humanities it is my responsibility to create opportunities for students to experience and feel the historical narrative from the disenfranchised perspective through research projects and other relevant activities. This approach in the long run will help build global and cultural competencies among students and enable the creation of a more collaborative, sustainable world.

Personally, for me, the absent narratives journey has empowered me not to just acknowledge wounds inflicted through the dominant master narrative, but through telling the whole story, begin the healing process that is long overdue.


  1. Very nice Sushmita: I especially appreciate your statement: "It is important to recognize not just adoption of the additive approach to absent narratives but also being willing to accept the value of different worldviews."

  2. You've done impressive work with the Minnesota Humanities Center. It is exciting and encouraging to see scholars and educators like you, who are challenging students to be fully engaged global citizens, who can listen to different experiences with respect, compassion, and understanding. Thank you for continually creating space for those whose authentic voices are typically silenced and overlooked.

  3. Well said and well-lived! I've appreciated your commitment to your personal and professional growth. You continue to inspire your students and your community by striving to expand our world and to bring forth those who have been otherwise absent and silence. Thanks!

  4. Inspired and powerful. ~ what a meaningful contribution (the writing above) as well as your work as a whole.