SHORT TAKES


December 4, 2012

The Campus Assault on American History

As a professional historian at Hamilton College, I teach my students that the United States was founded on the principles of limited government, voluntary exchange, respect for private property, and civil freedom.  Does any sane parent believe that more than a tiny fraction of students graduate from college these days with a deep and abiding appreciation of the worth of these principles? 

For Doubting Thomases, look no further than the eleven elite liberal arts colleges that comprise the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), which includes Amherst, Williams, Trinity, and Wesleyan.   Not one of these eleven colleges requires undergraduates to take a single course in American history.  Even worse, a substantial majority of these eleven elite colleges do not even require that students majoring in history take any American history courses. And none of the eleven history departments requires a two-semester American history sequence for its majors.

Non-Western history, however, has a privileged status in a majority of the departments.  Amherst requires of history majors that they take only "one course each in at least three different geographic areas." The United States is but one of six geographic areas from which students can choose.  Bowdoin College's history department offers eight fields of study.   Four "non-Euro/U.S. courses" are required, but not one US history course. In 2007, one-third of all history majors at my college, Hamilton, were graduated without one course in American history. 

As the American historians in my department battled to remedy this disgrace, the majority voted a minor concession: Starting with the class of 2012, majors must take one course in US history, although the non-Western requirement would remain: "Three courses must focus upon areas outside of Europe and the United States." The downgrading of American history continues.

Comments (1)

Jeffrey Kroessler:

I warned my niece against taking history classes at Wesleyan, which pained me as a historian. But this is happening not only at the elite, private institutions. The new Pathways initiative at CUNY, intended to standardize curriculum and credits to a degree, marginalizes history, and all but eliminates American History. It is reduced to but one of several areas of study, or in Pathways-speak, ways of knowing the past.

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