History Curriculum

As classes start in the fall, my thoughts always turn to undergraduate curricular matters, for various reasons. For the last few years I have meant to do some research to see what other history programs are requiring of their majors, but as with many things – I have just not had the time. This fall I really mean to look into this. So, tonite I looked at the American Historical Association’s webpage (AHA). There I found an interesting article entitled “Benchmarks for Professional Development in Teaching of History as a Discipline.” The paragraph that caught my eye was:

  • “History is the study of the past (including the study of change and continuity over time). According to historian Peter Stearns, “the past causes the present, and so the future. Sometimes fairly recent history will suffice to explain a major development, but often we need to look further back to identify the causes of change. Only through studying history can we grasp how things change; only through history can we begin to comprehend the factors that cause change; and only through history can we understand what elements of an institution or a society persist despite change.” Studying history not only trains students to place events in historical perspective, it also develops research skills and sharpens student analytical thinking. Professional development projects should be reviewed over time to insure that these thinking and research skills are being met.”

I certainly agree with the sentiments expressed in the paragraph and feel that most historians would agree with this also. The problem is that I do not feel that most history programs address these issues fully. Instead, most history programs seem to  be fairly similar to programs 20, 30, or even 40 years ago. Sure, some of the content has changed, but other than that the programs have not changed. Perhaps this is because the curriculum does not need to change, but I doubt it. Historians tend to resist academic changes and this concerns me. I worry that this will result in the gradual decline of the field since students already perceive history as an “old-school” major. I also understand that many students come to college with unrealistic expectations, for example I meet many students entering IUP who want to be CSI agents, not truly understanding what that would entail scholastically or professionally. This all leads me to 2 separate, but interconnected questions:

  1. What should an undergraduate history curriculum contain?
  2. How do we attract students to the field of history?


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