(Roughly) Daily

“History is past politics and politics present history”*…

 

Vintage compass lies on an ancient world map.

A recent study confirms a disturbing trend: American college students are abandoning the study of history. Since 2008, the number of students majoring in history in U.S. universities has dropped 30 percent, and history now accounts for a smaller share of all U.S. bachelor’s degrees than at any time since 1950. Although all humanities disciplines have suffered declining enrollments since 2008, none has fallen as far as history. And this decline in majors has been even steeper at elite, private universities — the very institutions that act as standard bearers and gate-keepers for the discipline. The study of history, it seems, is itself becoming a relic of the past.

It is tempting to blame this decline on relatively recent factors from outside the historical profession. There are more majors to choose from than in the past. As a broader segment of American society has pursued higher education, promising job prospects offered by other fields, from engineering to business, has no doubt played a role in history’s decline. Women have moved in disproportionate numbers away from the humanities and towards the social sciences. The lingering consequences of the Great Recession and the growing emphasis on STEM education have had their effects, as well.

Yet a deeper dive into the statistics reveals that history’s fortunes have worsened not over a period of years, but over decades. In the late 1960s, over six percent of male undergraduates and almost five percent of female undergraduates majored in history. Today, those numbers are less than 2 percent and 1 percent. History’s collapse began well before the financial crash.

This fact underscores the sad truth of history’s predicament: The discipline mostly has itself to blame for its current woes. In recent decades, the academic historical profession has become steadily less accessible to students and the general public — and steadily less relevant to addressing critical matters of politics, diplomacy, and war and peace. It is not surprising that students are fleeing history, for the historical discipline has long been fleeing its twin responsibilities to interact with the outside world and engage some of the most fundamental issues confronting the United States…

Hal Brands and Francis J. Gavin suggest that “The historical profession is committing slow-motion suicide.”

[Image above: source]

* The motto of the Johns Hopkins History Department (attributed to 19th century Oxford historian Edward Augutus Freeman by some scholars, and to 19th century Cambridge historian Sir John Robert Seeley by others)

###

As we look to the past, we might recall that it was on this date in 1803 that the Louisiana Purchase was consummated, when the U.S. took formal possession of 828,000 square miles of territory from France (an area that includes all or part of 15 current U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces).  Americans had originally sought to purchase only the port city of New Orleans and its adjacent coastal lands; but Napoleon, cash-strapped by his war with England, offered a (much) larger parcel– and the U.S. quickly agreed.

250px-Louisiana_Purchase

The modern continental United States, with the Louisiana Purchase overlaid

source

 

 

Written by LW

December 20, 2018 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: