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Posts Tagged ‘humanities

“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.


The modern continental United States, with the Louisiana Purchase overlaid




Written by LW

December 20, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The exploring of the Solar System… constitutes the beginning, much more than the end, of history”*…


Solar System Interactive,” from Jeroen Gommers, is a simple– and simply beautiful– tool for understanding the relative orbits of the planets (and lest we forsake Pluto, the dwarf planets) the circle the Sun…

In a simplified graphical presentation the planets are seen orbiting the sun at a relatively high speed. The user is encouraged to grab any one of these planets, drag it around the sun manually and experience the orbit periods of the other planets as they are driven along their orbit at relative speeds, uncovering the “interplanetary clockwork.”

Click here to give it a whirl.

* Carl Sagan

As we watch ’em go round, we might send synthetic birthday greetings to Charles Percy Snow, Baron Snow; he was born on this date in 1905.  A chemist and physicist, Snow taught at his alma mater, Cambridge, before joining the British Civil Service, where he had a distinguished career as a technical adviser and administrator.  He is probably better remembered these days for his writing (e.g., a biography of Anthony Trollope; the sequence of novels known as Strangers and Brothers).  But he is surely best remembered for his 1959 Rede Lecture, “Two Cultures” (subsequently published as The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution).  Snow argued that the breakdown of communication between the “two cultures” of modern society – the sciences and the humanities – was a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems.

A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: ‘Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?’

I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question – such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, ‘Can you read?’ – not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their Neolithic ancestors would have had…



Written by LW

October 15, 2015 at 1:01 am

The Geography of Belief…



From The Polis Center (a joint venture of Indiana University, Purdue, and Indianapolis University): the North American Religion Atlas, an interactive tool that lets one locate any one of 22 faiths by county, region, or state.

As Rachel Hatch [to whom, TotH] suggests, “an example of the new-ish field, #spatialhumanities”…

As we remember that, as ever, it’s “location, location, location,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1753 that George Washington became a “Master Mason,” the highest rank in the Fraternity of Freemasonry, in his hometown of Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Freemasonry, derived from the practices and rituals of the medieval guild system, gained popularity in the Eighteenth Century, particularly in Great Britain. British Masons organized the first North American Chapter in 1731… arousing considerable suspicion in the early American republic with their mysterious rites and closely held secrets.

But indications are that, for Washington, the Masons were a rite of passage and an expression of civic responsibility. Members were required to express their belief in a Supreme Being and in the immortality of the soul, and expected to obey civil laws, hold a high moral standard, and practice acts of charity.

Besides, their ceremonial dinners routinely ended with the serving of cherry pie.

Washington the Mason (source: Library of Congress)

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