The American Historical Association recently announced that it is initiating a nationwide, faculty-led project to articulate the disciplinary core of historical study and to define what a student should know and be able to do at the completion of a history degree program. Professors Anne Hyde (Colorado College) and Patricia Limerick (University of Colorado Boulder) will lead faculty from more than sixty colleges and universities across the country to frame common goals and reference points for post-secondary history education. According to the AHA, “these faculty participants will work together to develop common language that communicates to a broad audience the significance and value of a history degree.”
Hmm, just the degree? What about the significance and value of history? My sense is that this project is being prompted by the funder, the Lumina Foundation, which awarded the AHA a three-year grant for this history “Tuning” project. The Lumina Foundation’s mission is to “expand access and success in education beyond high school, particularly among adults, first-generation college going students, low-income students and students of color.” Tuning is a methodology developed in Europe to convene experts in a discipline to spell out the distinctive skills, methods, and substantive range of that field. Participants then work to harmonize or ‘tune’ the core goals of their discipline and the curricula that support those goals on each participating campus. These are all admirable goals (and I hold history degrees myself) but what gets most students excited about history is not textbooks and lectures. Roy Rosenzweig, David Thelen, and Sam Weinburg pointed that out years ago. And yet, the AHA will be focusing its attention on “crafting a common framework that establishes appropriate and fair expectations for holders of degrees in history.”
Furthermore, AHA is only seeking participants from 2- and 4-year colleges and universities–history museums, historic sites, and history organizations aren’t invited. That’s too bad, considering more people learn history each year by visiting history museums and historic sites than graduate with a degree in history. Secondly, where are all of these history degree holders going to work? They’re not all heading off to become college professors, so they need some representation from the places that are hiring (such as history organizations) to ensure they are developing the appropriate skills and knowledge. Finally, the project needs to consider where most students are coming from, that is, public high schools. The study of history has been shrinking in public schools for at least the last decade, so knowing the current status and direction will greatly inform the process as they build on this foundation. The project needs to have some representation from people working in secondary education.
IMHO, it looks like another project where scholars are just talking among themselves.