Friday, December 3, 2010

Blog LXII (62): A Question

I have a question, and I hope readers of this blog will answer it for me. What is the biggest issue facing the history profession right now? I would like to get your feedback and use it at the session I will be doing at the AHA in January. I will also use the information for a future blog essay.

Feel free to respond in the comment section of this blog, on Facebook, or via a note to my personal e-mail address. To get my address all you have to do is google "Sarantakes." It is not that common a name.

I will tabulate the answers in early January.

8 comments:

  1. The big fiscal crises that many states are facing. A lot of state funded colleges and universities across the country are cutting budgets because state governments have lowered the amount of public funding.

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  2. I would second Anonymous's point, and add to that the growing disconnect between what professional academic historians do and what the general public consumes, which will make it difficult for the academic historians to justify protecting their part of the budget at universities.

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  3. In the USA, I'm not sure, but in the UK, a series of governments' apparent belief that history has nothing to contribute to the country's economy and so must be defunded to continue pouring money into the physical sciences, as if this alone will recreate industrial world leadership. (One could of course use the other side of the coin and say: history's inability to survive at its current size and development as a subject without public funding.)

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  4. I agree with the previous commenters about the importance of the fiscal situations and the issues of history's place in the public consciousness at all levels. But those are problems across higher education and the humanities in general, and I take Prof. Sarantakes' question to be aimed more specifically at history. In my opinion, then, the biggest issue facing the history profession today is the fragmentation of the discipline. By fragmentation, I don't mean the broadening of the field to include social/cultural/sub-altern, etc. history alongside the more "traditional" sub-disciplines of political/diplomatic/military history. The evolution of the history discipline in this direction over the past several decades has been good for the profession and for historians of all stripes. Rather, it seems to be the case in many departments that the sub-disciplines have built walls between themselves, and increasingly see their positions from zero-sum perspectives. My take on this is essentially anecdotal, but the stories of one group of historians objecting to hires/graduate programs/funding for historians or students from the "other" group are legion, and are damaging to the credibility of the profession. It's time to stop looking at the "other" as the enemy, whether they are radical-Lefty-softy cultural historians or reactionary-Righty-warmonger military historians.

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  5. I agree with the above, especially the first two (anonymous) comments. And to put it crudely, History has done itself itself a disservice and placed itself at serious risk by aligning itself increasingly with the humanities as opposed to the social sciences.

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  6. To justify funding for our department we've increasingly had to establish learning standards with "Student Learning Objectives" for each course. These can be measured and tracked for progress as proof that we are indeed improving the critical thinking, reading, and historical knowledge of our students. While I see great value in such standardizations (some faculty do need to be reigned in and forced to get on point), I also see it as a sincere threat to academic and creative freedom. Standardized testing from secondary education may soon threaten to infiltrate the college level and likewise dictate our curriculum.

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  7. Dr.Doinglittle@gmail.comDecember 8, 2010 at 4:07 PM

    The biggest problem is the increasing irrelevance of historical research. Outside of the academic bubble, no-one cares about what historians produce anymore. I don't know one person who can name a contemporary historian - it wasn't hard, say 20 years ago to name 3 or 4 well-recognized historians.

    The navel-gazing has reached the point where entire depts are composed of specialists who only do case study work. I stopped going to conferences as 90% of talks were painfully boring, irrelevant hobbyhorse topics. The swing towards specialization has turned into myopia. It's quite sad... hopefully things will become more balanced someday.

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  8. I believe the biggest issue facing the history profession is one I find common to the liberal arts and humanities. Namely, the ingrained belief amongst non-historians and especially the American lay public that a major in history at the college level is useful only for either teaching and coaching, or as a pursuit of vaguely interesting, yet trivial knowledge.

    While there are multiple reasons for the public's failure to grasp how an education in history is beneficial to both student and the wider public, I think we in the Academy should begin laying the blame at our own feet for how, or even whether, the public understands what we do. Academia has in my opinion and observation of education in the American Southeast, not done well in educating the public about the useful skill-set (not just base knowledge) which the history degree offers: the critical analysis of information, appreciating the broad scope of events, and presentation of information in a coherent and understandable format, to name just three.

    In order for history, and the wider liberal arts/humanities/social sciences, to thrive in an academic environment which has increasingly placed value on majors and programs which produce or promise high profit careers and alumni/ae; such as nursing and business, history must diversify itself as a discipline not only useful for those interested in teaching about "the past," but also as a discipline which provides a skill-set which can be taken into a wide variety of professions and occupations; government, military, corporate as well as education and academia.

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