The secret of successful history departments

Historians in the News
tags: gender



... We have been watching the health of the history major carefully, and this article is the first of several efforts to look deeply into the data to understand why some departments are growing even as the history major overall appears stagnant. While the raw number of history bachelor’s degrees has risen steadily, if slowly, history’s share of all bachelor’s degrees has been relatively flat for many years; in most recent years it has seen a slight dip (see Perspectives, March 2014). But this downturn has not been experienced by all. Many history departments are increasing both their numbers of majors and their share of their institutions’ bachelor’s degrees. With this in mind, we returned to completions data from the Department of Education and the AHA’s most recent Directory of History Departments, Historical Organizations, and Historians (2014)....

We will focus here on “market share,” or what proportion of all bachelor’s degrees are history degrees. This helps us account for the fact that the overall college population has grown; most departments have graduated more students than 10 years ago—but often this is not enough to keep their share of all bachelor’s degrees for that institution from slipping. Between 2003 and 2013, 48 percent of departments in the Directory saw an increase in their share of bachelor’s degrees granted by their institution. But a small majority—52 percent—saw a decrease.

However, the subset of departments that report at least one wider world specialization (not United States, not Europe) has an even split. Half of these departments saw a decrease in their share of completions of the bachelor’s; half saw an increase. But among the relatively small number of departments that did not list a wider world geographic specialization, 58 percent saw their share decrease ....

Eighty-four departments listed women’s history or gender as a specialization. Among these departments, 55 percent saw an increase in the share of bachelor’s completions from their institution. And among those institutions that did not list women’s history as a specialization, 53 percent saw a declining market share. And although very few programs listed themselves in the Directory with an African American history focus, these programs did very well by comparison—63 percent made gains.

But the group that included a public history or museum studies focus did even better. Among these 82 programs, 67 percent made gains—remarkable when contrasted with the record of all the departments in the directory, 52 percent of which saw their share of their intuition’s bachelor’s degrees decline....




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