Why Study History?

tags: historians, teaching history, history profession in crisis

Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt is dean of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Honors College and professor of history at Cleveland State University and recent vice president of the teaching division of the American Historical Association. She blogs about issues in higher education at Tales Told Out of School and tweets @school_tales.

Like every other historian in higher education, I followed with rapt attention the reactions to a recent study about the declining number of history majors. The study had a particular urgency, as its dissemination followed on the heels of the announcement of a proposed plan at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point to abolish the history major there.

Not surprisingly, people have made a host of assessments about these sobering developments. Are parental and societal demands that majors be vocationally productive discouraging students from pursuing a history degree? (Probably.) Is the proliferation of the number of students taking AP history courses cutting into enrollment in history courses? (Perhaps.) Could we be doing a better job of equipping our students to discuss the skills and habits of mind that being a history major encourages, thereby helping to launch them into meaningful careers? (Absolutely.)

And we have constructive ways of addressing all these diagnoses of the problem, or what it is that keeps students from taking history courses and becoming history majors. Just this part weekend, historians from across the country gathered for their annual meeting of the American Historical Association. At various workshops and panels, they discussed the future of the discipline and how best to convince skeptics and others to embrace the merits of studying history. These discussions revealed that reversing this trend will require a multipronged approach.

Read entire article at Inside Higher Ed

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