August 2, 2006

The historians' full employment act

ACTA has sent a letter to Arizona Governor Napolitano urging that the state require that undergraduates take history, something that is discussed in an Arizona Republic article today as well as in an ACTA blog entry. As any history department website in Texas will tell you, Texas has a core curriculum, and if I remember correctly, the Texas undergrad history requirement goes back further than the 1997 core-curriculum law (though I couldn't find the specifics in a quick search).

As an historian and union member, I have absolutely no problem with this requirement. It's the historian's full-employment act, if it's replicated across the country, and we all know that given the oversupply of Ph.D.'s, we need something like that. Since we're most oversupplied with Americanists, who can argue? Too bad history occurs in other countries, too, so the requirement might distort what departments look like—less intellectual diversity might result (though I'm sure Timothy Burke and others can point out several ways in which a U.S. history requirement can be structured to give a variety of perspectives on our North American past).

On the other hand, the emphasis on a fairly rigid notion of a core curriculum is—er, eum—being ahistorical, as Lawrence Levine's The Opening of the American Mind points out. Anyone know if there's evidence that having a core curriculum, or a history requirement, means that graduating Texas students know more history than their peers in other states? Or what actually happens in Texas these days, undergraduate-wise, that's different with the core curriculum? Any creative interpretations? I'm sure we're going to hear the reductionist debate on this, but I'd like there to be something a bit more substantive on the ground.

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Posted in History on August 2, 2006 7:43 PM |