The Role of the History Major in Liberal Education: White Paper report for the Teagle Foundation

In a report issued this week, a working group of the National History Center urges history departments to reassess their curriculum for history majors, with an eye towards emphasizing the goals and values of liberal education. A history major, the report argues, should “nurture [students’] liberal and civic capacities, in part by integrating disciplinary knowledge, methods, and principles into the broad experience of undergraduate education.”

The National History Center

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submitted its white paper on “The Role of the History Major in Liberal Education” to the Teagle Foundation, which generously supported this project. The Center, with a working group headed by Stanley N. Katz (Princeton University) and James R. Grossman (The Newberry Library), investigated this relationship in response to a grant request from the foundation, which also made grants to groups representing five other disciplines (modern languages, classics, religion, economics, and biochemistry/molecular biology). The Foundation is generally interested in the relationship of majors to the overall goals of liberal education, and particularly interested in understanding how these majors prepare students both for diverse career paths, and for contributions to their communities.

Taking as its starting point the AAC&U’s definition of “liberal education“, the Center’s working group placed the discipline of history at the center of liberal undergraduate education. The white paper, authored by Katz and Grossman, with assistance from Tracy Steffes (Brown University), discusses how departments see themselves as liberal educators and their relationships with students as well as with other departments with the college. A series of recommendations focuses on how a department might think about organizing the history major as the center of liberal learning, what types of historical skills contribute best to that liberal education, and how assessments fits into this enterprise.

The report is now available for purchase at the American Historical Association’s Pub Shop.

The Center sponsored a session at the American Historical Association’s 123rd annual meeting in New York on Sunday, January 4th at 9:00 am in the Hilton’s Midtowne Suite. Chaired by the report’s co-author Stan Katz, the panel includes Donna Heiland of the Teagle Foundation; Professor Kenny Morrell (Rhodes College), who is involved with the Classicists’ report for the foundation, and two members of the Center’s working group, Thomas Bender (New York University) and Constance Berman (University of Iowa). The session discussed the report, its recommendations, and a possible follow-up from the Teagle Foundation.