March 05, 2006

Harvard To Eliminate Western Civ?

From The Harvard Crimson:

You can't fight for Western Civilization--much less understand it ("understanding" being the paramount notion, right after "diversity")--if you are never taught it in school:

History 10a, “Western Societies, Politics, and Cultures: From Antiquity to 1650,” could soon be ancient history itself.

An expected change to history concentration requirements would abolish a long-standing pillar of the department, according to a professor who has taught the course in the past. But the decision hasn’t been finalized by the department.

“No one is willing to defend ‘Western Civ’ and lots of people want to abolish it,” said Baird Professor of History Mark A. Kishlansky, who has taught History 10a twice since 2002. “I think the department will vote this change.”

Kishlansky predicted that the department would eliminate History 10a and its counterpart, History 10b, “Western Economies, Societies, and Polities: From 1648 to the Present,” in response to ongoing student and faculty opposition.
The class will continue, but not the requirement to take it. Though this is still in the idea stage, it is hardly far-fetched to see this proposal enacted. What will replace Western Civ?--

New “long ago” and “far away” requirements would replace these mandatory survey courses, Kishlansky said.

The “long ago” component would require students to take a premodern course about a “civilization at a different stage of development than the one you know of,” Kishlansky said.

But he said the department has yet to determine the exact dates that this “premodern” period would encompass.

The department also plans to implement a “far away” requirement that would have students take a course on a subject geographically removed from their area of interest, Kishlansky said.
No one is saying that learning the history of other cultures and other time periods is not a valid requirement of history majors. But eliminating the historical foundation of their own culture, or the culture that brought about the school they are attending (if they are not from the West) would decrease the "diversity" so long sought by these institutions. Even the University of Colorado--Boulder, home of Ward Churchill, required that history majors of all fields take the equivalent of Western Civ before moving on to areas of concentration outside American or European history. That Harvard's history department would consider eliminating this basic requirement, just one course out of the typical 15 or so that comprise a major is disheartening, if not altogether surprising for the liberal Ivy-league school.

One could argue about periodization (jargon learned as an MA candidate in history) and the difficulty inherent in presenting roughly two-thousand or so years of history, usually ending in 1648. Dealing with the Ancient world, the Roman Empire, the Middle Ages and finally the Renaissance in a semester is quite a daunting task. Handled effectively, students get a taste of history that might eventually inspire them to become history majors, lifelong armchair historians, or even professional historians. As a Teaching Assistant for many different courses in diverse areas (American history, history of Islam, Roman history, and history of European warfare) it was immensely gratifying to see students previously unexposed or underexposed to a subject become engrossed by the new field. That should be what "diversity" means in a college setting, not simply boutique courses that reflect a particular professor's pet project. Exposure to many differing ideas, cultures, histories following a foundation course that paints a backdrop to all future historical enquiry. A good professor and a decent course turned many "open-option" undecideds into history majors. Some later changed emphases, looking for more challenging work in areas outside of America or Europe. A fundamental level of education should remain, however, and one of those courses should be Western Civ.

In the end, it appears dead white guys like Aristotle, Alexander, Caesar, Constantine, Justinian, et al. aren't historically important enough to justify their inclusion in a Harvard history major. Now what would happen if they did away with culture/gender diversity course requirement--heads would surely roll (oh wait, that just happened to Larry Summers!)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome to the Nightmare of the Curriculum Wars.
Eliminating the academic requirement of the history of western civilization was declared a major goal of revisionist historians’ years ago. The historians and educators* in this movement intend to replace it with a required 2 semester "world history" class. The strategy for accomplishing this end aimed at conquering the high schools first. This goal has already occurred through the general level, "History of the World" and in the relatively new AP World course taught in high schools. In four years AP World has replaced AP European history in many high schools. The AP World curriculum was designed by several far-left historians who have reduced Western history to 20 percent of the course. Western accomplishments and influences are given a brief discussion, while its sins against humanity are given center stage. These same individual designed the AP World exam which requires one to focus most study time on Asian and Middle Eastern history. which dominates the course and exam. Less attention is given to Latin America as well. Academics and faculty resisting this movement find themselves under siege from hostile critics demanding their submission to the "new history".

* the leaders of the movement are primarily from around San Francisco and Hawaii.

Mon Mar 06, 08:43:00 PM  

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