9.2.13

DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY.

The National Association of Scholars looks at course outlines from the flagship public institutions of Texas, and asks if Race, Class, and Gender are dominating U.S. History.

There are a number of dog-whistles being blown in the title of that report.  A right-handed dog might hear that Marxoids in the faculty are introducing their orthodoxies into the curriculum to the exclusion of other modes of analysis.  A left-handed dog might hear another attempt to purge the curriculum of excessively radical thought.  The reality is probably more complicated.

Texas historian Jeremi Suri notes, possibly on the basis of a prior about the organization, that to conclude any one mode of thought dominates the Texas history curriculum, is dumb.
No one cares more about teaching politics, foreign policy, and military affairs more than me. It is what I study. It is what I talk about all the time (so my wife and kids complain!). To teach the history of these subjects requires attention to slavery, American Indians, labor unions, women’s suffrage, and everything else I listed above. Politics do not occur in a vacuum. The outcomes of war are not decided only by a few smart men. Elections, like the one we just experienced, are driven by many factors that include race, class, and gender.
The comments section gets somewhat more heated.

Retired Texas historian Richard Pells offers a different perspective for readers of the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Texas has an extremely conservative legislature, which has already intruded on how faculty teach and on defining "accountability," and has contemplated a host of other educational "reforms." At the same time, state support for the university has been severely reduced over the past several years.

I do not, nor do my former colleagues in the history department, think that the legislature or any other outside group should interfere with how to structure a curriculum, or apply financial pressure to force faculty members to teach certain courses in certain ways. Such interference would be a dangerous infringement on academic freedom.

Still, what University of Texas historians need to do is stop railing against the report and start re-examining their hiring practices. Historians, like all academics, tend to clone themselves when they employ new faculty members. They think that since my field is vital, we need more people teaching the same thing. But what American historians at UT really should do is expand their far-too-limited intellectual horizons.

That means abandoning their current political and intellectual biases, opening themselves up to new subjects and new ideas, and recruiting new sorts of faculty members. Only then will the history department fulfill the true mission of a great university by fostering debate and exploring alternative ways of understanding America's past and present.

I do not question that those faculty members who specialize only in the plight of women, African-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans are in any way ignoring legitimate problems in American history from which those groups have long suffered. Moreover, academic historians before the 1960s ignored the experiences of those groups for far too many decades.

But I am arguing that the National Association of Scholars' report is not a document that should be sneered at or ignored. Rather, what the history department at the University of Texas needs (and what history departments all over the country could benefit from) is a willingness—in fact, an eagerness—to hire people who are pursuing different interests. And who don't simply replow the same topics, teach the same types of courses, and reinforce the same (as Orwell said about the ideologues of the 1930s) "smelly" orthodoxies.
Put another way, where tenure committees were once upon a time excluding left academics, they're now excluding non-left academics?  At Minding the Campus, K. C. Johnson weighs in.  Not Even Past comments, with an index of follow-up links.  Historiann's response induced one of the authors of the Association report to comment on his methods, and the comment section includes quantitative hair-splitting of the most recondite kind.

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