Although history as entertainment in the movies and television is at an all-time high, its appeal as a major on college campuses across the country is at an all-time low (“History As Seen on TV,” Washington Examiner, Apr. 9). Since 2008, there has been a 30 percent decline in the number of undergraduate degrees in history, according to the American Historical Association. In sharp contrast, however, during the same period five of the Oscars have been historical or biographical dramas.
How to account for the disparity? Entertainment focuses on great men and women who have faced daunting conditions and yet triumphed. That “great man” approach has captured the attention of the public. In the academy, however, social and economic determinism, with emphasis on oppression, is the how history is taught. The entertainment industry’s approach to history is far more engaging because it makes history come to life.
I doubt that things will change on college campuses. Indoctrination seems to be more important than a balanced approach to the subject. Anyone doubting that needs to remember how speakers with politically incorrect views are either disinvited before they appear or harassed after they arrive.
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2 Replies to “The paradox of history’s decline as a major”
The decline in the number of college history majors is probably attributable to the increased emphasis on majoring in a subject that will provide employment options post-graduation. Following the Great Recession, college students probably became more attentive to the need for paid employment post-graduation as college students perceived fewer reasonably-well-paying white-collar jobs available for recent college grads lacking immediately job-related training and as the average student debt load increased significantly. Likewise, secondary school teaching careers — always an option for college history majors — became much less attractive in the aftermath of NCLB and Race-to-the-Top.
Labor Lawyer: When tuition was affordable, students had the luxury of majoring in any subject that appealed to them. But who can blame them today for wanting to see a financial payoff for what they’ve studied? The hu manities will continue to hemorrhage.