An Updated History Curriculum: If We Build It, Will They Come?

Sunday, January 7, 2018: 9:40 AM
Thurgood Marshall West (Marriott Wardman Park)
R. Scott Moore, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
At my 14,000 student public university, the History Department has seen a roughly 50% decrease in the number of majors (BA, BA Prelaw, and SSED) over the last 7 years. During this same period, our university administration has encouraged departments to develop new undergraduate degrees in areas they perceive to be “in demand,” such as Public Health and Environmental Engineering. Resources and attention have been focused in these areas, and in the more vocationally-oriented majors of Criminology, Nursing, and Safety Science. Although the causes of declining enrollment lie primarily in societal changes beyond our control, core humanities departments, including History, have been expected to reverse student decline without any resource assistance from our administration.

As part of our effort to provide all our students with a marketable major, we have restructured our offerings for the 40% of our BA students who do not plan to pursue a traditional graduate education in History. A significant percentage of these students do not enter the university as History majors, but switch to history after experimenting with other majors, and find their way to History through our offerings for non-majors. In an effort to provide a more widely marketable degree, which we hope will attract students to History, we have created a more “applied” degree, both in appearance and in approach, with the addition of new courses in public and digital history, the creation of two new certificates in applied history, the introduction of career focused workshops, and an emphasis on broadly applicable skills. In addition, we have reorganized the curriculum to create cohorts and implemented a regular schedule of community-building events. While we are still in the early stages of this change, we have seen positive results in terms of recruitment and retention.