History majors at George Washington University are no longer required to take classes in U.S. history, in a new policy the university alleges will help students keep pace with a “globalizing world.”
The GWU faculty recently altered its history program and nixed the U.S. history, North American history, and European history course requirements for its students. Instead, history majors must take one introductory course, of which “Introduction to American History,” “European Civilization in Its World Context,” and “Approaches to Women’s History” are all options.
“The changes allow students to tailor their academic plans to better reflect a globalizing world and its impact on the study of history, faculty said.”
“Students majoring in history now have a more flexible curriculum, which faculty members said they hope will attract more majors to a shrinking department,” The Hatchet, GWU’s student newspaper, reported. “The changes allow students to tailor their academic plans to better reflect a globalizing world and its impact on the study of history, faculty said.”
GWU history majors may now graduate without any formal coursework in U.S. history. But that doesn’t matter to the faculty at GWU.
“I think the main gain for students is that they have a great deal more flexibility than they had before, and they can adapt it to whatever their plans are for the future,” Katrin Schultheiss, the chair of GWU’s history department, told The Hatchet. “Whatever they want to do, there’s a way to make the history department work for them.”
In July, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) found that more than two-thirds of top U.S. colleges have opted to remove the U.S. history requirement from the history major’s core curriculum.
“Many of the same institutions that do not require history majors to take a course on United States history do specify that they must complete coursework on areas outside the United States. And many allow some very strange, highly specialized topics to substitute for a course on the United States,” the ACTA noted.
The trend has caused substantial concern among educators who warn against the impending epidemic of “historical illiteracy” among U.S. college students.
“Historical illiteracy is the inevitable consequence of lax college requirements, and that ignorance leads to civic disempowerment,” Michael Poliakoff, ACTA’s then-president-elect, said in July. “A democratic republic cannot thrive without well-informed citizens and leaders. Elite colleges and universities in particular let the nation down when the examples they set devalue the study of United States history.”
And now GWU doesn’t care if its history majors graduate without any historical understanding of the nation in whose capital the university resides. Understanding and catering to the cares of a “globalizing world” seem to be higher up on GWU’s list of priorities.