Friday, 12 February 2010

I'm Quite Angry

With Sussex University, since you ask, who have announced that their history courses won't cover British history pre-1700 or European history pre-1900. Just a quick collection of a few (a very few) of the things this ignores:

The Norman Conquest, The Viking Invasions of Britain, Anglo Saxon England, The Crusades, The Roman Empire, The English Civil War(s), The Reformation/Tudors, The French Revolution, The formation of the modern countries of Germany and Italy, Most of the Enlightenment...

It's a long list, full of some moments of history that have defined humanity, or at least this country. Frankly, I'd like to know what they think they're playing at. Some suggestions as to possible thinking behind it:

  • 'We're running out of money. Better cut something that doesn't attract much funding.' Here's a sad thought; Sussex's attitude is simply a reflection of the funding priorities of education in general, where the arts and humanities tend not to get much of anything, because merely providing things integral to being well rounded human beings doesn't count as practical. Modern history attracts more research funding than older stuff. Just look at the spread of research posts over academic sites for proof of that.
  • 'It's old. It doesn't really matter.' There is this weird idea floating around that recent history is somehow more meaningful than older history, which strikes me as A: ignoring the fundamental elements produced by older civilisations. The most fundamental things we take for granted, such as a belief in the rightness of individual freedom or the right to select governments, owe a great deal to civilisations hundreds, if not thousands of years old. B: ignoring historical theory, which has known for years that meaning is constructed by the historians. Even saying that older things are not having an impact is idiotic. Britain's political system owes at least as much to the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries as to the last few hundred years.
  • 'Not many people are doing them'. This is probably true. Why is it true. Firstly, because the above assumptions are made in the National Curriculum for schools as much as anywhere else, so that again modern history is given precedence. Secondly, because modular formats for history encourage students to take easy options based on what they've already done.
Now, I should say that, not having sat in on Sussex's meetings (they didn't think to include someone completely unconnected to them for some odd reason) I can't say this for certain. But it's a pretty safe bet that I'm right.

6 comments:

Jodie said...

What? I and several people at my university would have never made it through a history degree if these kind of courses were cut! Only two of my modules were 19th century or later. And if I have to hear one more person talk about the practicality issue of a history degree I will scream. I went to university to develop my mind and drink, no to get a business degree and I regret nothing.

stu said...

Do business degrees count as practical? From what I hear, employers wind up bemoaning their lack of basic skills, and having read a few business books, I find myself frequently irritated by research techniques that most other disciplines would see as insufficiently rigourous.

What strikes me as practical is the combination of a real degree with some valid experience.

Christina said...

Wow, that's an impressive list of history. I'd love to take that class. I was in that spot too with some of the lit. classes I wanted to take, but the university dumped. However, the history classes you mentioned would be far more beneficial to history majors, and to many other people who need history for their careers.

Lisa Damian said...

Isn't it the job of the history department to teach history? You bring of a lot of good examples of things that would be missed in a selective history education.

stu said...

To some extent, all history teaching and research is selective. The whole history of the world ever is quite a lot of stuff, and I understand that it's impossible to cover everything in depth. The modular approach already means that no history student receives an entirely coherent narrative through their studies. Even so, there seems to me to be a difference between a student focussing on areas that intrigue them, and a department discounting the importance of everything but the recent past.

stu said...

A letter from the head of History, Art History and Philosophy at Sussex (the title itself tells you how seriously they take the subject, and philosophy for that matter) makes it clear that it's down to option three.