THE HISTORY Department's recent decision to replace the senior general examination in comparative history, abolish the pre-1600 requirement, and liberalize the department's rigid distribution requirements, is a welcome step in the right direction. It could signal a change in the department's prior position, which has been characterized by inflexibility and refusals to reform.
This February the department's senior faculty rejected an undergraduate proposal to replace the general exam in comparative history with a course composed of seminars in comparative topics. The department's rejection of that proposal and its "compromise" on the issue--offering a series of lectures on comparative history to prepare seniors for the generals--was disheartening. The general exam itself was left untouched by that decision, and the lectures made no real difference in preparing students to answer questions on a subject that virtually no courses in the department covered.
But the department's announcement last week reversed the February decision--at least for concentrators in the class of 1978 and after. Starting with that class, the generals will test students on their major field alone, instead of comparative history; and the abolition of the pre-1600 requirement, along with the easing of the distribution requirements, will allow students to freely prepare for the new kind of general exam.
Of course the department did not go along with the justified proposal to do away with one over all general exam, and replace it with a course on comparative history. Moreover, the department declined to implement the reform of the general exams and course requirements immediately. As it stands now, only the class of '78 and later classes will benefit from the reforms.
The department should complete the reform process it has now begun. It curriculum reform is needed for the class of '78, it should apply to present sophomores and juniors as well. The department should follow up last week's announcement by including the classes of 1976 and 1977 in these reforms.