Surveys: A Dying Breed?

Students Regret Altered Intro. Classes

Amy E. Forker '96 walked into the first class of History 10b this semester expecting the traditional European history survey described in her course catalogue.

But instead of a lecture on the Medici dynasty or the War of the Roses, she found the professor using drawings of human genitalia to show that body image is a changing historical construct.

Forker did not take the class. She wasn't the only one: The revamped History 10b drew only 13 students, though 50 took the more conventionally-taught History 10a this fall.

The unexpected method of teaching introductory history that Forker encountered is not an isolated occurrence.

Throughout the Faculty, debates over foundational texts have led professors to reexamine how they teach survey classes. The scrutiny has produced both changing approaches and staunch adherence to tradition.

And in some departments, faculty reluctant to teach the traditional surveys have eliminated or altered popular courses which usually attract both concentrators and students from outside the department.

Like Forker, most undergraduates seem to prefer the traditional approach. Broadly-based canonical surveys such as the former Fine Arts 13 courses are usually departments' largest student draws.

"I needed a survey course where I could learn the nuts and bolts of history," Forker says. "It [History 10b] had nothing to do with history."

"Social history without political history is worthless," says Benjamin A. Auspitz '95, who is a Crimson comper.

Auspitz is taking English 10b, the EnglishDepartment's introductory survey. "You can't doany theoretical work without knowledge of thetraditionals," he says.

The introductory classes often attractinterested undergraduates from other departmentsas well and can serve as an entry point forprospective concentrators.

Anne E. Eelkema '96, who took History 10a lastfall, calls the traditional course "white Europeanmale history." But she liked the class so muchthat she switched her concentration from Classicsto History.

And after Fine Arts eliminated its popular arthistory surveys, the number of concentrators felldramatically.

Students say broad introductory courses cansupplement a lack of high school training notaddressed by Harvard's Core Curriculum.

Though the Core introduces students todifferent "approaches to knowledge," it does notteach the important basics of a field, studentssay.

"The purpose of being here is to get a broadeducation," Alison A. Hill '94 says. She took thenow-defunct Fine Arts 13 and liked it, she says.

"I love the introductory courses. I thinkthey're the most interesting ones," saysJeffrianne T. Droel '94, a Fine Arts concentrator.

But faculty do not like the surveys asmuch as undergraduates. Most say they prefer tooffer classes in the narrower areas of theirspecialties or spend the time in research.

"Survey courses are diabolical," says GoeletProfessor of French History Patrice Higonnet, whovolunteered to teach History 10b. "It isn't byteaching this that we're going to make our name inthe field. You've got to do it out of a sense ofmissionary zeal."

That zeal was hard to find in the Fine ArtsDepartment, which stopped offering surveys partlybecause it could not find anyone to teach them.

Survey classes are seen as a form of publicservice to students, and professors are not alwayswilling to submit themselves to it.

Others, however, say they consider the tediumof teaching a survey worthwhile.

"I don't regard it as a penance, a chore," saysProfessor of History David G. Black bourn, who isnow teaching History 1333: "European History1848-1945."

"I've always thought it's very important partof what I do," he says.

Blackbourn, who comes to Harvard from theBritish university system, says that findingprofessors to teach surveys is rarely a problemthere because faculty are given little choice inthe matter.

Harvard's greater freedom often allows facultyinterest rather than student demand to determinecourse offerings, he says.

"There tends to be more faculty choice [here],"he says. "There's less of a sense that there arecourses that ought to be taught and we have tofind people to teach them."

One reason many faculty members disliketeaching surveys is the "Squeeze" effect thatmakes the classes hard to plan. Teachers complainthat it is impossible to include everything worthstudying in a discipline in a one or two-semestercourse.

"A survey course is like a crowded subway--it'shard to get everybody in," says Peabody Professorof Music Lewis Lockwood, who teaches Music 102,"Renaissance Music: A Survey."

And that is perhaps the fundamentalcause of debate over survey formats: they cannotinclude everybody or everything.

Disputes have erupted over what meritsinclusion and what dosen't.

Should a class aim to cover the "big names"chronologically or should it use a more thematicapproach? And how do perspectives which aren'tpart of the standard canon of "deal white males"fit into a basic survey?

One solution is simply to drop the surveycourse or courses, as Fine Arts did.

But the department's decision to replace FineArts 13 courses with a series of smaller, focusedclasses was so unpopular with students that thedepartment is now staking out a compromiseposition.

It will soon premiere a new, "thematic"introductory class which be more inclusive andless strictly chronological in format, accordingto Professor of Fine Arts Henri Zerner.

Students who mourned the passing of Fine Arts13 are eagerly awaiting next year's new offering.

"I think it's to the benefit of every arthistorian to know where everything begins andends," says Meredith M. Thomson '94, a Fine Artsconcentrator.

Theme-focused compromises betweentraditional canonical teaching and newerapproaches are a common solution to the surveyquestions.

Despite its apparent radicalism, Higonnet'sHistory 10b class in an example of such acompromise.

It is one he crafted only after agonizing aboutthe proper format and syllabus for a basic historyclass, he says. "It's a private debate in mysoul," he says.

Higonnet has retained the basic subject matterof an introductory survey class--the politics andeconomics of European history.

But rather than lecturing on the standardpolitical chronology in the texts, he focuses onthematic "world historical constructs" such assexuality.

"What I hope will come out History 10b,"Higonnet tells his class, "is that you'll be ableto travel through the time period along eachissue."

In the History Department there is widespreadsupport for Higonnet's use of the traditionaltexts in History 10b.

One of the most vocal proponents of thecustomary Western curriculum is department ChairThomas N. Bisson, Lea Professor of MedievalHistory.

"I for one believe that every educated personought to know about Plato, Romans and Medievaltimes because this is where the modern world--notjust Europe--came from," he says.

"The non-Western societies have latched on torationality, which is Western in origin," Bissonsays. "But the great Eastern societies areterribly important for knowledge of religion andphilosophy."

Professors in the History Department who teachnon-European history agree that the content of theintroductory survey should be European.

"We are living in a Western world. Much of ourlife is influenced by Western history, just ascitizens and members of a culture," says HigginsonProfessor of History and of East Asian Languagesand Civilization Philip A. Kuhn '54.

"Beside, the world is all of a piece now," hesays. "It's impossible to study Chinese Historywithout knowing European history."

Hrushevs'kyi Professor of Ukrainian HistoryRoman Szporluk agrees.

European history, Szporluk says, is animportant prerequisite to understanding lessfrequently studied areas such as his ownspecialty, areas he calls "exotica."

"Even if you know there are many things thathave been neglected, you still have to knowmainline history to understand those things youthink have been neglected," Szporluk says. "Howelse do you know if they're important?"

Even traditionalist faculty say they areenthusiastic about Higonnet's cross between thenew and the customary.

"The students are missing out," Bisson says. Heattributes the low enrollments in Higonnet's classto "a collective misjudgment, a herd instinct."

But Higonnet says he has taken the student"misjudgment" to heart enough to considerreworking the class again.

His History 10b is "pitched at too high alevel" for students with little background, hesays.

"It's not an intellectual mistake, but it's notwhat the public wanted," says Higonnet. "I have torework it, to make it more canonical."

The department is considering a differentmethod for boosting History 10b's enrollment,however: making it a Core class.

Next year the department will experiment withthe course, reshaping it to fit within the Coreguidelines, Professor of History James Hankinssays.

Since the Core guidelines do not permittraditional surveys, this move would require allprofessors teaching History 10--which would beboth a department class and a Core--to make theirapproach thematic, like Higonnet's.

For some professors, however, thethematic survey History offers is not the best wayto step away from the old-line survey class.

Instead of stressing a change in format, somecourses differ from tradition mainly throughincluding voices left out of the canon.

Women's Studies 10: "Roots of Feminism" is asurvey of such absent voices.

In fact, the field of Women's Studies is inpart a reaction against the standard classics,says Lecturer in Women's Studies Andrea Walsh,who teaches the introductory class.

But the anti-canonical discipline now has itsown classics, she says. Women's Studies 10: "Rootsof Feminism" includes such foundational works as"The Feminine Mystique" and "Diary of a SlaveGirl."

In more traditional departments as well,individual professors have worked to revamp theirsurveys to include diverse perspectives.

Assistant Professor of Romance Languages andLiteratures Jann Matlock calls her French Studiescourses "a radical rethinking of survey courses."

Rather than simply "doing the traditional worksassumed to be Top 40 hits," she chooses worksthat have been recently debated in the field soher students can participate in the currentdiscussions.

She includes non-canonical works such as textsfrom French Senegal. "I try to be cutting edge,"she says.

"Cutting edge" is not the descriptionmost people would offer for the EnglishDepartment's introductory surveys, English 10a and10b: "Major British Writers I and II."

The department is one of the Faculty'sstaunchest hold outs for the traditional surveyformat.

All English concentrators are required to takeEnglish 10a and 10b, which rely heavily on thetraditionalist Norton Anthology of BritishLiterature.

"We're not pretending it's a thematic course,"says Professor of English and American LiteratureLeo Damrosch, who chairs the department and isteaching English 10 this year.

The department has begun to experiment withgenre-based surveys such as English 5,"Introduction to Literature: Poetry." But theseare not replacing English 10, and they remaincanonical in topic.

And according to department Head Tutor JeffreyA. Masten, English 10 will not disappear any timesoon.

"I think there's a lot of support among membersof the department for an introductory course thatmaps out basics," Masten says.

Even though Masten is a "cultural studies"scholar rather than a supporter of the canon, heagrees that the traditionalist 10b providesstudents with a necessary grounding.

Porter University Professor Helen H. Vendler,who taught the class before Damrosch, is one ofthe course's strongest supporters.

"You would like it when people got out of anEnglish major that they would not embarrass you,"Vendler says.

The class' focus is already so broad thatincluding more writers for the sake of diversityis impossible, she says.

"We have already squeezed the early centuries,"Vendler says. "We only read major writers."

But while there is faculty support for English10b, disputes over the canon still lurk beneaththe surface consensus.

Damrosch admits that finding faculty to teachthe course is not easy. He himself offered to leadit when the department was having trouble findingsomeone to replace Vendler as the class' head.

And while the department publishes acomprehensive bibliography of all the texts andcriticism English concentrators need to know fortheir general exam, the list has not been updatedsince 1983.

According to faculty members, the departmenthas simply been unwilling to confront thedifficult and divisive problem of updating itsofficial canon.

Masten points out that 10b is scarcely the onlyoffering English provides for its students. Thesurvey is supplemented by a thematic sophomoretutorial.

"Nobody thinks that [the surveys] are all wedo," Masten says. "You're building a critique ofthe canon [in the tutorial] if you feel trapped."

And some students say they do get that"trapped" feeling.

"I do think that it's a Eurocentricrequirement--it's annoying," says Amy E. Cooper'96, an English concentrator currently takingEnglish 10b. "British literature is probably thefoundation, but I don't understand why that's moreimportant than American or South Africanliterature."

But most students say they like the traditionalfocus.

"The main point is to give us a feel of whatwas going on," Katrina Szish '95 says. "To me asan English major, it's very essential that I readthese works."

"10a and 10b appear to be fairly fairrepresentations," Rebecca R. Kirshner '96 says.

And, like most traditional surveys, it drawsconcentrators from other departments looking forgeneral knowledge.

"I assume Professor Damrosch is selectingcertain pieces for purpose," say Eric J. Pan '94,an economics concentrator who is taking English10b. "I trust his judgment."CrimsonJennifer J. BaikTHOMAS N. BISSON