Hist 10a Could Be Ancient History

Survey requirements may be replaced by new “long ago” and “far away” courses

EDITOR'S NOTE and CORRECTION APPENDED

History 10a, “Western Societies, Politics, and Cultures: From Antiquity to 1650,” could soon be ancient history itself.

An expected change to history concentration requirements would abolish a long-standing pillar of the department, according to a professor who has taught the course in the past. But the decision hasn’t been finalized by the department.

“No one is willing to defend ‘Western Civ’ and lots of people want to abolish it,” said Baird Professor of History Mark A. Kishlansky, who has taught History 10a twice since 2002. “I think the department will vote this change.”

Kishlansky predicted that the department would eliminate History 10a and its counterpart, History 10b, “Western Economies, Societies, and Polities: From 1648 to the Present,” in response to ongoing student and faculty opposition.

Concentrators currently have the option of substituting History 10b with History 10c, “A Global History of Modern Times,” or bypassing History 10b or History 10c with a score of five on the Advanced Placement European History or World History exam.

But concentrators currently must take History 10a.

New “long ago” and “far away” requirements would replace these mandatory survey courses, Kishlansky said.

The “long ago” component would require students to take a premodern course about a “civilization at a different stage of development than the one you know of,” Kishlansky said.

But he said the department has yet to determine the exact dates that this “premodern” period would encompass.

The department also plans to implement a “far away” requirement that would have students take a course on a subject geographically removed from their area of interest, Kishlansky said.

A student focusing on Africa, for example, could fulfill this requirement by taking a Western history course, Kishlansky added.

“We don’t want people graduating just with an American history background,” Professor of History James Hankins said. Three-fourths of undergraduates focus on American history, he said.

Rather than being limited to History 10a and History 10b, concentrators would have several course options within these two newly defined categories, Kishlansky said.

Instituting these “long ago” and “far away” requirements will not be difficult since the department already offers courses that fit within these two categories, Kishlansky said.

The proposal to eliminate History 10a comes as a response to student and faculty complaints, according to Kishlansky.

Faculty members prefer to teach courses in their field of speciality rather than broad survey courses, Kishlansky said.

“People do it with a sense of volunteerism,” Kishlansky said. “There is no one in the department who stands up and says, ‘I want to teach this until the day I die.’ Our lives would be a lot easier without it.”

Regardless of broader curricular review changes, new History Department requirements could still go forward, according to the department’s chair, Andrew D. Gordon ’74. These changes could be implemented in the fall 2007, Gordon said.

Possible changes to History 10a have been discussed for years, but recent curricular review proposals to push back concentration decisions have motivated the department to look more closely at their requirements, Gordon said.

In spite of plans to eliminate History 10a, some faculty members say they still strongly support the longstanding requirement.

McLean Professor of Ancient and Modern History Steven E. Ozment, who has taught History 10a in the past, wrote in an e-mail he was opposed to the idea of eliminating the History 10a requirement.

“If we let courses like this go, our love of ourselves and our present-day culture will deprive faculty and undergraduates alike from a long perspective on their place in the world,” Ozment wrote.

Associate Professor of the Classics and of History Eric W. Robinson, one of three History 10a professors this fall, also wrote that he was opposed to “simply eliminating” the History 10a requirement.

In an op-ed published in The Crimson last September, students voiced vehement opposition to History 10a, with Social Studies concentrator Amelia E. Atlas ’06 calling it a “disorganized course that watered down 2,000 years of the past into an unrecognizable mess.”

But history concentrator Mark D. Hoadley ’07-’08 wrote in an e-mail that it would be “foolish” to eliminate such a crucial “grounding in the important events of history.”

—Staff writer Emily J. Nelson can be reached at ejnelson@fas.harvard.edu.

EDITOR'S NOTE

The March 3 article, "Hist 10a Could Be Ancient History," incorrectly characterized Baird Professor of History Mark A. Kishlansky's remarks regarding a proposal to change requirements for history concentrators. Kishlansky did say that the department was considering a proposal to scrap a rule that makes History 10a and either History 10b or 10c mandatory for concentrators, and to replace it with a requirement that concentrators take one pre-modern history course and another course geographically removed from their area of interest. However, Kishlansky did not say that the department was considering the outright elimination of the 10a course, which is formally titled "Western Societies, Politics, and Cultures, From Antiquity to 1650."


Kishlansky did say that the department may face difficulty finding instructors for 10a and its counterpart, History 10b, "Western Economies, Societies, and Polities: From 1648 to the Present," once the courses are no longer required for concentrators. "By eliminating the requirement, we would not have to exert pressure each year to get someone to do this," Kishlansky said.


"The department cannot abolish courses," Kishlansky wrote in an e-mail clarifying the matter. "At any point, no mater what the new structure is, anyone could announce that they were going to offer it and any undergraduate could decide to take it," Kishlansky wrote. "It is just far less likely once it is no longer a departmental requirement."


The Crimson regrets the error.