Panel Debates Curricular Overhaul

Profs warn that new requirements are too sparse on History

A prominent Harvard history professor charged yesterday that a preliminary curriculum proposed by the Task Force on General Education would not grant students “historical grounding.”

The panel discussion, “The Future of History in Harvard’s General Educational Education,” drew freshmen and history concentrators alike to Sever Hall yesterday.

Under the proposal released in October, students would be required to complete one half-course in each of seven areas, including “Societies of the World,” “The United States,” and “Cultural Traditions and Cultural Change.”

Mark Kishlansky, Baird professor of history, said that a student who took “Health Care in America”—a class that could fulfill “The United States” requirement—could potentially graduate without actually learning any history.

“We need historical grounding somewhere,” Kishlansky said. “No one should claim to be an educated person without having studied an era besides the one they lived in.”

The panel featured three other academics: Jones Professor of American Studies Lizabeth Cohen, Folger Fund Professor of History Andrew D. Gordon ’74, and Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Studies Mary D. Lewis.

The four agreed that though the current Core Curriculum needs to change and that students should be able to select from a larger pool of history courses. Often the department’s most attractive courses are closed to students who do not concentrate in history.

Revising the Core should be a matter of “improving and restoring a sense of excitement on both sides”—professor and student, Gordon said.

Cohen said that pre-selecting the courses students may take to fulfill the Core can be unwise because it divests students of the chance to define their own education.

Cohen added that a broad degree of choice was important to avoid the risk of students or professors viewing history as “an ammunition room to pick and choose from to our most useful purposes.”

“It is dangerous to assume there is a set body of knowledge,” she added.

History’s role in the general education proposal will be discussed again at a meeting of the department’s faculty today.