Early Responses to NAS Report Recasting History

Jan 09, 2013 |  NAS

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Early Responses to NAS Report Recasting History

Jan 09, 2013 | 


Early Responses from History Professors and Others Who Have Seen an Advance Copy of Our Forthcoming Report, Recasting History

NAS will release our report, Recasting History: Are Race, Class, and Gender Dominating American History, on Thursday, January 10, at 5:00pm. Some members of the professoriate and others to whom we've sent embargoed copies are not happy, while others agree with the findings. Here are some of the early responses we've received:

As a long time history geek, teacher of American history, and Professor of Teacher Education / History Education all I can say is that there has rarely been such an ignorant statement made regarding the teaching of history at any level. I have been involved in some sort of history teaching and learning for over 30 years. The only evidence I see is that history education is dominated by traditional approaches that focus on transmission of decontextualized "facts," war, heroes, exceptionalism, and blind patriotism... all adding to the facilitation of American empire, ignorance and hate toward American history on the part of most students, and the increased state of oligarchy in this society...

Shame on you...

Cameron White, PhD
University of Houston

Dear Ms. Thorne,

I'm not sure quite what inspired you to think I might be interested in the so-called research of your nasty little organization, but I am definitely not.  Delete my name and email address from your mailing list and do not contact me again.


Bruce E. Baker
Senior Lecturer in United States History Royal Holloway, University of London http://bruceebaker.com List Editor, H-SOUTH Co-Editor, American Nineteenth Century History

Thanks for the info--all of this sounds very familiar.  You might notice that while UT and TAMU have done their best to eliminate Texas history and military history (which include discussions of politics, religion, intellectual movements), UNT has proudly embraced both of those as focal points in our program.  we of course pay attention to race, class, and gender, but we do not privilege them above all other subjects.  And now I will step off my soapbox....

Richard B. McCaslin, Ph.D.
Professor and Chair,
Department of History

george seaver

| January 10, 2013 - 10:47 AM

About 8 years ago NAS was concerned whether the anecdotal tales about the loss of academic freedeon, diversity of ideas and scholarship were of general applicability in education. In the intervening years I believe that NAS has shown that they are.

Richard Fonte

| January 16, 2013 - 2:08 PM

The university response to the National Association of Scholars report misses the fundamental focus of the study-How is the University of Texas implementing the 1971 law requiring graduates to complete two semester of American History to graduate.
The focus is on the thousands of students fulfilling this requirement to acquire a higher level of understanding of America’s past rather than on the hundreds who may be seeking a history degree. At the University of Texas the focus was on those taking the introductory survey American History courses (His 315K & His 315L) and the “Special topic” courses (314K, 315G and 317L).
In fact, The Department and the University are to be commended for its efforts to establish opportunities for history majors to study diplomacy or World War II sites.  And yes, there is a wealth of primary documents at the LBJ library, Harry Ranson Center and Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.
Yet, for the vast majority of undergraduates who are not history majors the one and only association with American History occurs in the required courses that fulfill the 1971 law. It is in these required courses that the NAS study found significant and problematic differences between the University of Texas and Texas A&M.  In particular, at UT, students had less reading assignments that concentrated on diplomatic and military history than those at A&M and had more limited assignment of important primary sources documents. This difference existed even though the study allowed reading assignments to be classified in more than one categorical theme.
Moreover, the use of “special topic courses” that covered only social history themes and excluded significant exposure to other themes further diminished the scope of what these non-major undergraduates covered in their assignments.  This commitment to focus on narrow special topics courses has been a continuing approach used by the University unlike Texas A&M.  While we examined the fall of 2010 in the study, a follow-up review of the class schedule for every following semester found special topic courses focusing exclusively on social history themes rather than military, diplomatic or intellectual history.  However, we would not find that a satisfactory solution—the addition of special topic classes in military history, for example. In fact, the report was critical of the use of a naval history special topic course at Texas A&M.
We believe that the 1971 law intended for non-history majors to have the opportunity to survey American History covering a full-range of themes beyond social history. The NAS study believes that social History focused on race, gender and class has a very appropriate role in the study of American History. It is simply not possible to study American History properly without covering these themes. We also recognize that such themes can be intertwined with other themes.  For example, as your statement acknowledges we believe that Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas are important texts and we classified these texts as having a racial theme, but also as intellectual history. However, we would not expect that these themes would consume 78% of all the reading assignments at the University of Texas.  In stark contrast, about one-half of reading assignments reflected these themes at A&M. 
When some social history themes are emphasized over other equally important themes, we believe students are being short-changed and not receiving a comprehensive overview of American History.  We do believe that this can and should be addressed. For example, we found that those faculty members that used anthologies with multiple readings provided students far more opportunity to read key political and intellectual history documents than those who did not use such an approach.
Rather than simply reject the findings of the NAS report, we urge the university to address the identified problem and increase opportunities for the non-history major to receive a broad and comprehensive picture of American History, warts and all.
Richard Fonte, Researcher for NAS Study