Friday, June 03, 2016

Uses of History or Abused Historians?

I posted these comments in response to this recent Los Angeles Times op ed by American Historical Association's executive director James Grossman:

History isn't a 'useless' major. It teaches critical thinking, something America needs plenty more of

Not everyone can read the comments on the native page for some reason, so I have copied them here for "posterity."

The amazing thing to me is that history can teach more than skills, it can relate actual everyday useful information about business and the economy. But mainstream history organizations, like that Dr. Grossman represents, regularly eschew business and economic historians, save for a few "historians of capitalism" who don't know the difference between a leading economic indicator and a negative externality. As I noted in the Chronicle of Higher Education over a decade ago, the problem is that departments make hiring decisions and they hire their own, people who think about the same things they do in the same tired, old ways. Despite having a Ph.D. in History and authoring almost 20 books, most from major university publishers like Chicago and Penn or major commercial publishers like McGraw Hill and Wiley, I couldn't land a tenure track job in history, so I had to make more money (much more money) teaching out of business, economics, and policy departments! If Grossman himself knew how to think critically, he'd make sure that people like me were able to teach out of history departments because then enrollments would be going up, not down. Instead, he writes an op ed and checks a box on his To Do list.

Stephen Campbell
Jun 03
@robertewright but I'm sure Grossman does indeed have critical thinking skills even if you disagree with his approach, conclusions, etc

To which I respond, I don't disagree with his approach, conclusions, etc. per se, I don't think he is approaching the issue in a critical way. Instead of whining that people don't understand the benefits of his increasingly unpopular product and banal generalities he ought to actually improve the product by ensuring that those of us with proven track records of making history relevant to the real world (business, economics, policy) are accorded our fair share of jobs, professional laurels, etc. What he is trying to do, in essence, is to shove the same old product down the throats of clients instead of listening to what his clients are telling him and responding accordingly. He hasn't even considered the correct metrics, which are the number of students taking history courses offered out of all departments, not just the number of history "majors." What he would see is that history is thriving while his narrow view of history is the one dying.

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