Tuesday, November 24, 2015

All the Arguments for Studying History

This article by Peter Stearns from 1998 states just about all the good arguments for the benefits of studying history: It can be found on the website of the American Historical Association. 

Why Study History? 
People live in the present. They plan for and worry about the future. History, however, is the study of the past. Given all the demands that press in from living in the present and anticipating what is yet to come, why bother with what has been? Given all the desirable and available branches of knowledge, why insist—as most American educational programs do—on a good bit of history? And why urge many students to study even more history than they are required to?

Any subject of study needs justification: its advocates must explain why it is worth attention. Most widely accepted subjects—and history is certainly one of them—attract some people who simply like the information and modes of thought involved. But audiences less spontaneously drawn to the subject and more doubtful about why to bother need to know what the purpose is.

Historians do not perform heart transplants, improve highway design, or arrest criminals. In a society that quite correctly expects education to serve useful purposes, the functions of history can seem more difficult to define than those of engineering or medicine. History is in fact very useful, actually indispensable, but the products of historical study are less tangible, sometimes less immediate, than those that stem from some other disciplines.

In the past history has been justified for reasons we would no longer accept. For instance, one of the reasons history holds its place in current education is because earlier leaders believed that a knowledge of certain historical facts helped distinguish the educated from the uneducated; the person who could reel off the date of the Norman conquest of England (1066) or the name of the person who came up with the theory of evolution at about the same time that Darwin did (Wallace) was deemed superior—a better candidate for law school or even a business promotion. Knowledge of historical facts has been used as a screening device in many societies, from China to the United States, and the habit is still with us to some extent. Unfortunately, this use can encourage mindless memorization—a real but not very appealing aspect of the discipline. History should be studied because it is essential to individuals and to society, and because it harbors beauty. There are many ways to discuss the real functions of the subject—as there are many different historical talents and many different paths to historical meaning. All definitions of history's utility, however, rely on two fundamental facts.

Monday, November 16, 2015

If the Enemy of Education is Barbarism, the Task of a Teacher is ...

Louise Cowan, professor emeritus at the University of Dallas and a co-founder of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, gave a speech in 2013 in which she delivered some good insights into the proper task of teaching. The central point: 
[T]eachers are the representatives of a culture. Their task is to ensure the passing on of the wisdom of a people. We mistake educational aims when we consider their task to be primarily the development of the student. That is a secondary purpose, the primary one being the preservation of the body of knowledge that produced the precious enterprise called civilization.
The enemy of education is barbarism. The teacher’s duty is thus to fight off that ever-present menace by preserving and transmitting the heritage of freedom and virtue that has come to us from the past but is always open to new insights and new communities. Our sacred bond as a people is the public school teacher’s greatest concern.
 Here are some excerpts from the speech, reprinted in the Dallas Morning News on Nov. 16, 2015: 
Louise Cowan: What’s so great about teachers?

We think so much about teachers at the Dallas Institute and smart so keenly at the injustices done to them that we have to avoid becoming like mad old King Lear, who attributes every wrong in his world — including thunderstorms — to the ingratitude of daughters. Or like the monomaniac Ahab in Moby-Dick, who steers the Pequod away from its course in pursuit of the white whale, piling on the creature the evils of human suffering.

Indeed, we are so greatly and, I might say, justifiably aware of the indignities done to teachers today that we are likely to overdo it — assigning to them not just their rightful share but all the benevolent qualities in the relationship between generations. And this, we must admit, is a slight exaggeration. For certainly we have to acknowledge the instruction given by parents and others in the art of just being human. Ordinary people teach others in all sorts of ways.

But though such mentors may instruct, they are not teachers, dedicated persons who profess as their lifework the twofold task of forming the young for their own sake and, even more important, for society’s. Teachers are instructing the young not primarily to enable them to succeed in life but to preserve and extend the valuable parts of civilization.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Dr. Mary Habeck on Domestic Terrorism

The Alexander Hamilton Society invites you to their next event, a talk by Dr. Mary Habeck, a professor at Johns Hopkins University SAIS.  Dr. Habeck will be speaking on the threat of domestic terrorism and how to combat it. This event is free and open to the public.  It will be held in the Ronk Lecture Hall at the College of Education on Thursday, November 19th at 7 PM. 

Taylor Randles Receives Big Internship

While Taylor Randles is not a History or Political Science major, she is the student worker in the Andrews office, so we congratulate her on being offered, and accepting, an internship with a “Big 4” accounting firm at KPMG. The "Big 4" refers to the top four accounting firms that "audit more than 80 percent of all US public companies." KPMG, according to big4accounting.org, has been "consistently voted as one of the best places to work by DiversityInc Magazine." Congrats  Here is some more information
Taylor is a junior here at AU, and is currently working on completing the MBA 5 year program in four years. She is an Accounting major with a minor in Business Management, and has also been a resident assistant for two years and the student ambassador for The Ohio Society of CPAs (OSCPA).

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Need a Paid Internship?

Ashland University was recently awarded a $444,000 three-year grant from the Great Lakes Higher Education Guaranty Corp. to create new paid internships for students with financial need during the 2015-2018 academic years.  This is a good opportunity for History and Political Science majors to do interesting and career-boosting internships, and get paid for them!  Get more details at the Career Center or here at the AU News Center.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Thinking Outside the (University) Box

Throughout history communities of scholars and students have organized themselves in many ways to facilitate the discovery, preservation, and sharing of knowledge.  The specific organization that we are most familiar with, the university, is a relatively recent invention and it is by no means the only way to do it. Johann N. Neem made this point in a recent column, when he argued that
The academy is not the university; the university has simply been a home for academics. University education in our country is increasingly not academic: it is vocational; it is commercial; it is becoming anti-intellectual; and, more and more, it is offering standardized products that seek to train and certify rather than to educate people. In turn, an increasing proportion of academics, especially in the humanities, have become adjuncts, marginalized by the university’s growing emphasis on producing technical workers.
Neem does not expect the academy to part ways with the university any time soon, but certain well known trends are undermining academic life within the university.  For those who care about academic life, it is important to consider "ways to nurture academic life beyond the university."  In "Taking It to the Streets: Preparing for an Academy in Exile," Neem considers four options for an academy outside the university.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Making Judgments about Historical Figures

M.D. Aeschliman, professor of Anglophone culture at the University of Italian Switzerland, concludes this interesting contrast of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson with a general point about the uses of history. Arguing that Jefferson's golden words and his pose as a pro-Enlightenment friend of abstract liberty and the "common man" brilliantly deflected attention from his actual practice of slavery, Aeschliman much prefers the self-made, strongly anti-slavery man Hamilton. The lesson about the study of history:

History, whether personal or collective, is the best guide to our individual and collective lives. We need always to compute who — or which action, in self or others — deserves praise, and which deserts principle and deserves criticism and condemnation. Biographical studies such as Gordon-Reed’s and O’Brien’s on Jefferson and Brookhiser’s and Chernow’s on Hamilton exemplify the rational and moral function of the good historian as envisioned by Lord Acton. They stimulate and inspire their reader, an “animal capable of reason,” into actually becoming a rational animal.
Also worth reading on the issue is Allen C. Guelzo's essay, "What did Lincoln Really Think of Jefferson?"
in the New York Times, July 3, 2015.