Tuning the History Discipline in the United States

The American Historical Association is coordinating a nationwide, faculty-led project to articulate the disciplinary core of historical study and to define what a student should understand and be able to do at the completion of a history degree program.

The updated map at right shows institutions where faculty historians have been involved in the project. The blue locations were part of the first wave of AHA participants, beginning in 2012. The red locations joined the project in January 2015, as part of the second phase of implementation.

This project has brought together accomplished history faculty historians from a range of 2- and 4-year institutions across the country to define the core disciplinary elements of historical study and the goals of the undergraduate history major. Faculty participants have been working together to develop common language that communicates to a broad audience the significance and value of a history degree. We encourage you to read the current version of the discipline core, competencies, and student learning outcomes, available here.

In the autumn of 2011, Lumina Foundation awarded the AHA a three-year grant for the history "Tuning" project. Tuning is a collaborative process which convenes experts in a discipline to spell out the distinctive skills, methods, and substantive range of that field. Participants then work to harmonize or "tune" the core goals of their discipline and the curricula that support those goals on each participating campus.

Tuning aims to equip students with clarity about the skills, understanding, and knowledge they will acquire in a given degree program.  The AHA's Tuning project provides a collaborative forum and process for history faculty to articulate the core competencies of their discipline.  It then tasks participating faculty members with propagating those core competencies in two directions: inward, by adapting their program requirements, courses, syllabi, and individual assignments; and outward, by promoting the value of those competencies for students and society in terms of personal development, civic engagement, and career potential.

While our grant work was designed to focus on the history major and history degrees specifically, our conversations have necessarily encompassed other concerns and goals of importance to faculty depending on their campus context. Participants have used these processes to improve assessment of student learning to reflect what we value as a discipline. Others use tuning methods to structure their reconsideration of the history curriculum for non-majors, i.e. gateway or introductory courses, or to better explain to administrators the contributions that historical study makes for students' overall educational experiences. (See also the Degree Qualifications Profile project.) Through tuning, a number of participants have sought to increase the successful transfer of history students from two- to four-year institutions, or to improve recruitment of students into the history major. By empowering campus-based historians to deepen their professional connections to members of the surrounding communities, including alumni, parents, administrators, employers, and others, we also envision that our work can help to expand the pool of potential employers who value history graduates. Faculty have found that these networks let them both spread the message of what history majors learn to do and gather feedback on what graduates will be expected to do as citizens and as workers.

As a process that faculty direct and can tailor to local needs and circumstances, tuning offers us a powerful way to harmonize the usually fragmented conversation about assessment and to make that conversation useful in teaching and explaining the value of historical study. The project does not aim to standardize curricula in history, but seeks to frame common goals - and reference points for measuring progress toward those goals - for post-secondary history education.

2013 Tuning Core Document

The AHA’s Tuning project has released a new version of its Discipline Core—a statement of the central habits of mind, skills, and understanding that students achieve when they major in history. The document reflects the iterative nature of the tuning process. The faculty director of the project, Anne F. Hyde (Colorado Coll.), incorporated feedback that the AHA received after the first version was published. We hope that the new version can again serve as the basis for conversations among history faculty, and between faculty and students, alumni, public historians, parents, administrators, employers, and others about the value of studying history in particular.

History Discipline Core

Meet the Tuners

Leadership Core

Anne Hyde, AHA Teaching Division, Colorado College, chair
Patricia Limerick, AHA Teaching Division, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, ex officio
John Bezis-Selfa, Wheaton College, Mass.
Elizabeth Lehfeldt, Cleveland State University
Gregory Nobles, Georgia Institute of Technology
Kevin Reilly, Raritan Valley Community College
Stefan Tanaka, Univ. of California San Diego

Meet More Tuners