The Future Behind Us
Philip M. Katz, September 2002
According to the special report in the American Historical Review (April 1941), "a quarter of the sessions and more than a third of the meals" at the AHA's annual meeting in 1940 "were devoted to a sweeping stocktaking of the historical profession." One luncheon was exclusively devoted to the issue of graduate training; the highlight of the session was a paper by A. Howard Meneely that seemed to "indict . American graduate schools." Meneely's paper was immediately reprinted in the journal Social Education (January 1941) under the innocuous title, "Graduate Training in History," and is reprinted here by permission of the National Council for the Social Studies.
For the record, Meneely was a Civil War historian who earned his PhD from Columbia in 1928, then taught at Dartmouth before embarking on a distinguished career as president of Wheaton College (1944-1961). Most of his professional life was thus spent at institutions that did not train graduate students-but this did not stop him from preparing a clear-headed though critical review of the serious problems facing graduate education. What is most striking, from today's perspective, is how modern the problems sound. Indeed, during the last two years the Committee on Graduate Education (CGE) has heard many of the same concerns from graduate students and faculty alike. Has so little really changed in 60 years?
Historians should be troubled by the continuity of concerns in graduate education, but not discouraged from offering new solutions just because old solutions have failed (or were never fully implemented). In that spirit, early next year, the CGE will issue a report with significant recommendations for improving graduate training. Like Meneely before, the committee hopes that "thought and discussion may be directed to [these] matters of common concern," leading to a brighter future for graduate history education.
-Philip M. Katz, Research Director, CGE