Publication Date

February 13, 2012

What Should History Degree-Holders Understand and Be Able to Do?

Washington, D.C.– The American Historical Association (AHA) is initiating a nationwide, faculty-led project to articulate the core of historical study and to identify what a student should understand and be able to do at the completion of a history degree program. Professors Anne Hyde (Colorado College) and Patricia Limerick (University of Colorado Boulder) will lead accomplished faculty from more than sixty colleges and universities across the country to frame common goals and reference points for post-secondary history education.  The project will engage employers, alumni, students, and others in exploring and enhancing how the study of history provides the foundation for a life of active citizenship, continued learning, and successful employment.

This “Tuning” project, supported by a grant from Lumina Foundation (Indianapolis, IN), will test the possibility of harmonizing the nation’s diverse degree programs in a single discipline.  Initiated in Europe a decade ago and extended since then to higher education settings in six continents, Tuning has been adapted to the structure of American higher education only in more localized settings.  Drawing in part on those pilot initiatives, AHA Tuning project members will convene in June 2012 and February 2013 to draft and refine commentaries on the skills, methods, and substantive range they believe characterize the study of history. Faculty participants will then build on this collaborative work inside their own classrooms and departments by aligning specific curriculum elements to the common competencies requisite for history degree-holders.  Participants will scale these learning goals to introductory, upper-level, and capstone courses, as well as to three degree levels (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Master’s).  The AHA Tuning project will provide history faculty with a hands-on, collegial process to begin defining the terms of assessment that can best measure and demonstrate what and how their students learn.

The AHA’s initiative to “tune the history major” encompasses three broad objectives:

  1. To articulate the core abilities, habits of mind, and knowledge required of their discipline;
  2. To develop a clear, common language to express the distinctive value of history for students, employers, and public culture.  Students who can see clearly what they are learning, and why, are better equipped to direct their studies towards lifelong learning, meaningful employment, and civic participation;
  3. To provide a nationwide framework in which historians can design the systems used by their institutions to measure their achievements as teachers.

“This project is part of the AHA’s emphasis on facilitating communication among historians and between historians and the general public,” says Executive Director James Grossman.  “Our members will generate curricular frameworks that combine common themes and practices with the flexibility appropriate for institutions with different missions and circumstances.”


Contact:  Julia Brookins, AHA Special Projects Coordinator (

Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based private foundation, is committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college—especially 21st century students: low-income students, students of color, first-generation students and adult learners. Lumina’s goal is to increase the percentage of Americans who hold high-quality degrees and credentials to 60 percent by 2025. Lumina pursues this goal in three ways: by identifying and supporting effective practice, through public policy advocacy, and by using our communications and convening power to build public will for change.

The American Historical Association serves historians representing every historical period and geographical area.  Its approximately 14,000 members include historians in colleges, universities, schools, museums, historical organizations, libraries, archives, business, and government, along with independent scholars and nonprofessionals with an abiding interest in history.  The AHA provides leadership for the profession, protects academic freedom, develops professional standards, aids in the pursuit and publication of scholarship, and supplies services to sustain and enhance the work of its members.

This post first appeared on AHA Today.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Attribution must provide author name, article title, Perspectives on History, date of publication, and a link to this page. This license applies only to the article, not to text or images used here by permission.