Publication Date

April 1, 1989

Perspectives Section

AHA Activities

AHA Topic

Teaching & Learning, Undergraduate Education

In cooperation with the Association of American Colleges, the AHA has formed a special five-member Task Force on the Undergraduate History Major, one of fourteen disciplinary and interdisciplinary groups established to study “Liberal Education, Study in Depth, and the Arts and Sciences Major.” The project builds upon AAC’s landmark 1985 report, Integrity in the College Curriculum: A Report to the Academic Community, the end product of a three-year effort to assess the meaning and purpose of the baccalaureate degree.

As the project title indicates, each task force will look at both the traditional concept of “the major” and the growing interest in “study in depth,” a term that shifts the focus of learning from coverage of particular content to the practice of inquiry and the mastery of a complex structure of knowledge. The official charge to the task forces poses a twin agenda: “on the one hand, concern for the intellectual purpose and coherence of the major program as designed by faculty; on the other, concern for individual students’ growing competence in making connections through their particular course of study.” Each of the disciplinary groups has been asked to prepare a report that will:

  1. present a rationale for concentrated study in its field, describing the specific contributions that advanced study should make to the overall purposes of undergraduate liberal learning;
  2. recommend ways to strengthen study in depth in its field; and
  3. identify exemplary campus programs whose practices suggest promising and significant ways that study in depth in its field can contribute to liberal learning.

All fourteen task forces and the project’s national advisory committee held their first working meetings March 5–7 in Charlotte, North Carolina, just as this issue of Perspectives went to press. This gathering provided the opportunity both to begin work on the discipline-specific studies and to explore the larger liberal education context for this effort. In its meetings, the history task force identified a series of questions that it feels must be addressed in the course of its work. Among its concerns are the place and purpose of history in the education of nonmajors as well as majors, the content and composition of the major (especially the need for depth and attention to methodology, not just breadth of coverage), the role of pedagogy and teacher training, linkages with precollege history education, and implementation through the AHA and other organizations.

The history task force has scheduled at least two more working meetings in addition to open sessions at the OAH annual meeting in St. Louis in April and at the AHA’s annual meeting in San Francisco at the end of the year. Its report will be published along with the other task force reports in 1990–91. Myron Marty, Drake University, chairs the AHA’s task force, which includes Edward A. Gosselin, California State University, Long Beach, Colin A. Palmer, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Lynda Shaffer, Tufts University, and Joanna S. Zangrando, Skidmore College.