Published Date

January 1, 1962

From The Education of Historians in the United States (1962)

The colleges are the academic destination as well as the academic origin of many graduate students. Fifty-three per cent of the history graduate students of 1958-1959 aspire to teach in liberal arts colleges. Seven out of ten of the Ph.D.s in history in the nation actually do teach in colleges and junior colleges.1

How do the colleges discover teaching talent and how important is it to them? How well trained are their faculties? What are their working conditions? What kinds of history do they teach? What teaching methods do they use? What special attention do they give to history majors? The graduate faculties need to know the answers to these questions. In attempting to find them, this study has relied upon letters from 134 college executives and questionnaires completed by the chairmen of history departments in 126 “better-than-average” four-year colleges, 376 “typical” colleges (some very good ones and a great many more that are not outstanding in prestige), and 51 junior colleges (see Appendixes A, B, C, and D).2


The Importance of Teaching Ability

There can be no doubt that the college executives, in appointing new Ph.D.s in history, want capable teachers. Two-thirds of the college officials consulted in this study rate evidence of teaching competence as more important than promise in research scholarship when they consider candidates for teaching positions. The three qualities they most often mention are “good personal traits,” actual teaching experience, and evidence of enthusiasm for one’s field and for teaching. Recent history Ph.D.s agree that these are valuable traits. Table 4-1 shows the qualities that were most often rated as good and as bad traits by the history Ph.D.s of 1958.3

Table 4-1. Good and Poor Teachers: Appraisals by 182 Recent History Ph.D.s

Qualities considered good*Qualities considered poor*
1. Knowledge of history1. Inability to communicate
2. Enthusiasm for history2. Inability to arouse interest of students in history or enthusiasm for it
3. Ability to communicate ideas and facts3. Lack of skill as formal lecturer
4. Ability to inspire interest in and enthusiasm for history4. Lack of general knowledge
5. Intellectual curiosity5. Lack of enthusiasm for history
6. General knowledge6. Lack of intellectual curiosity
7. Exacting standards7. Low standards
8. Sympathetic treatment of students8. Dogmatism
9. Personal qualities9. Lack of knowledge of history
10. Skill as formal lecturer10. Preoccupation with research to the neglect of teaching
* Listed in order of the frequency with which these qualities are mentioned
by the history Ph.D.s of 1958.


All graduate schools can comment to a potential employer on the strengths and weaknesses of their Ph.D. candidates in some of the qualities mentioned in Table 4-1. But graduate faculties that have not observed the capacity for teaching of their candidates cannot very well comment on a number of the traits in which college employers are interested. The president of a state college writes that “the qualifications with which we are most concerned are the ones that are the most difficult on which to find specific evidence.”4 Letters from graduate faculties, often vague about the teaching capacity of candidates, are rated by one-third of the college departments as “not especially helpful.”

Thus, in a large majority of the colleges, one, two, or three candidates are interviewed by the screening authorities before an appointment is made. In a few cases-six or seven college executives mention this-the candidate is asked to teach a class, give a lecture, or conduct a seminar. Several colleges and universities have developed more or less formal and intensive orientation programs for newly appointed instructors. These include the Air Force Academy, Amherst College, Hunter College, East Carolina College, Southern Illinois University, Colgate University, Temple University, Occidental College, and the State University of South Dakota. Probably many other institutions have special programs for new teachers during which their capacities for classroom teaching can be discovered or developed.5

About 17% of the college executives report that it is standard practice to carry out direct observation of new teachers in their classrooms, and two-fifths of the responding departments say this is sometimes done. The president of a large Eastern institution writes that “each non-tenure appointee is visited at least once a semester by each of our five Executive Committee members.” Some others admit that departmental chairmen use less reliable devices in “getting a line” on the new teacher. About one-third of the college executives and four-fifths of the history departments state that formal or informal student ratings play a role in evaluation of teachers. Most indirectly, enrollment trends are taken as evidence of student attitudes; 37% of the history departments report that enrollments are usually regarded as one index of a teacher’s competence.

Scholarly Qualifications of Teachers

It is obvious that the colleges are in search of good teachers. What they hope for has been eloquently described in ideal terms by Harry J. Carman: “teachers who are persons of attractive personality, insight, sensitiveness, and perspective … moral strength, a sense of beauty of spirit, the seeing eye, the watchful soul, the inquiring mind … teachers who are free of conventional prejudices and fears, and who are articulate and skilled in conversation … [and who] derive great satisfaction from assisting students to see the relationship between learning and life.”6 But even these qualities alone are not enough. The college executives also want solidly trained research scholars. Thus 29% consider capacity for research scholarship more important than teaching capacity in appointing new instructors, and all of the 65% who consider teaching competence more important than capacity for research scholarship emphasize that they look for both these traits. This is in harmony with the reports of department heads on the criteria used in making appointments.

How successful are the college executives and department heads in their search for scholar-teachers? The number of historians, the degrees they hold, and their years of experience are not guarantees of scholarly competence; rather they are valuable indices of it. Using these indices it is possible to compare the strength of history faculties in junior colleges, “typical” four-year colleges, and four-year colleges of higher prestige.

The most obvious difference in the status of history among these institutions is in the average number of historians per institution. The 126 better colleges report 1,103 historians as members of their regular faculties in 1958-1959, an average of 8.8 historians per college. The random sample of 376 four-year colleges report 4.9 historians per college, and the junior colleges report an average of 3.8 per institution. Quantity is not always a valid index of quality, but the departments with larger numbers of historians can offer courses taught by specialists in more areas of history than small faculties can competently teach.

How well qualified are the teachers of history? Notwithstanding the fact that two-thirds of the students who enroll in junior colleges expect to transfer to four-year institutions (one-third actually do so7), the junior college history teachers are much less often fully trained Ph.D.s than are the instructors of either the typical or the better four-year colleges. The master’s degree is the highest held by two-thirds of the history instructors in the junior colleges in our sample. It is heartening to note, however, that those faculty mem­bers who hold the Ph.D.-22%-are twice as numerous as those who have only the bachelor’s degree.8 The situation in the four-year colleges is much better. No less than 58% of the f acuity mem­bers in the history departments in our sample of typical colleges and 71% of those in our sample of better colleges hold the Ph.D.

Other differences can be shown in the scholarly potential of the history faculties in the two samples of four-year colleges. We asked: “Can a teacher who does not have the doctor’s degree be appointed to your history faculty?” Flat “yes” answers were reported by 62% of all 502 four-year colleges, as Table 4-2 shows. But 30% of the “typical” four-year colleges and 46% of the better-known colleges say “only as a temporary measure.”

Table 4-2. Appointment of History Teachers with Less than the Ph.D. in 502 Colleges, 1958–1959

% saying "yes"% saying "yes, but only temporarily''
Sample of 376 typical
Sample of 126 better
Total sample of 50262666955523431263944


The better the college, the more likely that its instructors are teaching in the field of history in which they specialized in graduate school. In 55% of the typical four-year colleges at least one history instructor in 1957-1959 taught “chiefly” outside his major field of history in graduate school (an example would be that of a specialist in modern European history teaching chiefly United States history). But only one-eighth of all the instructors in the better colleges were teaching “chiefly” outside their major fields. Half the departments in these better colleges report that they do not appoint instructors to teach chiefly outside their major fields of graduate study. In the junior colleges, on the other hand, nine-tenths of the departments we surveyed reported at least one history instructor teaching chiefly outside his major field of history.

One form of experience-travel in the area of specialization-is especially important for those faculty members who teach the history of foreign areas. Two-fifths (42%) of the history instructors in the better colleges teach “primarily” the history of foreign areas. Of these, 70% have “travelled or studied in the area of their specialization within the last ten years”; and three-fifths (59%) of them have done so “within the last five years.” (Fewer in the South and Midwest; more in the East.) More than 1 out of 10 (12%) of those who teach the history of foreign areas in these colleges are foreign-born. Only 17% have “never travelled in the area of their specialization.” (Cf. pages 117-118, below.)

Berelson has stated that the liberal arts colleges-“except for a few at the top”-cannot expect to attract “the top doctoral product.”9 But our data suggest that all but the weakest four-year colleges can expect to attract Ph.D.s in history. The qualifications of the history faculties of America’s colleges look very good on paper.

Working Conditions

Berelson has succinctly catalogued the unattractive working conditions of some four-year colleges: “low salaries, poor libraries …, high teaching load, little research opportunity, poorer students, poorer colleagues, extracurricular demands and restrictive atmosphere, dead-end career line, etc.”10 Though Berelson overstates the obstacles to scholarly teaching in the colleges and mentions none of their advantages, his diagnosis deserves at least as much attention as others that blame graduate school specialization exclusively for the “decline of liberal education” in America.11 In truth, low salaries do make it difficult for many colleges to attract the best products of the graduate schools and hurt the professional spirit of those appointed to the poorly paid positions.12 The libraries of American colleges are hampered by financial limitations, and libraries are of direct concern to teachers of history. The average library budget for books and periodicals in a random sample of “typical” colleges in 1958-1959 was $20,737 (all disciplines) and the average holding of the 10 libraries was 99,322 volumes.13 One college, in proportion to its size among those most often selected by winners of National Merit Scholarships in 1959 and 1960,14 spent only $21,030 for books and periodicals in all disciplines in 1958-1959; and its total library holdings of 80,000 volumes served an enrollment of 1,745 students. Library holdings are especially inadequate in the history of foreign areas.15

More directly, the heavy teaching loads in most colleges cause history instructors to give hostages to fortune as teachers. Well-trained, experienced teachers should be able to do fine jobs of teaching in an assignment of two separate courses, three sections, and a total enrollment of 70 to 100 students.16 The controversial report by Beardsley Ruml and Donald Morrison would not have a teacher do more than this.17 Unfortunately, however, the overwhelming majority of history teachers in the nation’s colleges are already doing considerably more. Even in the better colleges, the “normal” load is 12 hours (mean, 11.3) , and one-fourth (27%) of the history instructors teach more than 12-hour loads (see Table 4-3).

Table 4-3. Teaching Loads of 1,007 History Teachers in 126 Better Colleges, First Term, 1958–1959

% of faculty teaching various loads
Hours of teaching per weekNationEastSouthMidwestWest
Some but less than 643277
9-10 141910915
Total under 102834202531
More than 15515142
Total over 132723363713


Two-thirds (63%) of the history Ph.D.s of 1958 report that three or more separate course preparations are normally required in their history departments, and this sample included many instructors in universities with relatively light loads; 62% of the history Ph.D.s of 1958 were teaching more than 100 students each in 1958-1959, and one-tenth (9%) were teaching more than 200 students each (see also Table 4-4). Only 18% of the history Ph.D.s of 1958 found positions in departments where the normal teaching load was 9 hours or less per week.

Table 4-4. Average Size of History Classes at Various Levels in 126 Colleges, 1956–1957 and 1958–1959

Regional averages of liberal arts colleges
National sample of professional and teachers' collegesEastSouthMidwestWestNational averages, all colleges
Type of course195619581956195819561958195619581956195819561958
Introductory, U.S.313030293534453747523736
Introductory, other313127263334434242473536
Advanced undergraduate,
Advanced undergraduate,
Advanced undergraduate
and graduate
Exclusively for graduate students131315167878771010


Some critics of research argue that teachers with heavy loads could still teach well if they did not slight students in favor of footnotes and publications.18 We asked many questions about this issue. Of the 1958 history Ph.D.s teaching in colleges, only two-fifths (39%) report that some publication is usually required for promotion to a full professorship in their colleges. The department heads in an equal percentage of the better colleges report that “some scholarly publication” is usually expected for promotion to a full professorship. Conversely, heads of four-fifths (82%) of the departments in our sample of better colleges report that teaching and other duties consume so much time that they interfere with the development of history teachers as research scholars, and 88% of these department heads told us that the research demanded of faculty members does not interfere with teaching.

Other data support the conclusion that history teachers seldom sacrifice good teaching for research. Three-fourths (74%) of the history Ph.D.s of 1958 say that in their institutions good teaching is demanded, and two-fifths (3 9 % ) say it is demanded even “more than research and writing.” Only 18% say good teaching is demanded “considerably less” than research and writing or that it simply is “not demanded.” Conversely, only 6% of the 1958 Ph.D.s report that the amount of publication expected by their institutions is “unreasonable”; 39% say no publication is required for promotion in their institutions.

In some of the colleges the history faculties need to be engaged in more research than is now possible. For condemnations of research in the colleges usually ignore the fact that there are other students than undergraduates in many of them. A large percentage of the better colleges in our sample offer master’s degrees in history (see Chapter 5, below). As a result, 44% of the history teachers in the better colleges and 23% of those in the more typical colleges teach graduate students as well as undergraduates. In the combined sample of 502 colleges, some graduate-level teaching is done by 42% of the 1,852 history faculty members holding the Ph.D. degree. These percentages must be remembered in considering the proper emphasis to place upon research scholarship in the graduate training of college teachers. It is going too far to argue that historians who are “not actively engaged in contributing to their own knowledge and testing the results of their own researches by frequent publication are failing in their duty to their college, their students, and their profession.”19 But there seems to be little basis for the widespread belief that college teachers live under such great pressure to do research that they neglect their teaching. In point of fact, heavy work loads handicap their efforts both as scholars and as teachers.

Several things can be done to promote scholarly teaching in the colleges. When the teaching-hour burden is heavy and very large numbers of students must be taught by one person, a good many colleges provide student assistants or secretarial help to the faculty. One institution in our sample of better colleges reports that each history teacher is provided with 20 hours of secretarial assistance per week. Classes are often scheduled to provide some free time for scholarly effort by instructors. Half the better colleges report the availability of research grants or sabbaticals with pay, but only 3.3% of the total history faculty in these 126 colleges are reported to have been on full-time leave in the first term of 1958-1959. At this rate each professor can expect a year’s leave every 33 years, or half a year every 16.5 years! Ph.D.-training departments can help in this matter by inviting doctoral graduates teaching in the colleges to return for temporary assignments during a summer, a term, or a full academic year. Many of the wealthier colleges might well take note of the example of Parsons College (Iowa), which offers its faculty members 1 term in 3 free for postdoctoral study or research. In other colleges committee service can be restricted by making certain that only those committees that are needed are retained, by preventing those that exist from being unnecessarily large, and by making certain that faculty committees are spared administrative duties and allowed to concentrate upon their true functions: the formulation and supervision of policy. Finally, heavy teaching loads can be made more palatable where they cannot be reduced by allowing history teachers to concentrate their labor in fields to which they have given their years of specialization and their professional affections.

What History Is Taught?

The most striking fact about history courses in the colleges in recent years is their prevalence and their expansion. In 1958-1959 almost one-third of the colleges in our sample were requiring more history for graduation than ten years earlier; only 6% of them were requiring less. Enrollments in history in 1958-1959 in the better colleges were up 9% over the 1956-1957 level.

The types of history courses that are most commonly reported as graduation requirements are Western civilization, modern European history, or world history; 54% of the four-year colleges in our samples report one of these courses as a requirement. The present emphasis on American history represents the major change since World War II. Surveying 690 colleges and universities during the war, Benjamin Fine found that only 18% required a course in American history for graduation. At about the same time a special committee of the American Historical Association, the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, and the National Council for the Social Studies reported that “American history is now taught with sufficient frequency.”20 Yet today United States history or American civilization is reported as a requirement by 39% of the colleges, or more than twice as frequently as in 1942.21

There have been changes not only in requirements but also in history offerings and enrollments during the last decade, but the changes only reinforce the traditional Western-world orientation of history offerings (see Tables 4-5 and 4-6). The history of non-Western areas in the colleges looks much stronger in terms of courses added than in terms of enrollment increases. And courses arranged by topics rather than by periods or areas have become increasingly common during the last ten years, especially courses in cultural, intellectual, and economic history.

Table 4-5. Enrollment Changes in History Courses in 126 Four-Year Colleges, 1948–1958

Type of history course% of colleges reporting enrollments 20% higher in 1958 than in 1948% of colleges reporting enrollments 20% lower in 1958 than in 1948
United States5419
Medieval and modern European (incl. Western civilization)4116
English-British Commonwealth138
Russian-East European102
Asian (Near and Far East)60
Other history courses256


Table 4-6. Changes in History Courses Offered by 502 Four-Year Colleges, 1948–1958

Type of history course% of colleges reporting courses added% of colleges reporting courses dropped
United States (incl. state and regional)225.0
Modern European (incl. national)204.0
Asian (Near and Far East)191.0
Russian-East European180.4
English-British Commonwealth72.6


United States history is offered by virtually all the colleges and junior colleges. Western civilization is taught by one-third (31%) of the junior colleges, modern European history by one-fourth (25%), and world history by one-fifth (22%). Diversity is, as might be expected, more characteristic of the four-year colleges. More than nine-tenths of them teach courses in modern European history, and the others almost invariably offer either Western civilization or world history. More than two-thirds teach courses in British and medieval history. Colleges in the South give less than average attention to the history of foreign areas. Colleges in the Midwest offer a greater variety of courses than do those in other regions of the nation. The types of history vary also by types of colleges (see Tables 4-7 and 4-8).

Table 4-7. History Course Most Often Offered among 502 Colleges and 51 Junior Colleges. 1956–1958 (2 Years)

% of four-year colleges reporting each type of history
Field of history% of Junior colleges reporting each type of history% in Nation% in East% in South% in Midwest% in West
1. United States929697979595
2. Modern European258992919087
3. English-British Commonwealth127571868167
4. Medieval147173687864
5. Western civilization316968686777
6. Diplomatic26265606961
7. Ancient106160587254
8. Russian or U.S.S.R.45555476061
9. Latin-American105448585652
10. Far Eastern (incl. Indian)85152395861
11. Economic164846515048
12. Cultural-intellectual64548394651
13. State274037552951
14. Constitutional03939314446
15. Historiography03534323841
16. Methodology03432304039
17. General education or broad survey course63029232841
18. Religious142929223826
19. Social22735162821
20. World222521292625
21. Interdisciplinary course82423232634
22. Near Eastern22020182023
23. Philosophies of history01517111916
24. History of science0915675
25. African065668
26. Military457712


Table 4-8. Variations in History Offerings by Types of Four-Year Colleges

Type of history course% of total sample% Professional colleges% Teachers' colleges% Colleges for Negroes% Catholic colleges% General colleges
United States978395909899
Modern European915885909495
English-British Commonwealth772567816091
Western civilization697555677968
Far Eastern521772243961
General education or survey course303335242632
Interdisciplinary course243317332922
Near Eastern20425101623
Philosophies of history15412141816
History of science92120158
Sample of 376 Institutions


It is important to note what history the colleges fail to teach, or teach less commonly than would be thought desirable. As Stull Holt has noted, military history was severely neglected before World War II, but since 1941 has been avidly cultivated at the level of creative scholarship.22 Yet, as Tables 4-7 and 4-8 show, courses in military history are still rarely taught by the history departments in the colleges. The danger for new learning in ancient history is a real one; few American students develop the linguistic skills to specialize in ancient history in doctoral studies. Yet, while enrollments are often small, ancient history remains one of the more generally taught subdivisions of history in the colleges, as Tables 4-7 and 4-8 show.23 To provide faculties capable of teaching the history of non-Western areas-which is lagging-the authors of an Indiana survey have recommended joint appointments of one specialist by two or more colleges. The principle of sharing instructors among several colleges can also be used to staff courses in other areas of history. The principle has been applied with good results in the cooperative programs of Amherst-Mount Holyoke-Smith-University of Massachusetts in the East and Claremont-Occidental-Whittier-Redlands in California.24

The graduate schools need to train more specialists in the history of the non-Western areas, but Tables 4-7 and 4-8 show very clearly that most history Ph.D.s are desired in the traditional areas of study. In the nation as a whole, it appears, two-fifths (41%) of the college history enrollments are in United States history. Half (49%) of the enrollments are in European and English history, leaving 10% for all other areas.25

A number of questions can be raised about the level at which history courses are taught. Why should 46% of the colleges that offer medieval history teach it only at the introductory level and an equal number (43%) only at the advanced undergraduate and graduate levels? Which is right? Are both equally appropriate? Similar questions can be asked about ancient history, English history, Far Eastern history, Russian history, and Latin-American history. Why should courses that are essentially broad surveys be reserved so exclusively for the advanced levels of college curricula? And is it not conceivable that a combined course in historical method and historiography-an introduction to the nature of history-should be the introductory course offered by college history faculties instead of the now common survey? This would give a degree of unity to subsequent study in history courses that in many colleges are highly fragmented.26

Methods of Teaching

After serving as president of Cornell University, Andrew D. White wryly recalled the kind of history instruction he had received at Yale in the class of 1853: “It consisted simply in hearing the student repeat from memory the dates from ‘Putz’s Ancient History.'”27 Now it is the lecture system that is under attack. Because they so often consist of factual lectures, history courses have been described by one critic as “the university’s most perfect type of the fact-loaded, idea-absent, academic exercise.”28 Advocates of educational television have answered criticism of its limitations upon ideal teacher-student interaction with the telling rebuttal that “the ideal is rarely achieved by conventional teaching methods.”29 Yet the lecture remains the basic form of instruction in which history courses are most commonly taught, and it is worth strongly defending as a way of alerting students quickly to conflicting historical interpretations and thus stimulating critical thought, and as a medium that can make history “come alive” as probably no other medium can.

Furthermore, it is important to note that lecturing is supplemented by discussion sections in many history departments. Opportunities for semi-independent study are provided for students who are capable of profiting from independence. Parallel reading almost invariably accompanies lectures and textbook study, providing opportunities for semi-independent work; on a great many campuses history instructors make use of paperback booklets that present primary sources or varieties of interpretations of historical events, thus laying the basis for term papers or discussion sessions. Some history teachers use movies, slide projectors, musical recordings, art illustrations, and field trips to convey to students the spirit of the age through which they are asked to pass vicariously.

Methods of instruction other than the lecture are varied and, in the better colleges, fairly common. The freshman course in history at Carnegie Institute of Technology, for example, has introduced students to the nature of history and to the study of primary sources,30 and Antioch College also emphasizes historical method in the introductory history courses.31 Reed College features small discussion groups, frequent conferences about written work between teachers and individual students, and extensive reading. It has no textbook courses. One-tenth of the 126 better colleges we surveyed require history majors to take either a research seminar, a course in historiography, or a combination of these (see also Table 4-9). Wesleyan University introduces history majors to one-term research seminars during the sophomore year.32 A few of the better colleges of the nation require all history majors to write senior theses. Honors work involving the writing of senior theses is somewhat more frequently offered to outstanding majors; it is reported by 13 % of the typical colleges, and by 28 % of the better colleges.

Most colleges expect to make no major changes in their methods of teaching history in order to meet rising enrollments. Three-fifths of the history departments will add new sections of existing courses. Only 2% suggest that they may use television, and less than 1% expect to inaugurate independent study by the students. Two out of five (38%) of the colleges and junior colleges plan to meet future enrollment increases as they have met them in the past, by enlarging sections. This almost certainly means that the lecture will remain the basic form of history instruction in most colleges. Colleges with large enrollments and few history teachers cannot offer special attention to individual students, or to small groups of them, no matter how convinced the history faculties are that this is desirable. The way to more personalized as well as more scholarly history teaching can be found in these colleges only through substantial reductions in the work loads of history faculties.

History Majors

Special faculty attention to students in large introductory courses is understandably unusual. Most historians would agree, however, that it should be commonplace in the education of history majors. While this happy condition does not yet exist, there are encouraging signs that it is coming (see Table 4-9).

Table 4-9. Comparison of Selected Forms of History Instruction by Types of Colleges, 1958–1959

% of colleges reporting each form of instruction offered during 1957-1958
Form of instructionNation (376)Professional colleges (24)Teachers' colleges (40)Negro colleges (21)Catholic colleges (85)General Colleges (206)
Tutorial work7481486
Directed readings341733434033
Instruction to individual students11211010612
Seminar work482133525651


The history major almost always requires distribution of course work in at least two fields-most commonly in United States and European history-and 10 of the 126 better colleges specify that majors must study in three or four fields of history. These requirements are especially desirable in departments that offer many highly specialized history courses. To further the integration of historical knowledge and to fill in gaps in reading, a number of colleges offer special courses, seminars, or reading programs.

The typical major program in history in the colleges offers, it must be admitted, much less imaginative and personalized fare and thus less fully prepares students for the kind of work expected by graduate faculties. The major program commonly requires 24 to 30 semester hours of history (reported by three-fourths of the better colleges). In the colleges that offer the general social science major with concentration in history, the requirement is usually 30 to 40 semester hours of courses in the social sciences.33) Only one content course is usually specified as a requirement for the major in history, and that is the introductory course in United States history. (This is generally required of public school teachers by state law.) The United States history course has been reported to be a requirement for the major in 86% of a sample of 290 institutions.34 The widespread adoption of this requirement since World War II helps to explain why so many teaching positions have been available for new Ph.D.s in United States history.

Strong or weak, offering personalized attention or mass education, the history major program attracts a sizable proportion of the junior and senior students in most liberal arts colleges. In the three-year period 1956-1959 history majors accounted for about 3.5% of all the bachelor’s graduates in the nation, and history’s share of the total increased slightly each year in that period. The bachelor’s degree with a major in history was conferred by 790 institutions in 1957 and by 840 in 1959. The history majors graduating in 1959-13,742-were 30% more numerous than those of 1956.35 Half the better colleges (52%) report that one-tenth or more of their graduates were history majors. In comparison with majors in other disciplines, the major in history ranked first in number of graduating seniors in one-fourth (26%) of the better colleges, and among the top three majors in three-fourths (77%) of them.


What emerges from this survey of history in the colleges that is most pertinent to graduate education in history?

It is of first importance for graduate faculties to note that the colleges want historians who are capable teachers. Both the colleges and the universities need to foster good teaching by young historians more than they do.

The training of college teachers should continue to emphasize experience in research scholarship. This training, important for all college teachers, is especially needed by those who teach graduate as well as undergraduate students-2 out of every 5 college teachers of history who hold the Ph.D.

It is especially important to note that so many of the history teachers in the colleges have achieved the Ph.D.: 22% of the junior college teachers, 58% of the teachers in “typical” four-year colleges, and 71% of the teachers in the better colleges. These statistics have a direct bearing upon proposals to create new degrees for college teachers. They should also be considered by institutions that are thinking of starting Ph.D. programs.

Both the graduate history faculties and the college administrations will agree that the development of young Ph.D.s as teachers and as scholars is severely handicapped in many colleges by low salaries, inadequate libraries, and heavy teaching loads. And it is to be hoped that college history teachers in the future might be less often expected to teach primarily in fields other than the one in which they have concentrated their doctoral studies. Since it will continue to be necessary for instructors to do some teaching in more than one field of history in a great many colleges, doctoral programs must provide new Ph.D.s with considerable breadth of historical training.

The variety of history courses in the colleges is encouraging. It makes teaching in the colleges attractive to trained historians, and offers a range of education to undergraduates that is to be applauded. But care should be taken to offer history courses to nonmajor undergraduates that suit their broad needs and their limited time for the study of history.

An awareness of the discipline as a whole can be conveyed to undergraduate history majors by requiring a patterned distribution of courses in three or four broad fields of history, by providing a comprehensive reading course for senior majors to fill gaps in coverage, or by the introduction of a comprehensive examination for history majors. In addition, majors ought to be acquainted-the earlier the better-with historical method, changing philosophies of history, and the classics of historical literature. Early competence in foreign languages should be strongly encouraged. Neglect of the non-Western areas should be ended. In 1961 a distinguished committee recommended that: “During their undergraduate years, all students should get at least an introductory acquaintance with some culture other than their own.”36

In training Ph.D. candidates as teachers, graduate faculties should take cognizance of the diversity of forms of instruction in the colleges. Formal lectures will continue to constitute the basic method of history instruction, but Ph.D. candidates should also be prepared to lead discussions, direct independent study by students, and conduct small-group tutorials and seminars.

Whatever the form of instruction, college history instructors will continue to try to develop in students-majors and nonmajors alike-the capacity for critical thinking and literate expression along with historical understanding. They will find time to become more scholarly teachers through research, while recognizing that their best chance to make an impact on others is offered by the classroom. The history classrooms in American colleges, especially in our nervous era, can be “an abiding influence in the life of the great nation to which we belong and … a vital part of life itself.”37

Next section: The Master’s Degree 


  1. Our survey of 3,072 members of history faculties holding the Ph.D. shows that 62% teach in colleges and junior colleges. The sample included virtually all Ph.D.-training faculties but failed to include a large number of college and junior college faculties. Thus it is probable that 70% is a more accurate estimate of history Ph.D.s in the colleges than 62%. []
  2. Our samples include 56% of all the colleges and universities that in 1957-1958 granted bachelor’s degrees in history, and 12% of those that granted them in “social science.”

    About 28% of the 1,937 institutions of higher learning in the United States may be called “junior colleges.” About 4% offer the Ph.D. degree in history. The remaining 1,306 institutions are four-year colleges (many of which offer master’s degrees). These may be grouped by the following types: 7% are primarily teacher preparatory colleges; 16% are professional or technical schools; and 998 (76%) are public, private, or sectarian liberal arts colleges. These 998-we will call them colleges of a “general type“-make up 52% of all the 1,937 colleges and universities in the nation.

    About 26% of all the institutions of higher learning in the United States are private and nonsectarian; another 25% are Protestant; 14% are Roman Catholic; and 0.3% are Jewish. The remaining 35% are public institutions. Our samples represent all of these types of institution, as tabulated by the U.S. Office of Education (Theresa Birch Wilkins, ed.), Education Directory, 1957-1958, Part III of Higher Education (Washington, 1957), 1-11. []

  3. For suggestive comments on the qualities of good and poor teachers in the schools see David G. Ryans, Characteristics of Teachers: Their Description, Comparison, and Appraisal, A Research Study (Washington, 1960), 343-367. []
  4. On this lack of evidence about teaching capacity see comments by L. S. Woodburne, Faculty Personnel Policies in Higher Education (New York, 1950) ; M. R. Trabue, “Characteristics Desirable in College Teachers,” Journal of Higher Education, XXV (April, 1954), 201-204. For additional literature on the evaluation of teachers see Eells (ed.), College Teachers and College Teaching, 151-164. []
  5. A strong argument can be made that the college is obligated to provide in-service training for the new teacher. See Elmer Ellis, “Making Competent Teachers of New Instructors,” Journal of Higher Education, XXV (April, 1954), 204-206. []
  6. In Theodore C. Blegen and Russell M. Cooper (eds.), The Preparation of College Teachers: Report of a Conference Held at Chicago, Illinois, December 8-10, 1949, Sponsored by the American Council on Education and the U.S. Office of Education (Washington, 1950), 18. Ibid., 62, offers a more prosaic but useful statement of the qualities of a good teacher. For other suggestive statements about the qualities of excellent teachers see Knapp and Goodrich, Origins of American Scientists, 249-258; list by M. R. Trabue in Journal of Teacher Education, II (June, 1951), 136. []
  7. For this and other data on junior colleges see Leland L. Medsker, The Junior College: Progress and Prospects (New York, 1960), 97. []
  8. See National Education Association, Teacher Supply and Demand … 1957-58 and 1958-59, 33-34. []
  9. Berelson, Graduate Education, 224. []
  10. Ibid. []
  11. McGrath, The Graduate School and the Decline of Liberal Educationpassim. []
  12. The data for comparison of salaries are available in the American Association of University Professors Bulletin, XLVI (June, 1960), 156-193. See also Eckert and others, “College Faculty Members View Their Jobs,” 525; Louis A. D’Amico, “Salaries of College and University Professors by Rank, Institutional Size, and Control,” Educational Record, XLI (October, 1960), 300-305. []
  13. “The data were found in Irwin (ed.), American Universities and Colleges, 8th ed., under the descriptions of the sample colleges. The sample of typical colleges included: Elmira, Franklin and Marshall, Kent State, Loyola (Los Angeles), Macalester, Maryland State Teachers (Frostburg), Mississippi College, University of Richmond, Wells, and Whitman. []
  14. National Merit Scholarship Corporation, Recognizing Exceptional Ability Among America’s Young People: Fourth Annual Report, 1959 (Evanston, Ill., n.d. [1960?]), 19. []
  15. “See, e.g., Robert F. Byrnes (ed.), The Non-western Areas in Undergraduate Education in Indiana (Bloomington, Ind., 1959), 19. []
  16. See, e.g., H. K. Newborn, “Faculty Personnel Policies in State Universities” (multilithed for limited distribution by President Newborn, Montana State University, October, 1959), 127-129. []
  17. Ruml and Morrison, Memo to a College Trustee, 27-44. For other literature on class size see Eells (ed.), College Teachers and College Teaching, 143-144. []
  18. See, e.g., Carnegie Corporation of New York Quarterly, Supplement (April, 1960) for comment by Harry Carman; Ruml and Morrison, Memo to a College Trustee, 8; McGrath, The Graduate School and the Decline of Liberal Educationpassim; Theodore Caplow and Reece J. McGee, The Academic Marketplace (New York, 1958), 225 and passim; Williams, Some of My Best Friends Are Professors, 206. []
  19. Hesseltine and Kaplan, “Doctors of Philosophy in History,” 790. []
  20. Committee on American History in Schools and Colleges of the American Historical Association, the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, and the National Council for the Social Studies (Edgar B. Wesley, director), American History in Schools and Colleges (New York, 1944), 42, 118. []
  21. A survey of 200 institutions by the U.S. Office of Education (1959) has shown that 48.7% require one or another history course for graduation. No other social science is so often required. Thus in terms of the number of students enrolled and the average number of semester hours taken per student, history ranks higher than any other social science. See Jennings B. Sanders, Social Science Requirements for Bachelor’s Degrees: A Study of Anthropology, Economics, History, Political Science, and Sociology in General Graduation Requirements (Washington, 1959), 20, 65. []
  22. See Holt’s essay in Curti (ed.), American Scholarship in the Twentieth Century, 105. []
  23. Cf. ibid., 100. []
  24. Byrnes (ed.), The Non-Western Areas in Undergraduate Education in Indiana, 21, 29, 30, and passim. The inadequate offering of courses in the history of non-Western areas has prevailed not just in Indiana but in most parts of the nation. See the articles by Jennings B. Sanders in Higher Education: VI (Oct. 1, 1949), 31-34; VI (Nov. 15, 1949), 67-70; and VI (May 1, 1950), 201-202. See also Fred Cole, International Relations in Institutions of Higher Education in the South (Washington, 1958). The following suggest possibilities and problems involved in intercollege cooperation: Sidney R. Packard, “Academic Cooperation,” Educational Record, XL (October, 1959), 358-363; C. L. Barber and others, The New College Plan: A Proposal for a Major Departure in Higher Education (Amherst, 1958). []
  25. Jennings B. Sanders, “College Social Sciences: A Statistical Evaluation with Special Reference to History,” Higher Education, XI (April, 1955), 109-113. The data we have collected suggest that the distribution of enrollments has not significantly changed since Sanders wrote. []
  26. McGrath, The Graduate School and the Decline of Liberal Education, vi and passim, blames the graduate schools too exclusively for the fragmentation of courses in the colleges. []
  27. Quoted from Andrew Dickson White’s Autobiography by W. H. Cowley in “College and University Teaching, 1858-1958,” Educational Record, XXXIX (October, 1958), 311-326. []
  28. Williams, Some of My Best Friends Are Professors, 226-229. []
  29. C. R. Carpenter in Adams, Carpenter, and Smith (eds.), College Teaching by Television, 13-14. []
  30. See Department of History, Carnegie Institute of Technology (Edwin Fenton), “Teaching the First Ten Assignments in an Introductory European History Course.” (Copies are available at 25¢ each.) See also Paul L. Ward, A Style of History for Beginners (Washington, 1959), a publication issued by the Service Center for Teachers of History, American Historical Association. []
  31. See Irvin Abrams, “The Historian’s Craft and General Education,” Journal of General Education, IX (October, 1955), 36-41. []
  32. For a similar requirement at the junior level see Henry Reiff, “Historiography and Government Research: A Blended Course in History and Government at St. Lawrence University,” Journal of Higher Education, XXII (March, 1951), 129-137. []
  33. Of all the bachelor’s degrees granted in 1957-1958 in “history” and in “social science,” 60% were granted in “history.” And 60% of the 1,342 institutions granting either degree granted the degree in “history.” Our samples of the colleges are heavily weighted (86% “history,” 14% “social science”) in favor of institutions that offer the bachelor’s degree with a major in “history.” (HEW, Earned Degrees … 1957-1953, 37, 175-178, 182-187. []
  34. Jennings B. Sanders, “How the College Introductory Course in United States History is Organized and Taught,” mimeographed Circular No. 288, U.S. Office of Education (Washington, Apr. 10, 1951), 14. []
  35. The data for all the nation’s bachelor’s degree graduates were taken from HEW, Earned Degrees … 1956-1957, 12, 22, 27; 1957-1958, 8, 23, 37; and 1958-1959, 30-31, 35. []
  36.  John B. Howard, Harold Boeschenstein, and others, The University and World Affairs (n.p. [New York?], n.d. [1961]), 17, a Ford Foundation report of the Committee on the University and World Affairs. []
  37. Dexter Perkins, “We Shall Gladly Teach,” American Historical Review, LXII (January, 1957), 309. []