Published Date

December 2, 2015

Resource Type



State & Local (US), Teaching Methods

AHA Topics

K–12 Education, Teaching & Learning, The History Major, Undergraduate Education


United States

By J. Kent McGaughy

Overall, I found the Texas Tuning conference provided an excellent opportunity for those teaching introductory history courses to get together and discuss issues that concern us all.

History Curricula and Transferable Skills

On the policy side, I was surprised to learn that Texas is now the only state in the entire country that still requires college students to take six hours of American history, as opposed to six hours of social science. My concern is that as the teaching of history becomes more politicized, and as faculty resist the political mandates regarding certain content areas, the Texas legislature may abandon the six-hour history requirement in favor of the model used by every other state in the country.

The AHA’s History Tuning Project provides an excellent means to address this problem. By utilizing the Core Competencies and Learning Outcomes developed by those leading the Tuning Project, we can begin to focus on the skills that the history discipline offers that are applicable in virtually every other field, whether you’re talking about business, the medical field, law, law enforcement, or many others. If we can get more of our colleagues to promote the history degree as a gateway to success in a variety of other fields, that will increase the vitality and value of keeping the history requirement. If we continue to allow history to be downgraded to a field of little or no consequence—unless you want to be a history teacher/professor—then the future of the history discipline is bleak to say the least. It disturbs me when I hear some of my colleagues say things like “I cannot in good conscience encourage any of my students to major in history; the job market for faculty positions is so dismal they will never find a job.” That is precisely the kind of myopic thinking that will bring about the death of our discipline.

Lendol Calder provided some excellent suggestions on how to enhance the relevancy of history:

  1. Abandon the traditional “coverage” model of teaching the introductory history survey course
  2. Make sure that assessments require that the students actually “do history”

By doing this, history instructors can introduce students to skills applicable to a wide variety of fields while also learning about various aspects of American history. This approach is especially critical as, for more and more students, the introductory survey becomes the only college-level history course they will ever take.

Dual Enrollment

Another major topic of discussion was dual enrollment. Two-year colleges like Houston Community College (HCC) have been offering these courses for years, and as an associate chair for our history department responsible for supervising adjunct faculty, I have mixed feelings on the subject. I recognize the opportunity dual-credit courses offer students, but I worry about the quality of the instruction students receive. At HCC we’ve seen instances where dual-credit students receive the same level of instruction as every other HCC history student, but we’ve also seen dual-credit teachers forced by principals to reduce workloads and dampen content in order to reduce parent complaints. To hear, as I did at the recent conference, of plans to expand dual-credit offerings before such problems have been addressed disturbs me. As associate chair I will be observing dual-credit instructors, and where I see these problems, I will work to ensure that the instruction is on level with every other history course taught at HCC.

Recruitment of History Majors

It is also imperative that we encourage honest discussion on introductory history courses between two-year and four-year institutions, especially since much history major recruiting takes places at the intro level. A history department at a four-year university looking to boost the number of undergraduate history majors should not limit the search to their own freshmen and sophomore students but rather view the students at every community college in the state as a pool of recruits. They should reach out to community college staff and faculty as well, and allow them to assist in their recruiting efforts. I had some good conversations with Robert Abzug and Penne Restad from the University of Texas at Austin along these lines while attending the conference. If we all work together, we will all benefit from the effort. I hope that the AHA can help make this happen, not only in Texas, but across the nation.

J. Kent McGaughy attended the University of Texas at Austin and received his MA and PhD in American history from the University of Houston. He currently teaches history at Houston Community College and is the author of Richard Henry Lee of Virginia: A Portrait of an American Revolutionary.