Published Date

January 1, 2015

Resource Type

For Departments, Program of Study

AHA Topics

Academic Departmental Affairs, Teaching & Learning, The History Major, Undergraduate Education

This resource was developed as part of the AHA’s Tuning project.

Institution: Southern New Hampshire University
Location: Hooksett, NH
Year: 2015


At the outset of the Tuning Project, our program faced several challenges rooted in multiple contextual realities:

Personnel and Offerings. We were rebuilding the faculty, moving away from a provincial (and often eclectic) understanding of history curriculum and toward a broader, global focus.

Identity. No mission statement, competencies, or outcomes had yet been articulated for the history program. Moreover, the identity of history within the university had been significantly altered with the implementation of a new General Education program that eliminated distribution requirements in favor of an outcomes-based model.

Collaboration. Within the Humanities department, in which history is the only major, we were met with a growing desire for collaboration among the disciplines of history, art history/visual culture, and philosophy.

Resources. The School of Arts and Sciences was beginning to invest more of its resources in the direction of mathematics and science.

Measuring Learning. The university was pressing forward with great speed toward adopting a “culture of assessment” without a clear sense of what it wanted from an assessment program.

An emphasis on “Innovation.” The university, owing largely to its rapid growth of online education, had amplified its brand as an “innovator” in higher education. So eager has the university been to embrace innovation that it has often been mistaken as an end in itself rather than as a means to an end.

Goals. Our administration has vigorously pushed programs to address the career-readiness of our graduates, and the concurrent increase in institutional rhetoric that prizes vocational attributes over and above all other virtues of university education has posed a discrete and immediate challenge.

Disciplinary Standards. Our traditional campus is organized around three schools, two of which (Business and Education) answer to outside agencies for accreditation purposes and therefore already had to operate within the boundaries of certain core competencies, while the third school (Arts and Sciences) appeared, by comparison, to be almost inchoate in its understanding and application of competencies and outcomes.

The Tuning Project has provided direction and structure to program-level reform amid such contextual challenges. Specifically, the Project

  • provided many opportunities to learn from experiences of colleagues at other institutions and to receive feedback on our ideas for reform;
  • fostered a critical conversation within our department about the role/place of history in our newly-designed General Education curriculum;
  • shaped our dialogue with colleagues who oversee history curriculum in our online college;
  • encouraged our efforts to integrate a new field—modern Asian history—into our offerings;
  • aided the discussion and development of interdisciplinary work within the Humanities department;
  • facilitated a conversation with administration, especially with the Dean of Arts and Sciences, the Academic Affairs, Career Services, Study Abroad, and Alumni offices. These conversations have set the stage for programmatic changes that we hope will provide students with greater fieldwork and study abroad experiences as part of the history major;
  • produced disciplinary core competencies that are now woven into our mission and program outcomes statement, a document shared by both our traditional face-to-face campus (total enrollment, 3,000 students) as well as our online college (total enrollment, 30,000).

Most importantly, the Tuning Project created a language plan to articulate who we are, what we do, and why what we do matters-to the university, to the broader community, and to our students. This language plan is essential in our efforts to communicate these elements to stakeholders outside our department. It provided the imprimatur of the AHA on our claims to disciplinary standards and goals and served as an affirmation that historians have a shared sense of what we do and why it is important. Tuning has helped us clarify and strengthen our message, which in turn has strengthened our position as we address the challenges of our unique context.

Kenneth Nivison

Southern New Hampshire University