History Department Discussion of GE Reform, Nov. 2003
compilation by H. Marcuse, last updated 11/18/03

I have anonymized the responses I received below. They are very thoughtful and should be read by all interested in this discussion, but I would like to ensure a free flow of ideas without worries about reputation or ad hominem attacks.
Nov. 14: Marcuse sends out reading suggestions (jump)
Nov. 14: response 1 re: West vs. World and QGE (jump)
Nov. 14: response 2 re: West vs. World and QGE (jump)
Nov. 16: Marcuse responds (jump)
Nov. 17: response 3 re: West vs. World and QGE + brief answer(jump)
Nov. 17: response 4 to r3: how much European history do K-12 students get (jump)
Nov. 18: response 5 on US-ETH and West/non-West (jump)

hm1. From: Harold Marcuse <marcuse@history.ucsb.edu> (back to top of contents)
To: histfac@mail.lsit.ucsb.edu
cc: gegroup@mail.lsit.ucsb.edu
Subject: [gegroup] GE reform Q&A at 11/19 Faculty Meeting
Date-Sent: Friday, November 14, 2003 2:40 PM -0800

> There will be a faculty meeting on Wednesday, November 19, 2003
> at 11:30 a.m. in HSSB 4020.
> Agenda:
> 1. Chair's announcements -P.Cohen
> 2. G.E. discussion -H.Marcuse

Dear History Department Colleagues,
Since GE is a fairly complex program, I'd like to offer some suggestions on how to prepare for our departmental discussion next week. The place to start is the "Oct. 30, 2003 discussion document", available as a highlighted link at the top of this web page: http://www.history.ucsb.edu/projects/ge/

It may be advantageous to start (or finish) with that on-line version, since it contains links to referenced documents with important background information. In other words, unless you've been following this discussion for several years, you need to look at previous work, especially the May 2002 final report of the GE Task Force, which was the GE Work Group's starting point. The links go directly to the relevant sections, so you don't need to wade through those documents as well.)
At the top of the on-line version there is also a link to a pdf version, so that you can easily print the 8-page discussion document.

OK, 8 pages is a lot to wade through if you're not that involved with the minutiae of GE, so I'll point out what's most relevant to history.

First, Area E would be renamed from
"Civilization and Thought
Objective: To provide a perspective on civilization through the study of human history and thought"
to (text suggested in the May 2002 Task Force report):
"Historical Studies: history, religious studies, art history, archaeology, classics
Disciplines whose knowledge claims rely on the analysis of a broad range of sources about past cultures with the aim of understanding those cultures in themselves, as they have changed over time, and in their relationships to other cultures."
(You may remember an e-mail exchange on histfac in 2000/01 [actually May 9-15, 2001] in which I solicited feedback from you to improve the text after "knowledge claims.")

Now we require 3 courses in Area E: two from any one of the seven 3-quarter sequence courses in E-1, Western Civilization, and one from E-2, World Civilizations and Thought.

The GE proposal suggests requiring 2 courses total in "historical studies," which would be more specifically historical in its approach than area E is now.
The Western Civ. requirement would cease to be a core (sub-)area, and become a "special subject area requirement" exactly parallel to the "non-Western culture" (NWC) requirement currently in place. The two requirements would be renamed to "European traditions" and "non-European traditions," or some other term that avoids defining the rest of the world by the absence of something. (Suggestions welcome!) (See no. 7 of the discussion document [link], with links to the Task Force minutes where this was discussed.)
The courses currently in E-1 [link to UCSB catalog listing] would certainly qualify for this special subject designation, but others as well (the upper div. European survey, Hist 123ABC comes immediately to mind).
[note 11/16/03: I have just prepared a special document tracing the history of the GE Task Force discussion of WCiv in 2001-02: link to WCiv document]

Two other substantive changes, on which we especially welcome your comments, are:
a new core area in "Inter- and Multi-disciplinary Studies" (no. 2 in the discussion document [link], with links to several important background documents), and
a new special subject requirement in "Queer, Gender and Ethnicity" studies, which would augment the current Ethnicity requirement (no. 5 in the discussion document [link], again with another link to a QGE document).

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to two particular implementation issues, on which faculty and administration seem to have widely diverging viewpoints: whether the GE program needs a faculty director, and whether a petition process would improve our GE program. (These are no. 10 in the discussion document [link], again with links to details.)
If faculty consider these important (or not), it would be very helpful to hear it from the departments.

I look forward to our discussion on Wednesday. If you have any questions beforehand, please e-mail me, and I'll do my best to answer them.

r1. Friday, November 14, 2003 3:36 PM (back to contents)
Dear Harold,
Thanks so much for making this daunting task approachable. I was ready just to ignore it.

I have looked at many of the documents on the web page and understood some of it, and I have looked at your highlights in the email message. Let me offer my one main critical concern, and please respond if you have time.

Regarding the division of the E1 into Euro and non-Euro, and your concern to find a better word for the latter. Insofar as European traditions becomes a prime objective of new GEs the only sensible pair is non-European. ("The West and the Rest" or "the Mother and the Other" come to mind but might be seen as facetious) My own view on the matter is that this is not a good structure to teach our students. A travesty really, but I won't harp on it, and I am sure that you know the reasons why. I would prefer just having 2 courses: one each in any two separate regional or national traditions in historical studies.

A minor criticism is of the title Queer Gender Ethnicity requirement. Gender and ethnicity are truly pan-human experiences and the pan-human field within which queer fits is Sexuality. My reasoning here is that "Queer" is a very historically contingent form of sexual identity or relations only applicable to a culture that believes that a choice of sexual partners makes one a certain type of person or gives one an identity. In many places and times in the world sexual behavior between people of the same sex was just another form of sexual activity. Two, even if one stays with the modern American notion of sexual identity, it privileges the study of one such identity over others, which I don't think is good. I also don't see the need to privilege the US experience regarding the Ethnicity requirement. I think that U.S. students could benefit equally by the study of ethnicity in other contexts as well.

r2. Friday, November 14, 2003 3:44 PM (back to contents)

Dear Harold,
Thanks for all your work on the GE program. Here are a few brief comments.

1. "Western" vs. "World" civilization and culture:

The labels "European" and "non-European" seem as unsatisfactory to me as western/non-western. Either way, we're submitting to a presentist bias and a constructed cultural genealogy that, for example, makes ancient Greece part of "Europe" and the "West."

"Western" and "World" also seem unsatisfactory. Isn't the "West," however defined, a part of the "World?"

Would it be possible to avoid the West/non-West/Europe/non-Europe dichotomy by simply having a single category, "World Civilizations and Cultures?" The requirement could be that students take three (3) courses examining at least two (2) different world regions (Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe, Oceania, for example). Or make it at least three courses examining three different regions, if we're afraid students will take only Americas and Europe, or Asia and Africa, or whatever.

2. "Queer, Gender, Ethnicity":

I'm bothered by bias towards the United States and towards the present in this proposed requirement. The description in the working document assumes that sexuality and gender have always been defined according the categories operative in the modern U.S. As you'll remember from our discussions last year, the U.S. focus detracts from a wider understanding of the construction of identities in non-U.S. cultures. The description also seems implicitly to exclude the study of masculinities. And what about groups which have been "historically oppressed" on the basis of things other than sexual/gender/racial/ethnic identity (whether assigned or self-ascribed), say religiously or politically-defined (whether by themselves or by others) minorities? Don't their experiences matter too?

Just as "west/non-west" defines people by the absence of something, so too does "QGE." The implication (to me, at least), is that everyone else is lumped together as "non-QGE." How about calling this "The Construction of Identities" or "Identities and Communities," or something similar?

hm2. From: Harold Marcuse marcuse@history.ucsb.edu (back to contents)
To: "History Dept. Faculty" <histfac@stan.lsit.ucsb.edu>
cc: gegroup@mail.lsit.ucsb.edu
Subject: [histfac] GE reform: Europe/non-E; QGE
Date-Sent: Sunday, November 16, 2003 12:19 PM

In order not to have to reinvent the wheel, i.e. rehash last year's discussion, I've created a document with links to all of the GE Task Force discussions of the Western Civ. requirement, including some anonymized Feb. 2002 responses from departments and faculty that the TF considered. A special bonus is a link to Warren Hollister's 1985 GE chairman's report, which gives an (the?) original rationale for this requirement:
I don't really have the time to respond in detail to my two colleagues' suggestions (r1 and r2, above), but let me offer some brief comments:

Constructive feedback on the "European/non-" nomenclature such as this is very helpful.

Regarding the different ways of slicing up the world, the GE workgroup also discussed this many times. I haven't had time to pull together links to every discussion, but the Apr. 25, 2003 meeting was particularly important:

In short: selecting a specific number of courses from different regions of the world entails classifying EVERY course by a region of the world (or comparative), and becomes a logistical nightmare for classifiers and students trying to find courses to take.

As for Queer/Gender/Ethnicity: This is a long-standing student demand. My take on this is that it is simply an area few people know anything about, where prejudicial ignorance (spilling over into violence) is rampant, and the university is one of the few enclaves where one can learn about it. If we are to increase a society-wide understanding of such identity issues, we must highlight them in our curriculum.

The intent of the requirement is to promote study and understanding of "queer" identity, an umbrella concept incorporating lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender and intersex. These are clearly repressed identities. Gender was included in this requirement, although it is of course mainstream and not as severely oppressed, because a) it is almost always also discussed in the context of these other identities, which are related, and b) without it sufficient courses would not be available. Ditto for the expanded defnition of ethnicity. (For other reasons we decided not to change the existing US-ethnic minorities requirement.)

I've added links to four of the work group discussions about QGE at the bottom of the QGE discussion document:
If you only have time to look at one, the most comprehensive discussion was a presentation on 5/2/03 by AS president Chrystine Lawson:

Sorry to pester you with all of these links, but I think it's the best way for you to follow the previous discussion. I hope that you, as historians, will appreciate the access to the primary sources!

PS. I hope it is ok to post your contributions as I have done. If it is not, please let me know. If anyone wishes to e-mail me and NOT have their anonymized contribution posted, please let me know as well.

r3. Monday, November 17, 2003 10:02 AM (back to contents)
I will not be at the meeting Wednesday but I did want to express my agreement with the concerns raised by the two faculty whose comments you posted. Any way you slice Europe/non-Europe it's us vs them. I think the idea of having to choose 2-3 from an array is better than required one Eur one non-Eur. I know there will be people who are concerned that students should get the Western tradition somewhere but surely by college most kids have had European history several times over.

On the gender/ethnicity thing too, "queer studies" is so, so narrow. I see the point but there must be some other way of talking about sexuality without putting it into that box. I agree with the suggestion of "identities" which would encompass a lot more, including a broader notion of ethnicity than is currently the norm in US studies.

Monday, November 17, 2003 11:36 AM (back to contents)
My spin would be not "us vs. them," but "us AND them."
All other core areas have given up on this kind of micro-managing.

r4. Monday, November 17, 2003 1:01 PM (back to contents)
One response to which you refer us states that "surely by college most kids have had European history several times over." This is factually wrong for K-12 education in California. According to the History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools (adopted by the California State Board of Education in 1987), "European history" considered on its own does not appear at all. Instead, there are three grades in which aspects of it would be taught under the following headings:

Grade Six: World History and Geography: Ancient Civilizations
Grade Seven: World History and Geography: Medieval and Early Modern Times
Grade Ten: World History, Culture and Geography: The Modern World.

Since 1997 I have co-directed four of the seven summer institutes for K-12 teachers that we have held on this campus and worked with over 100 teachers who attended the institutes. My sense is that the "World" aspect of this curriculum is being taken very seriously by teachers.

r5. Tuesday, November 18, 2003 (back to contents)
I oppose the idea of establishing a separate course on "US ethnicity" as a requirement. Ethnicity issues pertaining to US history SHOULD be taught as part of -and not apart from - US mainstream history surveys--it is such a survey rather than a separate "US ethnicity" course which should be made a requirement, in any event. This would force instructors, and not just students, to teach more and know more about their own marginalized "ethnics". Otherwise, the "ethnics" would for ever continue being the "others" - always separate and never fully integrated into the mainstream of anything. Separating ethnicity from anything mainstream is translating into the academic nomenclature a daily practice of segregation and self-segregation that pervades the US society -whether it comes from the left or from the right. The circle would never end unless we start integrating "ethnicity" into the mainstream histories. This, I think, requires more drastic changes in mentality than creating a separate "ethnicity" requirement that only perpetuates the idea of "ethnics" as being separate thus doing a disservice to the very purpose for which course was created.

For the same reasons, I am in total agreement that we have finally to end with the stupid western-non western, European/non-European dichotomy. Imagine a rural town in Spain in the early twentieth century and compare it with Buenos Aires in the same period. Which would you say is more "European"? Also my sense, from just listening to some colleagues is that people doing US and "European" history have a much narrower idea of "Europe" than most people in other fields (and other parts of the world) do. Not long ago, an Europeanist colleague in our department referred to Portugese as and obscure language which "nobody" in this department [sic] understands. Perhaps for this person, as for other "European" specialists, Portugal is not a part of Europe. What would a Brazilianist have to say? Some people do not even consider Spain as part of Europe, and the British of course think of themselves as being apart from Europe themselves (though certainly for different reasons...).

For all the above, I like very much respondent 3's suggestions (link). The idea of creating a single category called World Civilizations and requiring students to take three of those courses seems MUCH better to me than the requirement of just two "historical studies" courses. With only two "historical studies" courses students could get away without even taking a single history course! I cannot imagine a worse curriculum.

As for the rest, I agree with much of what respondents 2 and 3 have said.

Marcuse responds:
In theory I agree with you, and once (on the GE Task Force) I was persuaded to hold a similar position. But the realities on this campus (and in our society) are far from the ideal situation where that theory would apply. I'd like to cite this passage from no. 7 (non-Western Culture) in the 10/30/03 GE discussion document, which explains the rationale for having separate NWC courses:
"The May 2001[GE Task Force] report, section 4.2 (link; compare 2002 sect. 4.0), proposed to integrate NWC into the core by requiring that all core courses attend to NWC "where appropriate." That proposal changes the nature of the requirement, which aims at in-depth study of a different culture. It would also mean that teaching would be shifted away from faculty with primary expertise on those cultures, to instructors whose research emphasis is elsewhere. That would reduce the quality of instruction on this subject matter."
I think the same applies to the US ethnic minorities requirement: they should of course ALSO be integrated, but that in itself is not enough.

document created by H. Marcuse, 11/16/03, last updated 11/18/03, some typos corrected 5/10/04
back to contents, top, GE workgroup homepage, Western Civ. responses document, QGE discussion document