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
hm1. From: Harold Marcuse <email@example.com>
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> There will be a faculty meeting on Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Dear History Department Colleagues,
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.)
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
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.
Two other substantive changes, on which we especially welcome your comments,
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.)
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
r2. Friday, November 14, 2003
3:44 PM (back to contents)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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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:
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:
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)
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.
r5. Tuesday, November 18, 2003
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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.
document created by H. Marcuse, 11/16/03, last updated 11/18/03, some typos
back to contents, top, GE workgroup homepage, Western Civ. responses document, QGE discussion document