September 28, 2011

Letter to the Editor: Historical perspective

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To the Editor:

Re: “History Dept. Creates Minor to Increase Enrollment,” News, Sept. 28

I’m writing to clarify certain points made in The Sun’s “History Dept. Creates Minor to Increase Enrollment.”

History did not create a minor in order to increase enrollment. We did so, instead, in an effort to decrease pressure on undergraduates who are double-majoring and triple-majoring. We also aimed at increasing the range of choices students can make. Our actions came in response to an initiative from the dean, an initiative whose goals we share. We would be delighted, of course, if the History minor happens to increase enrollment in History courses, because we believe that all educated people should study some history. It’s not clear, though, if the minor will have any effect on enrollment.

Enrollments were down in History, but they have gone back up again substantially over the past two years — an increase that began before we offered a minor. We hope that comes in response to the effort we’ve made of late to teach new, and more introductory, courses.

History is not the only department to face a decline in enrollments. Many Humanities departments, both at Cornell and across the nation, are in a similar position. The reasons for this are complicated but surely one of them is the economy, which has drawn many students away from the Humanities and toward courses in economics and business. But complex processes need to be understood in perspective — dare I say, in historical perspective? Come to think of it, that’s a great reason for taking a history course.

Barry Strauss ’74

Professor and Chair, Department of History