George Washington University Drops U.S. History Requirement — for History Majors!
A university literally named after George Washington and located in the nation's capital just dropped its requirement for American history, for history majors. In order to graduate with a history degree from George Washington University (GW) in Washington, D.C., you do not have to study American history.
To make matters worse, the department said they made this stunning decision in order to kowtow to current trends and make history more popular. This change comes among other updates to the curriculum: history majors will no longer be required to take foreign language classes, can do an electronic capstone project instead of the traditional thesis, and will not have to study European, North American, or U.S. history.
"I think the main gain for students is that they have a great deal more flexibility than they had before, and they can adapt it to whatever their plans are for the future," Katrin Schultheiss, chair of the history department, told The GW Hatchet. "Whatever they want to do, there's a way to make the history department work for them."
In 2016, GW implemented a new funding formula, allocating money to the various departments based on the number of students enrolled in that major's classes. Each school receives $301 for every student in a class, incentivizing majors like history to offer classes that will be popular.
Indeed, enrollment in history has dropped since 2011, when there were 153 history majors. Only 72 undergraduate students majored in history in 2015, while 83 did so in 2016, the Hatchet reported.
Some of the updates make sense — while it is good to require students to study a foreign language, it might not be necessary for history. The electronic capstone might be less rigorous than a traditional thesis, but it would make sense to allow students to build a website focused on their concentration of history, for instance.
Dropping the U.S. or European history requirement is different in kind, and much less excusable. The new requirements still mandate at least one introductory course, of which American history, world history, and European civilization are options — as well as "Approaches to Women's History." Nevertheless, this introductory requirement may be fulfilled by scoring a 4 or a 5 on the Advanced Placement exams for U.S., European, or world history.
In addition to this one required introductory course (which may be satisfied by women's studies), the major requires an introductory seminar, eight to ten upper-level history courses, and a thesis or capstone project. Before the changes, students had to take two courses focused on Europe and North America. Now, they can avoid them altogether.
"I think an important change in the history major has been to make our major actually reflect the field of history the way that historians study it now," Denver Brunsman, an associate professor of history and director of undergraduate services for the department, told the Hatchet. "In the past — and I think our old standards reflected this — it was very common to have students take a class in American history, in European history and maybe, just maybe, something else, another part of the world."