U.S. History as Taught at Bowdoin (Ugh)

“There are any number of courses that deal with some group aspect of America, but virtually none that deals with America as a whole. For example, there is African-American history from 1619 to 1865 and from 1865 to the present, but there is no comparable sequence on America. Every course is social or cultural history that looks at the world through the prism of race, class, and gender. Even a course on the environment (offered in the history department) “examines the links between ecology and race, class, and gender.” 

Do Bowdoin alumni know their alma mater offers not one history course in American political, military, diplomatic, constitutional, or intellectual history, and nothing at all on the American Founding or the Constitution; that the one Civil War course is essentially African-American history (it is offered also in Africana Studies); and that there are more courses on gay and lesbian subjects than on American history? Is it possible this is one reason why some conservatives are disinclined to send their children to Bowdoin? Mr. (Barry) Mills (president of Bowdoin) did not inquire."

   — Thomas D. Klingenstein,

      Excerpt from “A Golf Story,” Claremont Review of Books,

      Winter/Spring 2010-2011


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

50 thoughts on “U.S. History as Taught at Bowdoin (Ugh)

  1. Asking whether Bowdoin students are aware that Colonel Chamberlain attended, taught at, and was president of Bowdoin is like asking whether Alabama students know that Bear Bryant once coached their football team.
    A statue of Chamberlain is the first thing you see as you drive up to campus.

  2. Some classes I found from a two minute search of Bowdoin’s course catalogue for the coming year: “The Korean War,” “Introduction to American Government,” “Constitutional Law,” “The Law and Politics of Freedom of Speech,” “The United States Since 1945,” “History of the American West,” “American Political Development,” “American Politics,” “The American Presidency,” “Congress and the Policy Process,” and “Nineteenth Century United States History.”
    Maybe we should all do some research before we make blanket statements. Also, trust me, everyone at Bowdoin knows Chamberlain. He’s everywhere…

  3. I seriously resent the clod who stated in a comment how the left hates America and so forth. I want you to know I served my country in two wars and my son was a marine. I am left of center. Now what the heck did you do that made this a better nation?

  4. Thucydides, you do realize that those are Michael Shaara’s words, not Col. Chamberlain’s, right? It’s a fine speech, and Col. Chamberlain was a very admirable man. But Shaara’s fictionalized account is somewhat at odds with Col. Chamberlains’ own description of the speech:
    “Then I called them together and pointed out to them the situation; that they could not be entertained as civilian guests by me; that they were by authority of the United States on my rolls as soldiers, and I should treat them as soldiers should be treated; that they should lose no right by obeying orders; and I would see what could be done for their claim.”

  5. My son and I toured Bowdoin. He was a National Merit Scholar and Bowdoin had a good reputation. The thing I recall the most is that in the lobby of their auditorium for performing arts is a copper plate of great size that lists their civil war dead!!!!!!! A large number of Bowdoin folks paid the ultimate sacrifice for the union and the end of slavery.
    I will always recall that plate and the fact that harriet beecher stowe wrote uncle toms cabin while living on campus at bowdoin Her husband was a professor as positives regardless of where they are now.
    There is to much old money at Bowdoin for it to go completely marxist.
    My son chose to go to Furman in South Carolina and then on to Univ of Wyoming for grad school.

  6. Sure would like the author to respond to those who are pointing out what are/may be errors, viz., that there are no general Am. Hist. courses and so forth ….

  7. re: Richard Aubrey
    Perhaps you missed the last election? Republicans took the house, the senate and the Governor’s mansion. Many people in Maine are fed up with the results of 40 years of democrat rule in Maine: no jobs, high taxes, out of control state bureaucracies. There wasn’t a single Obama sign in my neighborhood last election and people like him far less now than they did then.

  8. “When shopping for my kids’ colleges I will have to look carefully at the catalog.”
    Check also to make sure that there are not a dozen film classes masquerading as English classes.

  9. My most frevent hope is for my grandchildren to avoid any thought of a liberal arts education. At this moment, the best choice (and it’s not that great, either) is for each of them to join the military.

  10. “nothing at all on the American founding or the Constitution”?
    From Bowdoin’s catalog (http://www.bowdoin.edu/catalogue/courses/government-and-legal-studies/courses.shtml):
    “150b. Introduction to American Government. Fall 2010. Jeffrey S. Selinger.
    Provides a comprehensive overview of the American political process. Specifically, traces the foundations of American government (the Constitution, federalism, civil rights, and civil liberties), its political institutions (Congress, Presidency, courts, and bureaucracy), and its electoral processes (elections, voting, and political parties). Also examines other influences, such as public opinion and the mass media, which fall outside the traditional institutional boundaries, but have an increasingly large effect on political outcomes.”

  11. I’m sure Col Chamberlain wold have been thrown out of Bowdoin today for expressing these thoughts:
    “Many of us volunteered to fight for the Union. Some came mainly because we were bored at home and this looked like it might be fun. Some came because we were ashamed not to. Many came because it was the right thing to do.
    This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. This hasn’t happened much in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow, no man born to royalty. Here we judge you by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here you can build a home. But it’s not the land. There’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value, you and me. What we’re fighting for, in the end, is each other. ”

  12. “Apparently, none of you paid attention in your own history classes, especially the ones about big picture stuff. Nobody ever became a victim of a totalitarian government because they got free healthcare or food stamps. But a hell of a lot of people in lots of countries got locked up without trials, tortured, executed, and feared the excesses of the secret police because they lacked the privacy to conduct their own lives. ”
    I tells ya, those bloody Kulaks had it comin’, what with the endless farming out in public like that!
    “Um, everyone does know that public sector jobs are contracting, while private sector jobs are increasing? We all know that, right? And that private sector profits are quite high, but nobody’s hiring? Ok, now that we’ve got those facts out of the way, please proceed on your rants in those regards.”
    Private sector job numbers increasing, with nobody hiring. Let me guess: Bowdoin grad?

  13. Colleges and Universities like Bowdoin are not American. They are International Marxist Institutions of Propoganda.

  14. Kind of depressing about that sole Civil War course, since Union Maj. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain was an alumnus and professor at Bowdoin before the war. Utterly unschooled in the military arts and sciences, he resigned his teaching post to enlist in Maine’s organized militia.
    He soon became the colonel commanding the 20th Maine Regt. It was in that capacity that he defended Little Round Top in the Battle of Gettysburg, preventing its capture by twp Confederate regiments. This action is still taught in the military academies. Chamberlain was later awarded the Medal of Honor for this action.
    Chamberlain proved to be a gifted battle commander. Critically and multiply wounded in the battle of Rives Salient in 1864, he was promoted to brigadier general personally by Gen. U.S. Grant the next day, the only such promotion of the whole war.
    Surviving the wounds, Chamberlain continued to fight in Grant’s army and was badly wounded again in major fighting along the Quaker Road as Lee retreated toward Appomattox. For his heroism during that fight, President Lincoln made him a major general.
    At Appomattox, Grant appointed Chamberlain commander of Union troops accepting the surrender of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, an honor of unsurpassed distinction.
    After the war he returned to Maine where he served four years as governor. He also became president of Bowdoin. He died in 1914, one of the most remarkable soldiers the United States ever produced.
    Do any of today’s Bowdoin students ever learn this?

  15. Well, Libertyman, thank God Obama came along and fixed most of that stuff. Wait, what?
    But seriously, guys, how many freakin’ Joshua Chamberlain references do we need? You read the Killer Angels. We get it. Good for you.

  16. This is a sad reflection of the reality of modern academia. With respect to Chamberlain, the fact is that very few professors teaching today know enough about military history to teach it.
    For that matter, can you imagine a modern-day academic leading troops into battle?
    The faddishness and specialization of academic culture are good reasons to avoid a career in higher education. (The curriculum is so bad largely because reasonable people figured this out long ago.)
    Here are 100 reasons not to go to grad school:

  17. Um, everyone does know that public sector jobs are contracting, while private sector jobs are increasing? We all know that, right? And that private sector profits are quite high, but nobody’s hiring? Ok, now that we’ve got those facts out of the way, please proceed on your rants in those regards.
    I look at some of these comments and I have to laugh. It’s liberals telling you what procedures your doctor can perform? Not conservatives, who want to force women to bear children to term even if they were raped? Not to mention the fact that you can get whatever procedures you want (of course, that don’t conflict with some skewed view of Judeo-Christian morality) if you’ve got the exorbitant fees covered. You don’t? Oh well, just think about all those free meals you’ll get in heaven.
    How about conservatives telling people who to have sex with, who you can marry, forcing prayer in schools, allowing police (yes, the actual agents of the coercive arm of the government you profess to fear) to break down people’s doors on naked unsubstantiated suspicion, throwing people in jail without recourse to the law, tapping phone lines, reading emails, checking up on the books you take out of the library, conducting surveillance on such awful rebel groups as the Rapping Grannies, putting people in free speech zone cages, suspending habeas corpus, torturing, and executing.
    Apparently, none of you paid attention in your own history classes, especially the ones about big picture stuff. Nobody ever became a victim of a totalitarian government because they got free healthcare or food stamps. But a hell of a lot of people in lots of countries got locked up without trials, tortured, executed, and feared the excesses of the secret police because they lacked the privacy to conduct their own lives. Hmmmmmmm

  18. Before even getting into Bowdoin, the esteemed General Chamberlain had to teach himself to read ancient Greek before he could be admitted. It appears that Bowdoin’s standards have slipped considerably in the past century and a half. Back in the day, a Bowdoin education probably meant something. A 21st century Bowdoin degree is little more than toilet paper.

  19. So, how much Federal $$$ does Bowdoin get these days? Perhaps that number could be set to $0.00 and then we’ll see some improvement.

  20. If you’re involved in politics in any way (keep in mind that the Left views EVERYTHING as political)…and the Left isn’t SEETHING with anger towards you, you are not doing your damn job.
    There is simply no way to stand up for Truth, Justice, and the American Way unless you are willing to confront the slanders and calumny of the Left. They HATE America and the freedom it stands for. They endeavor to enslave you, to make you comply with their domination, to force you to submit to their will. They want to tell you how much money you can earn. How much you can keep. What doctor to see. What procedure your doctor can perform, what car you can drive, what lightbulb you can use, what food you can eat, what school your child can attend, and what, how and when you can display a religious symbol. Mustn’t interfere with their secular diety, you know. You must bow down before the power of the Leftist State. You WILL obey.
    The more effective you are as an American patriot, the more they seek to destroy you.

  21. I’d bet that most of the students taking these classes aren’t interested in learning history, but in fulfilling a requirement and getting an easy “A”. From that perspective, these “race and gender studies” history courses are exactly the type of courses they’ll want to take.

  22. Toads said: “Women want such public sector jobs where they don’t actually have to do anything.”
    Now, don’t go generalizing like that. It’s bad manners.
    I work very, very hard at my non-government job. And I like it that way. Also, I know many women who look at life the same way.
    So, don’t be a toad.

  23. Chamberlain is still a familiar figure at Hillsdale College. Established in 1776 Hampden-Sydney College knows who he was…*heh* from the “War of Northern Aggression.”
    Pick better schools. The “names” are just that: Potemkin Village “names” – and 100% motivated to get you to sign onto huge school loans. They do not care whether your kid graduates or not, has a useful degree or not. They want the MONEY. YOU are stuck with the debt, not them. They. Do. Not. Care.
    WHY are parents rushing to expensive schools that nuture students to be cocky, ignorant drones and have horrible rates of return on the investment? Like lemmings!
    Did ya’ll know that Australia graduates for a BA in three years? And accepts all US aid. very organized, cheaper. English,too.

  24. Okay, I don’t know military history. I do know that at one time, Bowdoin had among its students Nathaniel Hawthorne, Franklin Pierce, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Calvin Stowe. Their friendships reached across the next fifty yars and throughout American politics and culture at the time. Two of them specialized in historical literature. What would nurture such writers today?

  25. Zip, I hate to tell you, but you’re going to have to do more than read the course catalogs to determine whether the colleges your kids are considering teach anything worthwhile. For example, a favorite trick of colleges is to list all kinds of courses in their catalogs that are rarely or never actually taught. Bait and switch is rampant now.
    Besides the “oppression studies” trends in today’s colleges, you have the pressure on professors to do “research” and “publish.” To get published in the journals academia respects, one has to cover ground few if any have covered before. This means the content must be increasingly specialized and obscure. Since the profs are not rewarded for teaching, for example, “reg’lar ol’ history” courses, they don’t. It’s not considered “cool” or sufficiently intellectually challenging to teach…well, undergraduates at all, but certainly not something so pedestrian as an, ugh, survey course. SO they don’t do that either, especially if they have tenure, seniority, etc. They teach whatever obscure subject they are focusing on in their research and publishing careers. So the student taking a history distribution class ends up choosing between random, narrow little courses that serve the professors’ interests and goals, not the students’. Add the PC, oppression studies and other factors, and it’s a horror show at many, maybe most, colleges now.
    At many colleges it is virtually impossible now to get a traditional education in most humanities or social science fields. And at those where it is possible, care must be taken to select courses that will deliver useful knowledge and actually be able to take them at the sometimes rare times they are given. But don’t worry, all these colleges are highly efficient at billing you for the exhorbitant tuition costs.

  26. What a shame. I wonder how many, if any, of the students (and faculty for that matter) realize that one of the great heroes of the Civil War was a professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin. I speak, of course, of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, hero of the battle near Little Round Top at Gettysburg, and the one selected by Grant to accept the surrender of Lee at Appomattox.
    I wonder how many know that Joshua Chamberlain spent the rest of his life, while piling up these accomplishments, with a urinary fistula from a bullet wound. The rest of his life he had to deal with urine leaking from the wound and constant wetness. This sort of thing was not uncommon among survivors of bullet wounds in the body.
    Those men were giants.

  27. @Bill in re: to “how many, if any, of the students (and faculty for that matter) realize that one of the great heroes of the Civil War was a professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin”
    I once came across someone with a worn and slightly tattered Bowdoin shirt on, a respectable looking professional in his 40s, and I could not help but ask about a hero of the Civil War who once was the President of his alma mater. Blank stare. I then said “Killer Angels” thinking I might shake something loose. Blank Stare. I then said “Col Joshua L. Chamberlain”. Nothing. Shook my head and walked away. I am certain he thought me batty. Makes me wonder if the good Colonel (General, actually) would still think it was worth it.

  28. I’m stunned and outraged at the lack of feminist post-modern deconstruction of the Civil War. What kind of haters run this poor excuse of a “school?!”

  29. There’s good money in providing Dylan and Brandi with plausible deniability (vis-a-vis the traditions that raised them) for a few years while they sow their wild oats.
    Wherever there is good money, there are those willing to prostitute themselves for it.

  30. Cabana Boy:
    1) Read more carefully. The commenter’s name is after the comment. You are replying to Big Soph, not Agim Zabelli.
    2) Big Soph is joking.
    Having said that: here is the course description
    for 139c. The Civil War Era:
    “Examines the coming of the Civil War and the war itself in all its aspects. Considers the impact of changes in American society, the sectional crisis and breakdown of the party system, the practice of Civil War warfare, and social ramifications of the conflict. Includes readings of novels and viewing of films. Students are expected to enter with a basic knowledge of American history, and a commitment to participating in large class discussions.”
    I don’t see how this is “essentially African-American history”. That it also counts as an “Africana” course is not unreasonable.
    There does seem to be a lack of general American History courses. (I saw only one.)
    However, there are 26 American History courses, and only 20 G&L courses, so that criticism is weak also.

  31. Hmm. When shopping for my kids’ colleges I will have to look carefully at the catalog. I hadn’t thought to look at curriculum as a view into the soul of the faculty. Completely obvious now.
    There are a few schools that are off the list from the beginning (I’m looking at you, Duke, for administrative backbone failures that begin with the letter “lacrosse”).
    I’ve put a note to self in my calendar for 2 years from now.

  32. The first thing to ask, is it accurate that Bowdoin has no “general” US history courses? A quick perusal of the Bowdoin course finder ( http://morse.bowdoin.edu/anchor/ ) shows this not to be true, perfectly acceptable hyperbole for Klinginstein’s purpose but not true. The general courses can be found in government department not the history department, not unheard of in modern acadamia for departmetns other than history to t3each history (I’ve seen Constitutional Law & American History taught by a Philosophy department).

  33. Of course the President of the college knows. These are his core beliefs about America. The same with most of the professors. Tear down America and keep the race baiting going. They live to criticize America while not one of them has the guts to leave America and live in another country and see how great life is out of America. Instead of arm chair travelers they are arm chair whiners. It’s too much to hope that after 60 years of this palaver they will ever grow up. Grey haired liberals in jeans criticizing America for everything. Time to shave, put on grown up clothes and wake up. You whine from the greatest nation on earth.

  34. All the commentators who mention Joshua Chamberlain are clearly unaware that the state of Maine has changed significantly in the last 30 years. Maine now counts as its senators, two of the most liberal “Republican” senators in the entire Senate. And the voters there are damn proud of that fact. They used to be proud of their Yankee independence (therefore, the welld eserved reverence of Chamberlain). No longer. All except the Down East part of Maine has been taken over by dirtbags from Massachusetts, and they have taken over the politics and the schools. Go south of Katahdin a year from now, and there won’t be a neighborhood without an Obama sign.
    It’s why I, a native Mainiac (born in Biddeford), moved to and remain a resident of Wyoming.

  35. Couple of uncles graduated from Bowdoin. One was a Marine officer, starting his career on Guadalcanal, the other had a Coast Guard escort in the North Atlantic.
    Not even arguable that either of them is worth considerably more than the entire history department at Bowdoin, and had more to do with saving western civilization than a thousand Bowdoin history departments.
    As the French say, “It is to puke.”

  36. To Agim Zabeli; your comment regarding history being “nothing but dead white people” is an occlusion to the conversation and a generality of failed lies by minority propagandists. The very sort of people that helped create this travesty on American history. Please, try to adjust your focus to be a little less self serving and maybe bit more accurate to the reality of life.
    If what you say was true I would never have read and learned in school about George Washington Carver or Crispus Attucks or Frederick Douglass or any of the contributions of any minority contributors to our proud and varied history. The history I learned about in public schools included the history of American Indian tribes, Blacks, Hispanics and all other self identified minorities.

  37. Wait. Do you mean to tell me that Bowdoin does NOT have sports teams called “The Killer Angels”?
    Is anyone at all in charge up there?

  38. Since public sector lefty jobs are the only ones available for the forseeable future, Bowdoin has correctly determined what curriculum students should study to prepare them for the most lucrative employment opportunities.
    It is also not a coincidence that more women are attending college, and fewer men are. Women want such public sector jobs where they don’t actually have to do anything.

  39. TO: All
    RE: Heh
    Sounds like an EXCELLENT way to ‘divide and conquer’.
    [A house divided against itself cannot stand. — Abraham Lincoln, citing something from the Christ]

  40. The moment I saw the name Bowdoin, one and only thought entered my mind: COL Joshua Chamberlain, and the Battle of Gettysburg. The 20th Maine, the Battle of Little Round Top, and the legendary flanking movement via bayonet assault. I studied this as a Cadet at West Point, 35 years ago.
    That such an epic accomplishment – by a graduate of, and former Professor at Bowdoin, and a later Governor of the State of Maine – would not even appear within the core curriculum of the 21st Century Bowdoin College – is a travsty.
    “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” – John Stuart Mill

  41. History is nothing but dead white people. The professors who teach these courses want many more dead white people so, ergo, they teach history.
    ML King dreamt of a day when black children and white children would sit at the table together. The universities teach voluntary apartheid.

  42. The college once proud to be led by the hero of Little Round Top, arguably the man that saved the day, in the battle that turned the tide of the entire Civil War, offers only one course about that war?
    And it doubles as ‘African Studies’? Truly amazing.

  43. What a shame. I wonder how many, if any, of the students (and faculty for that matter) realize that one of the great heroes of the Civil War was a professor of Rhetoric at Bowdoin. I speak, of course, of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, hero of the battle near Little Round Top at Gettysburg, and the one selected by Grant to accept the surrender of Lee at Appomattox. One would hope details like that matter in a college, but one would likely be disappointed.

  44. How ironic that the institution that counts Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain –a giant of the Civil War — among its former presidents and faculty has so badly lost its way.

  45. I suppose this is the inevitable outcome of faculty hiring over the past 40 years. In that time, a dissertation on one of these “specialties” has been the ticket to positions in some departments, whereas some more “mundane” but more universally important topic for the purpose of teaching undergraduate 100-level courses, has not been. As a result, there aren’t any reg’lar ol’ history profs around. They retired, and nobody is taking their places.
    It’s a loud echo of the trendy political correctness that rose to power in the late 1970s.
    That’s not to say that the subjects, like African-American history, aren’t interesting or important. The problem is that there is little room for teaching important foundational “survey” subjects, and few left to teach them anyway.

  46. Well, knowledge of gay and lesbian subjects will help a student avoid the mistakes of the past.
    Or something.

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