For the past 20 years, most of our history departments have had an almost monomaniacal emphasis in on the issues of race, class, gender, and ethnicity in American history. Meanwhile, there has not been enough attention paid to the history of American politics, economics, culture, and the military.
Having taught at the University of Texas at Austin for 40 years, specializing in modern American culture, I have long been disturbed by the oppressive orthodoxy and lack of intellectual diversity among history faculty at UT and other universities. So I have written an essay for the Chronicle of Higher Education arguing that undergraduate and graduate students cannot fully comprehend the complexities of American history without a serious and extensive exploration of the American government, economic development, culture and the arts, or America’s participation in wars–particularly in the twentieth century.
To paraphrase the columnist George Will, academics are in favor of diversity in everything but thought. This intellectual conformity has especially plagued history departments, and it undermines the true mission of a great university that should be fostering debate and considering alternative ways of understanding America’s past and present. What history departments should be doing, therefore, is hiring new faculty who are interested in new subjects and new perspectives. Otherwise, history faculty will be doing a disservice to their students who deserve to encounter a variety of points of view, and then decide for themselves what they believe.