WASHINGTON, DC—Less than one-third of the colleges and universities in the United States annually ranked as the country’s best schools require students pursuing a degree in history to take a single course in American history. This finding comes from a shocking new report issued today by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA).
Just as Fourth of July celebrations are set to begin, the new ACTA report No U.S. History? How College History Departments Leave the United States out of the Major shows that only 23 undergraduate history programs at the U.S. News & World Report’s top 25 national universities, top 25 public institutions, and top 25 liberal arts colleges require a single U.S. history class.
Many of the same institutions that do not require history majors to take a course on United States history do specify that they must complete coursework on areas outside the United States. And many allow some very strange, highly specialized topics to substitute for a course on the United States. History majors at Williams College could choose “Soccer and History in Latin America: Making the Beautiful Game.” At Swarthmore, one choice could be “Modern Addiction: Cigarette Smoking in the 20th Century.” At Bowdoin, it might be “Lawn Boy Meets Valley Girl.”
Of the 23 schools that do list a U.S. history requirement, 11 permit courses like “Hip-Hop, Politics, and Youth Culture in America” (University of Connecticut) or “Mad Men and Mad Women” (Middlebury College) to fulfill that requirement.
“Historical illiteracy is the inevitable consequence of lax college requirements, and that ignorance leads to civic disempowerment,” observed Michael Poliakoff, ACTA’s president-elect. “A democratic republic cannot thrive without well-informed citizens and leaders. Elite colleges and universities in particular let the nation down when the examples they set devalue the study of United States history.”
Eric Bledsoe, ACTA’s director of curricular improvement and academic outreach, added, “It is the obligation of higher education to ensure that all students, especially history majors, understand their own history. Like ACTA’s annual survey of core requirements, What Will They Learn?™, this new report confirms that fields vital to democracy are grossly neglected.”