Robin Reich, “Historians have too Many Learning Objectives”
(In the Anglo tradition) history as a field does not explicitly discuss our basic assumptions, methods, or theories and so what we as historians agree on we only pick up informally or through snippets and crumbs dropped by our advisers. In my undergrad curriculum at a small liberal arts college, which was exceptional in many ways, the only two required classes for history majors were a historiography colloquium to be taken Junior year, and a research seminar in preparation for writing a senior thesis. There was no introductory course that explained what history is or how it is practiced – in effect, the historiography colloquium was this introductory course, as well as an advanced seminar in field-specific methods. Other disciplines don’t do this, because they have a sense of what the basics are in their field. But historians can’t even agree on what makes us all part of the same field. So we relegate these kinds of lessons to survey courses, which are totally inappropriate to teaching these lessons because they are large and structured around taking on a lot of information at once. The result is overloaded, bloated syllabi and assignments. In large universities, this usually shakes out to one history class actually being two – there’s the survey lecture course that the professor teaches, and then there’s the intro seminar that the TA teaches in section, and they have completely different goals. How do TAs even know what to teach when we ourselves were educated in this way?
As I have said elsewhere, even the English word historiography covers far too much ground to be useful as an intellectual tool (it can mean writing about history, methods for understanding the past, or writing about how people have written about history).
I hope that since 2013, some executives at IT companies have re-read the story of the high-tech Dutch census of 1940.