Portrait of a nation

College and university professors know all about campuswide efforts to overhaul the general curriculum. Exhausting as such enterprises are, the conversations and arguments about what courses students should be required to take are illuminating. On my own campus, recent curricular debates made clear that arguments about the importance of history as a mode of thinking and inquiry were not sufficient to preserve its place in the academic program. For some of my colleagues outside the discipline—and particularly colleagues outside the humanities—history's value in the liberal arts depends on historians providing students with particular and common content about the past. That is, our role is to give students the historical narrative. Of course, my colleagues were right to suspect that we historians have not been doing this.


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