History Gateways: Reimagining Introductory Courses

Emily Swafford, American Historical Association (@elswafford)

Julia Brookins

An empty college classroom

This chat room seminar will take place at the 2020 OAH Annual Meeting | Conference on American History in Washington, D.C. See more information here. 

We believe that an introduction to history will help students succeed, no matter their future careers, and set them up to be engaged citizens within an increasingly diverse society. (See "Over Time, Humanities Grads Close the Pay Gap With Professional Peers.") But there are some disturbing data: students who already face barriers in higher education—first generation, Pell-eligible, and African American, Latinx, and Native American students—are disproportionately likely to receive a grade of D, F, W, or I in introductory history courses. And worse, even if they are in good academic standing otherwise, these students are disproportionately likely to drop their pursuit of higher education entirely after receiving one of these grades in an intro history course. Rather than a platform for future success, introductory history classes all too often form an obstacle to further education.

There is a decades-long debate over the form and structure of intro history courses: coverage v. uncoverage, skills v. content, etc. But at the heart of that debate is a problem of equity and access to the rich historical thinking skills that are the hallmark of well-taught collegiate history courses. A well-designed history course, then, is measured not only by what is taught but also by what is learned: it is not a history class worth teaching unless all students are able to thrive.

So, what should an introductory course in history look like? What is its purpose? If this is the only chance a student has to learn what it means to think historically, what should they learn? What opportunities and risks are there for faculty and for our discipline as all of this unfolds in an increasingly enrollment-driven educational landscape? This is the thorny, multi-faceted nut that the AHA and its partners are trying to crack with the launch of History Gateways. Drawing on the work of our Tuning initiative, which articulated a faculty-driven definition of what a history a major should, know, understand, and be able to do, History Gateways asks eleven institutions, both 2-year and 4-year schools, to redesign introductory courses. Our faculty partners cluster into three geographic hubs—Houston, Chicago, and the New York metro area—but our hope is that what we learn during four years of engaged work will be broadly applicable across institutions of higher education in history. We are joined in this work by the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education, whose evidence-based Gateways to Completion (G2C) process provides a scaffold for faculty beginning with this work. Combined with AHA-supported disciplinary–specific conversations about emerging strategies in teaching and learning in history, faculty will engage in iterative conversations with their colleagues and revisions to courses in world history, United States history, women’s history, and African American history.

Join us at History Gateways: Reimagining Introductory Courses, to add your voice to these discussions and learn more about the efforts of the AHA and its partners in rethinking what it means to be “introduced” to history.

Posted: December 12, 2019
Tagged: Conference, Teaching, Pedagogy, Previews