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Right Hooks

Hijacking the Field of History

Many consider women and gender studies more important than world-changing events.

Jordan Candler · Apr. 5, 2017

There’s no question colleges and universities have undergone seismic shifts in recent decades. The closing of the college mind means scholars like Charles Murray and conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro are stripped of their free speech rights by mobs on campus grounds. But why? At what point did everything go wrong? A fall speech by historian Niall Ferguson provides some telling insight. Take, for example, a history degree. According to Ferguson:

History as a share of all undergraduate degrees has fallen from 2.2% in 2007 to 1.7%. Taken together, the share of history and social sciences degrees has halved, from 18% in 1971 to 9%. And the decline seems likely to continue. … The data reveal a very big increase in the number of historians who specialize in women and gender, which has risen from 1% of the total to almost 10%. As a result, gender is now the single most important subfield in the academy. Cultural history (from under 4% to nearly 8%) is next. The history of race and ethnicity has also gone up by a factor of more than three. Environmental history is another big winner. The losers in this structural shift are diplomatic and international history (which also has the oldest professors), legal and constitutional history, and intellectual history. Social and economic history have also declined. All of these have fallen to less than half of their 1970 shares of the profession.

In other words, we’ve drifted way off course. As fellow historian Daniel Pipes notes, “This means that the most significant events are ignored. Limiting oneself to modern Western history, courses barely cover such topics as the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War.” Quite the contrary, it turns out. Ferguson cites the seemingly off-topic courses in which students can enroll at schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. Three examples: “Emotions in History,” “Witchcraft and Society in Colonial America” and “Madwomen: The History of Women and Mental Illness in the U.S.”

“I do not wish to dismiss any of these subjects as being of no interest or value,” Ferguson adds. “They just seem to address less important questions than how the United States became an independent republic with a constitution based on the idea of limited government, or how it survived a civil war over the institution of slavery.” Indeed. Part of being a good student of history is taking to heart this dire warning: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We’ve triumphed over hardships. But those victories are being threatened by activists whose dreams, perceived through emotionally tainted lenses, can never be attained.

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