A dumb and dishonest view of American history education in Texas

Simple arithmetic foils dumb report!

Via Inside Higher Ed, we learned yesterday that the National Association of “Scholars” has issued a report on the alleged dominance of race, class, and gender in American history survey classes at both the University of Texas at Austin and at Texas A&M University.  Its analysis, called “Recasting History:  Are Race, Class, and Gender Dominating American History?,” claims that vitally important topics in political, intellectual, and military history (for example) are being ignored because of professors’ insistence on elevating “RCG” topics above all others:

We found that all too often the course readings gave strong emphasis to race, class, or gender (RCG) social history, an emphasis so strong that it diminished the attention given to other subjects in American history (such as military, diplomatic, religious, intellectual history). The result is that these institutions frequently offered students a less-than-comprehensive picture of U.S. history, 5.

The report’s methodology, such as it is, is a laughably incomplete review of just course syllabi and web pages to determine faculty research interests in “RCG” topics, as the NAS calls it:  “[W]e divided course readings and faculty interests into 11 broad content categories well established in the discipline,” 10.  So, how do the course reading assignments in UT and TAMU American history courses break down?  Here are their numbers, found on p. 16 in the report.  I’ve taken the numbers from a chart and arranged the above topics in descending order in their appearance in course readings on syllabi:

  • Social History with Racial and Ethnic Emphasis:  36%
  • Political History:  31%
  • Philosophical and Intellectual History:  21%
  • Diplomatic and International Relations History:  13%
  • Social History with Gender Emphasis:  12%
  • Social History with Social Class Emphasis:  11%
  • Economic and Business History:  10%
  • Social and Cultural History – Other:  8%
  • Military History:  7%
  • Religious History:  7%
  • Scientific, Environmental, and Technological History:  2%

The numbers here, analyzing 625 different reading assignments in survey, special topics, and Texas history courses, do not add up to 100%, as several of the readings were (rightfully) considered to be based in more than one subfield.

According to the report’s own numbers, “traditional” topics like political, diplomatic, and intellectual history are the central concerns of “only” 65% of UT and TAMU reading assignments.  Furthermore, they’re only behind race in terms of their frequency on the syllabus–each of these subfields appears on syllabi more often than either gender or class-based readings.  If we add in the other non-social or cultural history subfields, we get to the lordly number of 91%!  Where’s the problem, exactly, if fewer than 1 out of 10 reading assignments mysteriously refuses to address “traditional” history subfields?  Even if you accept the NAS’s evaluation of the nature of reading assignments and add together all of the “RCG” readings, they comprise all or part of only 59% of course reading assignments, 30% less than the non-social history subfields listed above.  As I read the report, it became clear that the central concern of the NAS is not the dominance of gender or class-based readings in history courses, as sadly they concern just 23% of course readings combined.  It’s the prominence of race and ethnicity in TAMU and UT courses, which they put at the head of the class with 36% of all course readings.

This kind of analysis always puts the burden of addressing the whole sweep of American history on the scholars of non-white, non-male, and/or working class people.  Never are historians who write about tiny, elite minorities such as politicians, business tycoons, Christian ministers, or generals urged to show how their research or teaching relates to the vast majority of people in American history.  The NAS’s bias is evident in the report when it calls out the “non-survey special topics courses focused on relatively narrow historical topics” at UT which in its view are oddly focused on racial or ethnic themes, such as these courses singled out on p. 14:

  • History of Mexican Americans in the US
  • Introduction to American Studies
  • The Black Power Movement
  • Mexican American Women, 1910-present
  • Race and Revolution
  • The United States and Africa

How, exactly, are “The Black Power Movement” or “Race and Revolution” not political history courses?  How exactly would “The United States and Africa” be taught if not largely as a diplomatic history course?  “Introduction to American Studies” is too vague a course to judge by its title–but my guess is that there would be a whole hell of a lot of race and gender, yes, but also intellectual, literary, religious, and political history as well.  And who, honestly, would complain about the flagship university of a southwestern border state offering courses that focus on Latin@ history, which would of course include a great deal of political, intellectual, and religious history?  (And why do we never hear complaints that universities in Michigan, New York, and Maine frequently hire historians of Canada, and even sponsor Canadian Studies programs?  I wonder.)

I suspect that the NAS’s method of categorizing course readings, course subjects, and faculty research interests is essentially the theory that underlies “cooties:”  if a reading mentions “RCG” in its title at all, it gets put in the appropriate “RCG” category.  If it doesn’t, it’s considered an uncontaminated articulation of an approved conservative subfield in the profession.

What, I wonder, would the NAS do with me, a historian of women, gender, and sexuality, who wrote a book that has “war” as the first word in the subtitle, and which has been reviewed by military historians and women’s historians alike?  Hey, NAS:  I’m writing a book about a Catholic nun now–does that make me a historian of religion only, or can I still be a dangerous Marxist feminazi?  What would they make of my survey syllabus, which features these books as my required readings:

  1. Fred Anderson and Andrew Cayton, The Dominion of War:  Empire and Liberty in North America, 1500-2000 (2005)
  2. Ernesto Chavez, The U.S. War with Mexico:  A Brief History with Documents (2008)
  3. Mary Rowlandson, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God : with Related Documents, (ed. Neil Salisbury, 1997)
  4. Reading The American Past:  vol. 1, to 1877, ed. Michael P. Johnson (2012)

I guess I’d get major military history points (tragically overlooked at only 7%!) for assigning The Dominion of War, but then would The U.S. War with Mexico be considered a military history title too?  (That book is an excellent example of what I’m talking about here:  it’s political, diplomatic, and military history, but it is also largely about the racialized nature of the conflict.  Would the NAS assume that because the editor’s name is Latino?)  And what would the NAS do about poor old Mary Rowlandson?  yes, she’s a female author, but the book is about her captivity among the Nipmuc and Narragansett.  And yet from her perspective, it’s all about The Sovereignty and Goodness of God (duh!) and so must be read as a religious document as well.

Most of us, including my freshman students, have no problem grasping the interrelated and diverse interests that most primary and secondary sources have.  Most of us get it that few things are only one thing or another, rather than a complicated (and frequently contradictory) set of concerns touching on a number of subjects.  We can walk and chew gum–we don’t have to choose.

Whenever I hear complaints about history education or the historical profession like those documented in the NAS’s silly report, I always wonder if the real nature of their complaint isn’t that historians who focus on race, class, and gender aren’t addressing military, political, intellectual, diplomatic, or other topic conservatives claim are “more important.”  I suspect that their real fear is that we “RCG” historians are doing just that–which is why we’re also the ones accused of “politicizing” the curriculum, and it’s why refusing to acknowledge “RCG” themes is considered an appropriately apolitical kind of American history.

Clearly, the only honest answer to the NAS’s report’s question, “Are Race, Class, and Gender Dominating American History?” is no, even on the basis of its own shoddy research.

*        *        *        *        *        *

For another takedown of the NAS report by a professor in one of the so-called traditional fields, see “What Kind of History Should We Teach,” by Jeremi Suri, the Mack Brown Distinguished Professor for Global Leadership, History, and Public Policy at UT-Austin.

51 thoughts on “A dumb and dishonest view of American history education in Texas

  1. Given how “dead” social history has been supposed (in some disciplinary quarters) to be in the last twenty years or so, the broken-out list is both interesting and, to someone who still often uses the word “new” without explicit irony or sarcasm, almost heartening. I sometimes wonder if anyone has uncovered just when syllabi began making their way into courses anyway? The ones that I still have archived from my own undergraduate (and graduate) days are stunningly less articulated and structuralized than the ones that I see today. At our place, there’s a kind of subterranean faculty discourse over whether they can or should be considered “contractual” in nature. All of the ones I hand out contain the explicit disclaimer that they are *not* in any manner contractual. The very idea of academic “aboutness” is somewhat ludicrous, and certainly out of phase with the degree to which we’ve unmoored and disconnected virtually everything else in the way of meaning, descriptors, and signifiers during the last generation. Anxiety in general, and alarmist cries about “the discipline in crisis” in particular, sometimes seem to be endemic in academic culture.


  2. 1) It’s Texas. They wrote out Thos. Jefferson and all of Latin@ contributions to Texas history.
    2) It’s Texas. They have their own special textbook requirements so I’m actually glad to see there are things like minority/non-dominant topics even addressed.
    3) This is interesting to me, as I’m putting together a proposal about the sidelining of women (and non-dominant groups) in World History texts.


  3. You’re absolutely right that NAS and its ilk are resistant to the “intrusion” of race, class, and gender into “classic” political history. It relates, I think, to a problem I noted in my own response, which is that these organizations have an already established view of American history and want to see it promulgated, where many history professors (even those of us who practice political history in the academy) seek to ask new and interesting questions, even and perhaps especially when we are discussing with the students the texts that conservatives emphasize.

    The list of books they flagged, as you note, was simply ridiculous. Harry Watson and Robert Gross are not exactly academic Jacobins, yet there are their books! And the choice of the 100 “Milestone Documents” calls into question the seriousness of the conservative agenda. Even if you take them at face value that the documents are important for students to understand, there’s simply no way to discuss any of those documents without referencing “RCG.” Also, would our students really be better off if they’d read the entire Treaty of Ghent? Talk about a quick way to diminish interest in history…


  4. historians who write about tiny, elite minorities such as politicians, business tycoons, Christian ministers, or generals

    Excellent point.

    Indyanna’s comments about syllabi are interesting. I have long admired my colleagues in the humanities for their clear statements of learning objectives on course syllabi. We don’t really have a culture of that in my realm, we have outlines of “the way this class has always been taught.”. We do not agree in my department about what, exactly, the essentials of our discipline should be. We’ve gone through at least one episode of a relatively progressive UG curriculum (at the start of which I was hired) and are now in a relatively conservative curriculum (during which I will leave).


  5. Maybe if they realized that men have gender, whites have race, and kings and presidents have social structures, they’d realize that you can’t write/teach history without thinking about gender, race, and social class?

    I’m more troubled when faculty don’t think and teach about gender, race, and social class consciously.


  6. Belle–the NAS is located in New York City, but this report was indeed issued in part on behalf of something called the Texas Association of Scholars (a local chapter?) I don’t think we can blame Texas for this report–after all, it documents the ways in which historians at UT and TAMU are clearly fifth-columnists subersives.

    Welcome John and Joseph, and thanks for commenting here. Joseph, I was more struck by the report’s insistence that there is some magical key set of primary sources that all students should read–they kept mentioning things like the Mayflower Compact and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and what a horrible scandal it was that history proffies were neglecting these documents.

    One of the great things about a college education, speaking idealistically here, is that it equips you with a little background and some tools for reading and learning more about whatever you want to know for the rest of your life. If our alumns want to go out and read the hell out of the Mayflower Compact or Lincoln’s 2AA, then who are we to stand in their way?

    Not to take the metaphors of disease or contamination too far, but it’s almost as if the NAS imagines our American history survey courses as giant syringes full of vitamins or vaccines–and it’s up to us to formulate the exact dose and admixture for the preservation of the

    Now, I’m off to read your suggested blog posts and other commentaries. Thanks for sharing your links.


  7. Oh, this is standard NAS stuff, like the parallel organization for trustees. I think it was the trustee group that went after a colleague of mine for a course description (a course on the US and the World) because it talked about US imperialism…


  8. The rebuttals to the NAS report I’ve seen so far are as every bit as thoughtful and scholarly as the NAS report is absurd, shoddy, sexist, racist, and classist. I take pleasure in seeing the historians at UT-Austin retort so eloquently. It beats the hell out of those instances when people slag on the humanities and social sciences, and the academy just shrugs and says, “Well, we think it’s important, anyway.”

    Also, major props for the cooties analogy.


  9. I was listening the other day to this appallingly ignorant remark from a report on the Diane Rehm’s show, when a caller requested that they (the reporters) stop using the phrase “enhanced interrogation” and start using the real term, “torture”. The reporter went into this long explanation of how they have to use “enhanced interrogation” because “torture” is such an emotionally-laden term and reporters have to strive for “objectivity.” I was appalled, thinking well this explains the level that journalism has sunk to, if this woman truly doesn’t realize that “enhanced interrogation” was term entirely made up by members of the Bush administration who wanted to pretend like they were not enacting torture. Like “partial birth abortion” and even “entitlement programs” the media loves to grab onto right wing language of obfuscation and use it as the best term to describe “objective reality” while pretending like they haven’t just made a political choice to ally themselves with the right by doing so. Is the sky pink? Journalists just aren’t sure anymore. I bring this up, because this report reminds me of that – let’s pretend that all “real” history is political and military history and everything else is some kind of politicized intrusion, therefore we can force the conversation to start defensively, rather than out of hand rejecting that very definition of history. And historians are put in a position of having to defend themselves in a false debate and a deceptive definition. It’s the propaganda that I find so disturbing, the Orwellian zest for creating new realities and getting people to accept them.


  10. I don’t teach US history fortunately. But, I am teaching a graduate class on race and ethnicity this next semester. I have made a conscious decision to not use the US as one of the case studies. Instead we will look at the USSR, South Africa, and Palestine. Even though a lot of leftist scholars in the US are in total denial about the existence of “racial politics” in the USSR and Palestine they both follow the “socio-historical” model of race used in South Africa during apartheid. I think the denial of the existence of race in places outside the US is a far more common practice of scholars than its over emphasis and the worst offenders are not on the political “right.”

    BTW: Since we have discussed it in our department. There are many ways to teach the US and Africa other than as diplomatic history. One way is to focus on the Black Diaspora and its connections to Africa, most of which are not diplomatic. You could in fact teach such a course almost entirely as cultural history and ignore the direct political connections.


  11. Is this the same group that said that the UC system doesn’t teach any American History? (Something that turned out to be factually incorrect.)

    They’re not very bright. Or maybe they just think the people they cater to are not very bright.


  12. Honestly, you – and those others who’ve so eloquently responded – deserve a prize for thoughtfully trawling the supposed depths of this report. It is a great shame that we *have* to respond seriously to a document that reads as if it were a parody produced for the Colbert Report.


  13. To tell you the truth, Lance, it wasn’t that hard: it was so poorly done, and its ideological slant was so clear.

    Like I said in the photo caption: the report was undone by simple arithmetic!


  14. Thanks for the strong words here – though I worry about giving this sort of thing TOO MUCH notice. It is just bad, bad research. I’m also trying to figure out what is wrong with RCG in terms of reaching undergraduate . . .


  15. Pingback: History and the Culture Wars | The Dialectic

  16. The writer’s 65% figure is incorrect because it sums the three categories, while admitting in the previous sentence that the categories overlap. Likewise the 91% figure.


  17. I’ve read Lincoln’s second inaugural like five times in my (very leftist) high school and liberal arts school courses.

    Though it does seem to have a lot to do with race? maybe that doesn’t count as a good traditional document?


  18. Wondering whether Historiann will correct the 65% and 91% figures (and the 23% shortly afterward), which also turn out to be at the center of the criticism in this piece.


  19. What is it that you think I need to correct–my arithmetic? I don’t understand your comment at all.

    Here’s what I did: I added together these numbers

    Political History: 31%
    Philosophical and Intellectual History: 21%
    Diplomatic and International Relations History: 13%

    TOTAL = 65%, as in, 65% of course readings were either exclusively *or at least in part* about political, intellectual/philosophical, or diplomatic history

    Same methodology for the other numbers.

    I am sorry the NAS was not more precise in their methodology, but I’m a prisoner of their crap data. Again, I’m happy to “correct” anything that’s incorrect, but I’m pretty sure that 31 + 21 + 13 = 65.


  20. Thanks, Joan. If you understand Adam’s complaint about my analysis, can you enlighten me? I didn’t respond to his first comment because I didn’t think he made sense.

    However, I remain open to correcting anything that needs correcting.


  21. As the researcher who wrote most of the NAS report, I would need to say that Adam is correct and that Historiann is wrong about the the numbers. It is inaccurate to aggregate the numbers up to 65%, since they overlap. This can clearly be seen, if you total up the entire column–well over 100%, actually 158%.
    The more relevant statistic, which takes into account overlap, was that 78% of the reading assignments at UT had either a Race, Class or gender focus. The number at A&M was much lower at 50%. What drove this difference in particular were the use of special topics courses at UT which focued on Race, class of gender themes. The number overall at A&M was much lower at 50%. Moreover even when we focus solely on the survey courses, we differences in historical theme covered in the reading assignments between the two institutions with A&M having broader coverage than UT in historical themes. Richard Fonte, NAS researcher for the Study


  22. Thanks for your note Richard. Yes, I know that your own numbers add up to 158%. I think you did the responsible thing when you noted that each reading assignment might contribute to more than one of your subfields. (For example, a speech by Frederick Douglass might count as both poltiical history and African American history, or an article about women in warfare might contribute to both military history and women’s and gender history.) Please correct me if I am wrong in this.

    So because you recognize that readings (and I’m assuming the special topics courses too) might contribute to and draw from the scholarship in more than one subfield of history, why do you imply that readings or courses that address “RCG” themes are marginalizing or crowding out other subfields? Like I said, it’s almost like you’re applying the Cooties methodology, but only to those readings and courses you deem to have an “RCG” orientation.

    This is why I and a majority of actual scholars and researchers find your argument unconvincing. On the basis of your own research, you’re complaining about the underrepresentation of “traditional” history subfields, when your own research into course assignments suggest that they’re present in 91% of the assignments. Yes, “RCG” topics and analysis might be present too, but how does that cancel out or undermine the more traditional historical questions and information that are there, too?


  23. Thank you for your comment, Historiann, but your 91% statistic is wrong for the same reason, you cannot aggregate these number, since that does not take into account overlap.
    Your reference about Frederick Douglass is correct, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass was classified as both Intellectual History and also focused on Race. Only 5 of 33 faculty in the survey courses assigned this as a reading. Too bad. Likewise, Uncle Tom’s Cabin was so classified, but only one faculty member assigned that reading. Also too bad.
    But overall, even taking this overlap into account, we found that the RCG themed assignments did crowd out other assignments. There simply was not enough overlap in some areas, especially intellectual & philosophical themes.
    What we found particularly missing was reading assignments focused on philosophical or intellectual history. There was next to no assignments that explored intellectual or philosphical themes involving the American Revolution or the Constitutional Convention. There was no assignment of Pauline Maier, Bernard Bailyn, or Gordon Wood’s American Revolution in the survey courses. There was no assignment of any of the anti-federalist paper evident in the reading assignments.


  24. Historiann,
    In a earlier blog you said:
    “How ironic for the celebrity Marxist/historian of slavery and the prominent women’s historian to have been involved with this group!” The reference was to the Genoveses and to the NAS group.
    Actually, both these two prominent historians who served on the National Council of the National Endownment of Humanities were quite critical of the historic trends highlighted in the NAS study.
    I think their participation in NAS should be telling to you. It is not “ironic” it is a commentary! Obviously they believed in the importance of Race, Class & Gender, but they also believed in an inclusive and comprehensive telling of the American Historical Narrative–Warts & All. This is all the NAS report is calling for–the full story!–a complete history. So what is wrong with that!


  25. Historiann,
    You asked how would the NAS study classify your syllabus and would be placed in the “high” category of RCG reading assigners.
    First, not all the readings assignments you list were read by our outsider reader (we used a “blind” reviewer–who read every word of every article or book before doing his classifications)so it is impossible to be absolutely sure.
    However, we did have Reading the American past Volume 1 read and reviewed–Less than 50% of the articles has RCG themes. Since each of the articles in this anthology is considered a separate reading assignment, and your other reading assignments are few in number it is unlikely that you would have been listed in the “High” RCG user category. I say this since,also since the Mexican War book and Mary Rowlandson book includes primary source documents that were likely to be classified in multiple categories.
    So, whether you like it or not,or intend it or not, on a very cursory and incomplete review, you probably provide students a reasonable spread of themes. Good for you, keep up the good work.


  26. Richard, thanks so much for your further explanation and analysis. I appreciate your willingness to engage me here.

    However, I don’t understand why we can’t aggregate these numbers to separate the RCG and the non-RCG readings. Understanding that these judgments include readings that address more than one historical sub-theme, why isn’t it accurate to point out that a scant 9% of readings failed to address anything *BUT* RCG themes according to your analysis? Why is it inaccurate to say that 91% of all readings addressed something other than RCG themes, although they may also have address those themes too?


  27. Because you are double counting and cannot aggregate these categories. It would also be equally inaccurate to add together all the social history categories and get 67%. In fact, on this last point, I needed to engage in extensive conversation with others on how to characterize the data. The numbers drawn from Figure 1, page 16 of the report, cannot be aggregated. Looking at this chart alone, and the data in it, it would be accurage to say reading assignments with social history with a racial or ethnic were the highest type of assignment (31&) and the second highest category of reading assignment was Political history (31%). You might see that as a positive as many have attempted to claim. But the response to that is that there is clearly some types of reading assignments that are being less likely assigned, just looking at this chart you can see that. Looking at Figure 7, we looked only at survey course and compared the two institutions (This figure is a sub-breakout of the previous table you looked at). Here we find that at UT, 44% of the reading assignments (if anthologies & textbooks are excluded) were social history with race or ethnicity emphasis. While at A&M the number is 29% so classified–a big difference. And for what is missing, Military history, 4% at UT, but 14% at A&M. These are simply the facts in a real, apples to apples comparison, using two separate and distinct categories and two instituions. There differences of emphasis in reading assignment that simply cannot be denied and also differences between the institutions. Students are being shortchanged in some reading assignments on some topics. The data is very clear.


  28. Sorry, meant 36% for Social History with race or ethnicity emphasis and 31% for Political History. Yes, there was some overlap in this area. Just not enough to make up for the lack of reading assignment in many of the other categories in which there was less overlap with RCG.
    Looking for example, at Faculty research interests (not readings) we found (Figure 21, page 33) heavy overlap in research interests related to Race, Class or Gender, yet only a 31% connection between those with RCG and political history. Only 10 of 32 faculty members with RCG interests also expressed a research interest in political history. (See footnote 34-page 33)


  29. Hope you will now be willing to change your comment about simple arithmetic. That comment was simply done in by cross-tabs and other simple statistical procedures.


  30. Richard, you appear to be right that this will take more than simple arithmetic. I looked at appendix 1, table 2, which breaks down your research a little more. However, I still stand by my point that funerals for political, diplomatic, intellectual history & the like are quite premature.

    I think I understand what you’re saying about not double-counting, but didn’t you researchers effectively double-count the course readings when they appeared to fit more than one of the disciplinary sub-fields? Or do I misunderstand the report on this point?

    It would have been useful to provide a table showing in more detail how the categories overlapped. I am stuck on appendix 1, table 2. Still, this table seems to me to be fairly clear–neither your numbers nor your %s add up to 625 or 100% respectively because you sometimes assigned each reading to more than one category, so that your total number of course readings comes to 1015 and your total %s of readings in each subfield comes to 163%. When I add up all of the number of readings in political, diplomatic, and philosphical/intellectual history (my original troika for that 65% number) and divide them by the number of readings analyzed, I still come up with 65%:

    192 (political) + 134 (diplomatic) + 81 (phil/intellectual) = 407.

    407/625 = 65%

    Ergo, 65% of the course readings you analyzed were in these very traditional historical subfields. They may also have contributed to other subfields (inc. RCG topics), but it seems to me to indicate a very traditional curriculum, one that has in no ways been endangered but only enriched with the addition of race, class, and gender analysis.

    Now, it is possible that I still don’t understand the meaning or the method of you assigning individual course readings to one or more different subfields. I read the report, and I still don’t understand how I am incorrect.


  31. When the report says this on p. 17:

    “No adequate understanding of American history is possible without addressing questions pertaining to race and ethnicity, class, and gender, but when 50 percent or more of assigned readings emphasize these topics, there is reason to suspect that other important themes are getting short shrift.”

    How did you arrive at that “50 percent or more” figure? Was it by adding up the RCG categories (36 + 12 +11 = 59%) And how do we know that these readings are giving “short shrift” to other disciplinary sub-fields, when it looks like hundreds of your reading assignments were counted in more than one subfield?


  32. The 50% or more figure was not arrived at by any nummerical machinations as you listed above. It is a more philosophical point. What do we mean by balance and breath of coverage and is there some point beyond which it would be a problem. We think when the reading assignments cross into the majority zone than it is a “red flag” indicator–a sort of “tipping point.”
    Yes, at that point, there is reason to suspect that other important themes are getting short shrift. We can easily see the differences between UT and A&M and I think it is impossible to deny that there are not differences between these institutions.

    Concerning Table 2 in the Appendix, you are misreading the table. There were only 625 total reading assignments (not 1015)–most of these are in anthologies used by only 7 faculty. Thus, in the study, we will frequently make note of that and use data accordingly–see 4th column–215 assignments outside of the anthologies–this would be what most students in most courses would have experienced.
    The “number of readings” listed in the first column are the number of times some assignment was classified into that category. Thus, there were 227 classications (codings) (of some article or book reading assignment) as Social history with a racial and ethnic emphasis or the 36%. Once again, in developing this table we did not double-count in developing the percentage for each the 11 categories listed. You cannot add the columns (my earlier point) since some article could fall into more than one category–thus Frederick Douglass’s Narrative got one coding for Intellectual History and therefore impacted that percentage (21%) and also for Social History with Race or ethnic emphasis (36%). Both types of history were impacted. Thus, when you compare Social History-Race with Intellectual History–both %’s got the benefit of the Douglass classification. Thus, we see that Intellectual history is getting a partial short-shrift even taking into account that Douglass’s narrative was also counted in that category.


  33. The 50% or more figure was not arrived at by any nummerical machinations as you listed above. It is a more philosophical point. What do we mean by balance and breath of coverage and is there some point beyond which it would be a problem. We think when the reading assignments cross into the majority zone than it is a “red flag” indicator–a sort of “tipping point.”

    How can you say this? I’ve spent a lot of time this afternoon reviewing my work and your report, but you appear to be saying now that your numbers aren’t to be taken seriously! You don’t signal or count any readings in your table that cross into any “red zone” (an unquantifiable thing & so an ideological argument), so I don’t know why you bothered to try to classify and count up the different readings if you are going ultimately to resort to a “trust us, we’ve read our data, we know what we’re talking about argument.”

    Concerning Table 2 in the Appendix, you are misreading the table. There were only 625 total reading assignments (not 1015)

    Yes–I understand that. That’s because you’ve classified many readings (such as Douglass) as this-n-that. I understand that, too. I’ve been calling that double-counting.

    Most of these are in anthologies used by only 7 faculty. Thus, in the study, we will frequently make note of that and use data accordingly–see 4th column–215 assignments outside of the anthologies–this would be what most students in most courses would have experienced.

    Then I don’t understand why your numbers aren’t weighted. Also, you don’t specify how many courses those 7 faculty were teaching vis-a-vis the total number of courses analyzed, so the number “7” is meaningless on its own.

    Once again, in developing this table we did not double-count in developing the percentage for each the 11 categories listed.

    But you didn’t “develop” those percentages–you just calculated them on the basis of your (sometimes) double-counted raw numbers (as you say).

    You cannot add the columns (my earlier point) since some article could fall into more than one category–thus Frederick Douglass’s Narrative got one coding for Intellectual History and therefore impacted that percentage (21%) and also for Social History with Race or ethnic emphasis (36%). Both types of history were impacted. Thus, when you compare Social History-Race with Intellectual History–both %’s got the benefit of the Douglass classification. Thus, we see that Intellectual history is getting a partial short-shrift even taking into account that Douglass’s narrative was also counted in that category.

    If both categories of history are affected by the FD assignment, as I understand they are, what’s the problem with adding up your own numbers (or percentages) here? I fail to see how this adds up to a “partial short-shrift” of intellectual or philosophical history, since both intellectual and race histories get the “credit” for the Douglass reading.

    It’s like you’re suggesting that a reading that is both about race and intellectual history is a contamination of intellectual history. This appears to demonstrate my earlier point about the “cooties” theory of category assignment, as though the NAS fears the infection of a supposedly ideal, pure intellectual (or political, or military, or diplomatic history).


  34. Table 2 represents counts of attributes held by a collection of readings (the readings are assumed to be a sample of history course content). The total number of attributes identified in the readings (1015) is greater than the total number of readings (625) because some readings have more than one attribute.

    The various attributes can be summed to produce an RGC group and a not-called-RGC group as long as the various attributes identified in the readings (Race/Ethnic Emphasis, Political History) are sufficiently distinct as long as you actually care about occurrences of attributes. Both of these requirements appear to be met by the report. This is like classifying red, purple, blue, green, and yellow differently and then grouping red, blue, and yellow into a supergroup called “primary colors” and purple and green into a supergroup called “secondary colors.” If the focus of the analysis is the occurrence of color attributes in a field of objects (and not clustering of attributes by object or something like that), then the way to calculate percentages is to sum up all the identified attributes in particular groups (like red) or supergroups (like primary colors) and divide by the total count. If we can agree that “Race/Ethnic Emphasis” is sufficiently distinct from “Gender Emphasis” then Historiann’s sums are fine.

    There are 371 identified RGC attributes and 644 attributes identified in other categories (including miscellaneous in here; not sure where that belongs). These are 37% and and 63% of the attribute occurrence total, respectively. If you divide instead by the number of reading assignments, the percentages are 59% and 103%. The ratios 63:37 and 103:59 are of course the same, 1.74:1 The not-called-RGC attributes appears well represented, though as Historiann notes, the readings in which they occur may be contaminated by RGC attributes. Thank dog (or a thoughtful historian) for that.


  35. 1) I guess if you don’t think its a problem that 50%+ of the reading assignments of an individual faculty member are of a certain theme, then we could never agree that it is a problem. Yes, we think it is a problem when an individual faculty member assigns disproportionally. There should be a broader coverage, reflective of the fact there is a broad range of historical themes. We have no magical formula, but an inclusive set of reading assignment would surely have less than 50% of the readings that could be classified as either race, class or gender. That still, in our opinion leaves plenty of room for such assignments even if many of these assignments have no overlap.
    2)Our study is based on what 46 faculty member are doing. Thus, we are looking at all 46 faculty, some who use anthologies and some who do not. However, the data is very clear that the determination of whether someone is a high,moderate or low assigner of RCG is on the basis of an individual faculty member. Thus, when we say that at UT 78% of the faculty members were “high” assigners, we are taking it individual by individual. In the case of UT, therefore, we are talking about 78% of the 18 faculty member are “high assigners” some of these used anthologies, some did not. It does not matter if they were or were not, what matters is whether based on their total reading assigments they are in the “high” category or not. The major findings of this report are individual faculty based. What did the individual faculty member do, what did they assign. And also, what was their individual research interest.
    Since the students experience is one course at a time, we are looking carefully at what each of the 46 faculty members are doing. Thus, most of the data, you were quoting and discussing up to this point in our dialogue is actually secondary to what one of the 46 faculty members are doing.
    This can be seen particularly on Figures 3, 4 & 5, which is based upon %’s by individual faculty member. One of the most important figures in the entire report is figure 6, which breaks down, High, moderate & limited RCG usage by course type and by institution. When you look at Figure 6, Figure 7 and Figure 9, a fairly clear picture of the problem becomes evident.
    Once again there were only 625 assignments with 46 faculty. We were looking particularly at how each of the 625 assignments would break out as RCG for each course type and then by institution–this is what figure 6 does.
    When we did further analysis of those of the 46 who used anthologies, we found they were less likely to fall into the “high” user category as those who did not use anthologies.(such as in your own personal case according to my very rough and unverified estimate).
    Where does this lead us. In our opinion,it suggests that both institutions and the individual faculty member, faculty member by faculty member, should review their reading assignments and do their best to have an inclusive and broad range of readings.
    Secondly, it means, that special topic courses of the nature used at UT should not be used to fulfill the required 2 course mandate required by the 1971 law requiring broad coverage. The bottom line is that institutions should use survey courses that have an extensive and inclusive set of reading assignments.This can be done and Texas A&M is closer to achieving it than UT. This goal does not preclude or eliminate RCG reading assignment,that in our opinion would be a mistake.


  36. Truffula: thanks for your interventions as someone who deals with quantitative data all of the time.

    Richard, I appreciate your efforts to engage with me here, but right now I’m sorry I took your objections to my post seriously. It’s clear to me now that your report is driven by ideology and a particularly narrow vision of history. No doubt, in spite of your compliments above about my syllabus and my teaching, you think the same of me.

    But, as I warned all readers of the original post, I remain proudly a Marxist feminiazi.


  37. Historiann.
    I am sorry also that you are unwilling to engage in serious dialogue! Since the NAS report has not objection to Race class and gender being a significant part of the narrative, but wishes only that reading assignments be inclusive, it seems to be that you seem now to have withdrawn into your selp-proclamed ideology as a “Marxist feminiazi.” Don’t think your comments were save by truffula, they were not!
    Can faculty members with such ideology rise above their own ideology in what reading assignment they make, of course, remains a key question. We saw in the report that it can happen in broad survey course, if inclusive readers are used, but does not happen in narrow focused, special topics course.


  38. Truffula—You are mistaken about how the report statistics were calculated.
    You are correct that there were 625 separate reading assignments made by faculty—46 faculty. In total there were 499 separate titles. Most of these titles 332 of the 499 were contained in Anthologies used by 7 faculty members in survey courses.
    In understanding the findings and statistics of the study, it is important to recognize that the principal findings relate to what did the 46 faculty do in their individual courses. Therefore, the percentages (78% at UT overall, 60% in survey courses and 89% in special topics courses, refers to the percent of individual faculty members who were “high” assigners of reading assignments that had been identified as either race, class or gender. “High” was defined as being more than 50% of the assignments of that individual faculty member. Figures 3, 4 & 5 & 6 represent the summary of findings concerning these faculty members.
    Therefore, the focus is on individual faculty member assignments, not the aggregate reading assignments by institution since students experience the institution with a course of an individual faculty member. We did sort the faculty by institution and report on the faculty who high, moderate and low assigners. We did not report a total of reading assignment for “RCG” by institution, only by percent of faculty users. We only reported aggregates by the 11 categories and these were never summed. Even then we differentiated by anthology versus non-anthology since we did not want the assignments of 7 faculty overly impact the result
    The “RCG group” of reading assignments was not developed by summing the three categories. Therefore, we did not take, as you suggest , the red, blue & green assignments and sum them up and call them Primary colors. Therefore, the analogy you make to secondary colors (all the rest) is also inaccurate—you cannot sum those up, the NAS study did not sum them up.
    The RCG category is composed of any reading assignment that was either Social history with race & ethnicity, or Gender or Class in nature—Any one of these. We did find however, massive overlap between these three categories. This same overlap was found in research interest of the 46 faculty. In fact, we found your alternative—clustering of attributes—into a very firm factor that we have labeled RCG. This can be seen in Figure 21, where those with research interests in Race had a 73% research interest also in Gender and also social class, Those with a research interest in Gender also had a 88% research interest in Race & Social Class and those with a research interest in Social Class also had a 80% race and Gender.

    You stated—“If we can agree that “Race/Ethnic Emphasis” is sufficiently distinct from “Gender Emphasis” than Historiann’s sums are fine.” They are not distinct, therefore Historiann’s analysis and yours are wrong!

    These patterns of overlap are so strong and not distinct, in fact that we believe a distinct factor—a combined theme (RCG), is completely justified. The overlap between any three of these categories and one of the other 8 categories was much weaker with Political history having some tangential connection (31% of faculty were interested in RCG research and also political history research). The other 8 categories were rarely intertwined either in reading assignment overlap or research interest overlap to the same extent as the RCG grouping (percentage of cross-tab).


  39. Hypothetically, if I taught a course on American political history that used two books, say important, difficult, influential books, and I also taught a survey course on American history that used 20 shorter articles, say 25% of them focused on gender, 25% on class, 25% on race, and 25% on legal history, how would I come out looking as an individual faculty member? Would I look biased towards RCG?


  40. Actually, change that. Say I teach a survey course on American history that uses two books on political history, 3 articles specifically on gender, 3 articles specifically on race, and 3 articles specifically on class, and 3 articles specifically on religious history. How do I come out looking as an individual faculty member? Does the study account for how much time in the classroom (and in non-reading assignments) is spent on each of these topics (which of course cannot really be separated so clearly)? Does it account for relative emphasis on each of these in the course over the duration of the semester?


  41. In the case you advance–where each article is only in one category, you would have 14 readings assignments. Since 9 of them are either Race, gender or class, that would be 9 of 14 or 64%. That would make you a “high” assigner under the study.
    However, if three of those 9 were changed, for example to one Business & economic, One to Philosophic and Intellectual, and one to Diplomatic and Military, then you would no longer be a “high” assigner, but a Moderate assigner. In most American History Courses, I would think, you would expect “moderate” assignment of Race, Gender or Class readings assignments. Personally, I would think the course is overloaded also with Religious history, so it probably would be better if one of those changed to another category for real breath of coverage, perhaps to something like Scientific or technological advances.
    We used the readings assignments as a proxy of the nature of the course, since we cannot know, obviously what goes on in the classroom. However, we do believe that “it is reasonable to suppose that there is a relationship between class content and reading assignments.”–page 15 of the study. Other approaches such as visiting classes by an observer, of course, would have led to charges, appropriately of subjectivity. We picked an objective and consistent variable.
    In reality, the easier way to increase the liklihood of broad coverage is to use anthologies or provide students access probably through blackboard to many, many articles and primary sources that cover a wide range topics & themes.


  42. You stated—“If we can agree that “Race/Ethnic Emphasis” is sufficiently distinct from “Gender Emphasis” than Historiann’s sums are fine.” They are not distinct, therefore Historiann’s analysis and yours are wrong!

    As, then, is yours. Glad we could agree on something.


  43. I do not get how race and ethnicity are not distinct from gender. This semester I am teaching a graduate level class which assigns eleven whole books, four book chapters, and eight journal articles on ethnicity and race. There is not a single reading assignment, however, on gender. In fact it has been my experience that the US scholars obsessed with gender tend to totally ignore issues of race and ethnicity outside the US. For instance if you look at the scholars most militant in denying the existence of racism in the USSR you will find that a lot of them are women such as Francine Hirsch.


  44. Pingback: History and the Culture Wars | All Things Michael Miles

  45. Pingback: Conservatives’ Criticism of History in the Classroom « Jacksonian America: Society, Personality, and Politics

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