Allen Mikaelian, a historian, writer, and former staff member at the American Historical Association (and editor of Perspectives on History), reports that the number of history majors in the United States continues to decline in the wake of the 2008 recession.
This is sad news to report, especially on the eve of the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association in Denver. According to Mikaelian’s data, which he draws from the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of bachelor’s degrees in history dropped by 9 percent for the second year in a row. Not good.
I hope that Mikaelian’s report will trigger much conversation in Denver. Most academic historians work at institutions where teaching is paramount. Sharing research, of course, is important and necessary to a thriving historical profession. And many will have the opportunity to present their work in Denver. But for many of us, perhaps most of us, our employment and the vitality of our discipline in our institutional settings depend on history students to fill the seats in our classrooms. In an age of “prioritization,” professional programming, cash-cow master’s programs, STEM, and the influence of market forces on today’s colleges and universities, academic historians need to take all of this very seriously.
Research institutions have been hit hardest by this decline in history majors, but baccalaureate colleges and master’s colleges and universities are not very far behind.
Check out Mikaelian’s report at History News Service. He concludes:
I’m eagerly reading and greatly enjoying the raft of recent articles and blog posts by historians how how important and relevant the discipline is to understanding recent turmoils. It can’t be denied that it’s a great time to be a historian. Still, it’s hard to say that historians’ voices are being heard through the noise and are convincing undergrads, or the public at large, that rigorous study of the past matters. History right now seems to be something that students and the public are happy to consume, but not something that they feel the need to go out and do.