A&H introduces new history major
Patricia MathuMercury Staff
POSTEDApril 15, 2019
This fall, UTD will offer a history major to incoming freshmen and phase out the current historical studies degree plan. Daniel Wickberg, an associate professor in the School of Arts and Humanities and the historical studies program coordinator, led a task force of four historical studies faculty members to reevaluate the existing degree requirements.
“There has been a long-standing sense among faculty that we had some dissatisfaction with the lack of structure in the historical studies major,” Wickberg said.
The new history major will mandate taking lower-level global survey courses. Options for these 2000-level regional requirements will include survey classes about East Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. Though these courses are currently offered, they are not required for a historical studies degree.
“We thought we could create better sequencing in the major,” Wickberg said. “We want to make sure students have an opportunity to study non-Western history at that level before they’re introduced at the upper-division level.
The requirements for upper-level history credits will also change. According to the current degree plan, students have to take one upper-level course in European history, pre-1800 history, intellectual history and Asian, African or Latin American history.
“Saying Asian, African (and) Latin American seems really out-of-date for the profession,” Wickberg said. “We decided that we wanted to split up the distribution.”
The new history major outlines five regions of study: United States, Latin America, Middle East, Asia and Africa. Of the five, students will have to take a class in any three regions.
In addition, the new degree plan mandates exposure to history under four disciplinary distributions: pre-1500 history, the history of women or gender, the history of race or ethnicity and a course in intellectual history.
Intellectual history, or the study of ideas, comes from UTD’s tradition of an interdisciplinary history program, Wickberg said. When the program began in the 1980s, it was called historical studies, not history, because of its unique blending of history with philosophy.
“A couple years ago, we created a separate, autonomous philosophy major. Now, we don’t need to cover that base within the historical studies major,” Wickberg said. “Instead, we thought we could make ourselves more into conformity with the way history is studied at other universities across the country instead of having this very distinctive interdisciplinary degree we’ve had in the past.”
The new major will also cap enrollment of the Historical Inquiry course at 19 students, instead of the current 30. Michael Farmer, an associate professor, teaches the course and was involved in the task force to redesign the major.
“Historical Inquiry is history boot camp,” Farmer said. “The course is designed to transition you from being a consumer of history to a producer of history. It works better when the instructor can give closer attention to students.
There will also be a distinction between 3000- and 4000-level courses.
“We want to give students a better guide to what classes they are taking,” Wickberg said.
3000-level courses will focus on the analysis of secondary literature and works by historians, while 4000-level courses will involve a research paper and primary source analysis.
Along with the degree plan change, the department will roll out a capstone course that will have students compose a substantial paper of historical research for a separate class in which they are dually enrolled during their final year. The capstone course will provide extra support and involve a presentation of their research to culminate the skills and area knowledge they’ve developed throughout their undergraduate degree.
“We’re trying to raise the standards,” Wickberg said. “We’re in a position now where our students are strong. We want to challenge them and give them a major that will provide greater focus and structure for them.”