, Volume 50, Issue 2, pp 140–151 | Cite as

The Joys and Sorrows of Diversity: Changes in the Historical Profession in the Last Half Century

  • David GordonEmail author
Symposium: The Changing Shape of Higher Education Since the 1960s


The evolution of the historical profession in the United States in the last 50 years provides much reason both for celebration and sorrow. An unprecedented amount of scholarship and teaching is being devoted to regions outside of the traditional American concentration on itself and Europe. New subjects of study—gender, race and ethnicity—have developed. At the same time, political correctness has both narrowed and distorted enquiry. Traditional fields demanding great intellectual rigor, such as intellectual and economic history, are in decline. Even worse, education about Western civilization and the Enlightenment has come to be treated with increasing disdain at colleges and universities. There has instead been a considerable expansion of cultural and women’s studies, including women’s and gender history. These have contributed greatly to the holy trinity of gender, race and class that seems to dominate history departments today. Affirmative action hiring for greater racial, ethnic and gender “diversity” has had an equally great effect on the historical profession. Many of those who were hired preferentially on the basis of past and present discrimination (either real or imagined) continue to emphasize that theme in their research and teaching, since it is their chief claim to professional legitimacy. As a purely intellectual movement, oppression studies cannot last. Any school that leaves out too much about the past is not something to hold serious minds for long. But since it in a small way supports a nationally based political spoils system of racial and ethnic preferences upon which the futures of many politicians rest, it might be expected to have a long life. This is one of the greatest challenges facing historical scholarship today. Even this pales into insignificance in the face of the looming changes in liberal arts education. History is in the process of being reduced from a requirement to an elective on many campuses. This is part of a national trend to move away from the acquisition of knowledge in favor of more broadly based skills. In this way history will suffer the same sorry fate as so much of traditional education in America.


Western Civilization Women’s history Identity politics Gender, race and ethnicity Oppression studies Diversity Affirmative action 

Further Reading

  1. Chakrabarty, D. 2000. Provincializing Europe: Postcolonial Thought and Historical Difference (p. 28). Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate CenterCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

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