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Powerful Stench

May 29, 2012, 8:27 pm

(Much of this came in my comments on Eric’s post, but I wanted to highlight it on the front page)

The California Association of Scholars’ report that Eric so ably dissects in the previous post is particularly misleading in another way. The report makes a big issue of the fact that neither history department it cites looks at the broad sweep of American history, instead choosing to focus on marginalized and oppressed groups. To steal Eric’s quotes:

For example, at UC San Diego in the fall of 2010 nine upper division courses in American History were offered, but one looks in vain for any course that provides a connected view of the sweep of American history, and of how it came to develop so rapidly from an insignificant cluster of colonies to the nation which is economically, militarily, and culturally the most powerful and influential in the world…and…UC Santa Cruz’s American history courses in the fall of 2008. There were six upper division courses…Here again is the familiar focus on the nation’s shortcomings, as well as on victimology and oppression, and once more there is no sign of a course on the general historical development of the country.

But, in both cases that the report cites, that doesn’t seem to be accurate. Both history programs in fact offer American survey courses, over multiples semesters, and said surveys were offered at both institutions during the cited semesters: UCSD (Choose Fall 2010 and then search on “History-Lower Division” courses) and UCSC.

So what’s going on?

What’s going on is that the authors of the CAS report are very careful to limit their examination to “upper division” courses (ie those that are not introductory). They thus skip quietly over the survey courses, which are lower division.

This is appalling. It’s long been a perfectly standard practice in designing a major to have broad surveys at the lower division level and then make the transition to more specific courses at the upper division. CAS thus eliminates the part of the curriculum where scholars put the survey courses and then complains about the lack of survey courses. The mind boggles.

The authors are aware of the lower division courses, citing UC Berkeley’s survey of American history (HIS 7AB), disapprovingly to make an earlier point, but they refuse to acknowledge that exactly the same kind of surveys exist at UCSD and UCSC , in exactly the spot they were designed to be, and offered in exactly the semesters the reports hold up for criticism. It’s ridiculous posturing, and seems less scholarship than right-wing performance art.

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P.S., Reading the report, I came across this gem:

The student went on to give a particularly chilling example. When covering the Second World War, the professor said bluntly that “The Soviet Union won the War,” thus trying to “propagandize this crucial moment in world history as
a crowning moment for the Soviets only.” This will be news to the American forces who won the entire Pacific war against Japan without any help from the Soviets, or the British who alone kept Hitler from achieving total victory while the Soviets were his allies from 1939 to 1941, or the Allied forces who were beginning to liberate Europe while the Soviets were still fighting in their own country. A genuinely academic analysis of what decided the Second World War would be a highly complex matter involving many different kinds of crucial factors, all of them with a strong bearing on the outcome.

A few notes from a military historian: first, see how they carefully elide the fact that the United States was neutral from 1939-1941, when the British were “alone [keeping] Hitler from achieving total victory.” Was this a too inconvenient fact for their triumphal story of American triumphant triumph? Second, note the careful phrasing of “liberate Europe while the Soviets were still fighting in their own country.” Third, given the context that American students often get on World War II (Pearl Harbor, D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge), I can see using the phrase “The Soviet Union won the War” when starting off the discussion. Not to give the students a “chilling” moment or a propaganda victory to the USSR (which, I would note, doesn’t exist anymore), but to point out that by far the lion’s share of the German effort in Europe was in the east and that looking at only the Western European side of it is profoundly misleading.

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