Tag Archives: demography

History’s Smaller and Smaller Pond

Last spring I wrote a post called “History’s Future” in which I pointed out the unsettling trends in history enrollments from the 2011-12 IPEDS data. Today, I was reminded of that post, and an earlier on on the gender (enrollment) problem in our field, because the most recent projections from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) called “Projection of Education Statistics to 2021” further reinforce why we should be worried about enrollment data in post-secondary history education.

Just a reminder — history at the undergraduate level in the United States is an overwhelmingly white and male discipline at a time when college and university enrollments, with the exception of a few disciplines like engineering, are overwhelmingly female and increasingly non-white. If historians can’t find a way to expand the appeal of our discipline among females and the non-white population on our campuses, the pond we’ll be swimming in is just going to get smaller and smaller.

The NCES is projecting a 15% increase in post-secondary enrollments in the United States between 2010 and 2021, with a 12% growth in full time students and an 18% growth in part time students. Here’s where the problems arise for history — unless we find a way to change, that is. The NCES is projecting an 18% increase in female enrollments, but only a 10% increase in male enrollments. Among racial and ethnic groups, the NCES projects only a 4% increase among white students, but a 25% increase in African-American enrollments, a 42% increase in Hispanic enrollments, and a 20% increase in Asian enrollments. In other words, almost all the enrollment growth projected for American higher education is going to be among student groups who seem to find our discipline less appealing.

And, by the way, on the racial and ethnic front, the news just gets worse, because between 2009-2021 the NCES is projecting a 9% decline in white high school graduates, as compared to a 6% increase in African-American graduates, a 63% increase in Hispanic graduates, and a 35% increase in Asian graduates.

In short, there is nothing in the data, either from IPEDS or from the NCES, that should give us hope for the future of our discipline. Are we going to go out of business? Hardly. Will history departments begin to get smaller and smaller as enrollment pressures combined with constrained budgets begin to force deans and provosts to make difficult decisions about where to allocate scarce faculty lines? You bet.

Fortunately, the solution lies with us. As a radical first step, I’d suggest going to the source and asking the students themselves why they didn’t major in history, as compared to something else? The results of such a survey, probably best conducted or funded by the AHA, could then provide the basis for a productive conversation among historians from all institutional types — community colleges (where more and more of our majors begin their post-secondary careers every year), liberal arts colleges, and universities of all types, shapes, and sizes. And that conversation could result in productive changes in how our discipline is delivered at the undergraduate level.

There is no quick and easy solution to this problem — if there were, magic wands would have been waved some time ago. But there is a solution. If we decide we’re interested.

Imperial Legacies in the Present

The excellent blog Strange Maps has just offered up a very interesting example of the last legacies of the recent past — meaning the past hundred years or so. This map, which superimposes the borders of Imperial Germany and Russia on a map of electoral data from the 2007 parliamentary elections in Poland.

Even a casual analysis of this image indicates the degree to which there seems to be some sort of echo of the imperial past in the electoral present in Poland. What this map doesn’t show us, of course, is whether this congruence of data and boundaries is a one time anomoly or a pattern that has emerged since the collapse of the Communist regime in Poland in 1989. Nevertheless, does raise all sorts of questions in my mind.

For my first book I spent a lot of time analyzing electoral returns in the Czech regions of the old Habsburg state and so I have lots of this sort of data stored on my computer. The Czech electoral commission has produced a number of excellent data sets on voting in the Czech Republic since 1993 and so, if I have the time over the holiday break, I may just try a comparison of voting then (i.e., 1907 and 1911) and now.

Running a comparison like that is fraught with problems — electoral districts are different, parties are different, the historical context is different. If we attempt to say something conclusive about the comparison, then we’re risking committing ecological fallacies that more than likely will skew the results of any analysis. But it is quite possible to use such surface comparisons to start asking the kinds of questions historians are actually quite good at asking about these data.

Prior to the digital age it would be possible to make two maps of electoral results and lay one on top of the other to see what comparisons might appear. Digital technology doesn’t offer new insights unavailable to us before, but it certainly does make it much easier to get to the point where insights can begin to bubble up.