To the Editor:

Last year I was invited by the Phi Gamma Chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the history honor Society at the University of Maine, to be the featured speaker at an assembly, where history awards and scholarships were announced for both undergraduate and graduate students. There were also several students who were inducted into this Honor Society. My topic as guest speaker was “A Life in History: Some of My Adventures.”

Specific elements of my presentation may be repeated here in different form, but my main focus in this letter will be commentary on timely developments relating to the meaning and use of history,

The recent decision of the University of Wisconsin academics at Stevens Point to eliminate the history major along with other humanities courses received front-page space in the NEW YORK TIMES. One Wisconsin student was quoted with the observation, “What is a university without a history
major!”

History enrollments at several colleges and universities have been declining for some time as Departments became more specialized in courses offered. With this change and the current emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), the history major became less appealing to a broader spectrum of potential students.

Predictably,academic historians have been dismayed with the level of historical knowledge and understanding by undergraduates of basic American and world history. To comprehend the past, one must know how the present has evolved. Everyone and everything can be assigned a biography and/or a history. The word “story” is also embodied in the last five letters of “history” and is neglected at one’s peril despite Henry Ford’s declaration that it is “more or less bunk.” This condemnation is often confronted by George Santayana’s classic warning, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The frequency and intensity of brutal wars and murderous conflicts
throughout the world underscores the folly of a disregard for history.

To ignore history places the future in peril. Abraham Lincoln fully understood the notion that we “cannot escape history.” He also reminded us that “we shall be remembered in spite of ourselves.” Only if we more fully understand our past and we strive to respond to its numerous “lessons” and rich legacy will we live a life of greater meaning and more remarkable consequence. History does indeed matter!

In closing, it is good to know that TIME magazine recently announced that doctorates in history have steadily increased for over a generation and at Yale University it was the favored major for the 2019 graduating class. Yea History!

Stan Howe

Bethel


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