Students majoring in history are required to take more classes about American and European history than they do about any other region of the world combined. There is a shortage of history classes on other areas of the world that are equally as important to learn.
Students can take six introductory courses, at least one of which is required for students to move on to their upper-division history studies. The accepted courses are “World History, 1500-Present”; “Approaches to Women’s History”; “European Civilization in its World Context”; “The War of Ideas in European and International History, 1750-Present”; and “Introduction to American History.” Most of these courses, if not all, focus on Western civilization. None of them have a concentration that focuses solely on the East, the Middle East or South America.
Upper-division courses are no different. Of the required eight to 10 upper-level classes, students must take at least one course in American, European or world history. History majors are also required to take at least two courses in America and Europe, and only one course about any region of the rest of the world. But students are not gaining a complete world view through these courses. The University should expand the history department’s course offerings to include more classes covering non-Western and non-European history.
History majors are taught that American and European history should be at the core of their studies, and the rest of the regions can be summed up in one course. Students should be taught more areas of the world because history does not boil down to Western civilization. Teaching history only from a Western point of view diminishes the accomplishments of other cultures and perpetuates Eurocentric beliefs.
Eurocentric teaching is common in history courses, especially in textbooks. In history classes, the textbook is deemed the truth, but in reality textbooks are reflections of the author’s preconceived notions and biases. Students have to read between the lines to find bias in textbooks like the language used by the author, the primary sources the author chooses to use and the topics the author dwells on. But students do not have to read between the lines to see the clear bias in GW’s history program curriculum.
The curriculum also weakens students’ understanding of the world as a whole. Eurocentrism is not always apparent, but the biases within the GW history program are clear. A history degree is designed to give students information fundamental to a substantial understanding of history, and at GW officials decided that European and American history is fundamental, while the rest of the world is not.
The history curriculum also does not give students a thorough understanding of the world – despite the growing importance of foreign affairs because of globalization. American college students have a weak understanding of world geography and events, and history programs like GW’s contribute to students being ill-informed of the world.
Two of the University’s peer schools – Georgetown University and the University of Southern California – offer history major requirements that are far more flexible and diverse than the ones at GW. At Georgetown, students can take either four courses from “Group A,” which consists of courses in Africa, Middle East, Latin America and Asia, or “Group B,” which consists of United States/North America, Europe, and Russia and Eastern Europe. While Georgetown’s program is not entirely ideal because half of the courses are European and American, at least the program includes other areas of the world.
At USC, the requirements are even more flexible. USC history majors are required to take three lower-division courses that prepare them for their upper-class concentration classes. The concentrations can be in a geographic area, in a specific time span in world history or in a thematic topic. If their concentration is in a geographic area, students must take at least one introductory level course covering the history of Asia and Eurasia, Europe, Latin and North America. For their upper-level work, students are required to enroll in six courses relevant to their concentration. Like Georgetown, the school prioritizes diversity in history and allows students to explore other regions of the world.
The history department must value all history equally and not ignore non-Western regions of the world. The University must be held accountable to its commitment to diversity by adding more courses in the history department’s curriculum.
Shreeya Aranake, a sophomore majoring in history, is an opinions writer.