As a Social Studies Education major and future teacher, I have always been passionate about history. Our past tells countless stories about the world around us, providing a deeper understanding and appreciation of yesterday and those who lived it. Each person tells a different story, each as unique and intriguing as the last, offering the opportunity to learn a lesson or determine a pattern in commonality so we as the people of today can learn from the mistakes and triumphs of our forbearers.
History also exposes people to unfamiliar perspectives, opening the mind to interest and acceptance of those unlike ourselves. As a student, I noticed a particular pattern while taking History classes here at Millersville.
All History and Social Studies Education majors at MU are required to take four courses in the History department – HIST 101 Europe and the World 1350-1789, HIST 102 Europe and the World 1789-Present, HIST 105 Craft of History, and HIST 106 Contours of US History. While one class focuses primarily on historical research methods, the other three revolve around history itself, specifically American and European history.
While it would make sense to learn about the backstory of one’s own country, the required history courses do not bring light to all of the corners of the world. Given there is only so much content that can be covered in one semester, there nonetheless appears to be an emphasis on western and European history in the university’s curriculum.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with learning about European history, as it is a fascinating subject that I am personally very passionate about. However, because of this emphasis, I know very little about the Eastern world, a sentiment I imagine many of my peers might share. Eastern history usually entails cultures outside of Europe and North America, such as Asia and Africa, while non-European western history typically revolves around Latin America and Indigenous populations, including Native Americans.
Readers may argue that if someone wants to study Eastern or indigenous history, they should consider taking electives that discuss these topics. Students in the BA History program are required to take 27 credits, or nine courses, of History electives, while BSE Social Studies Education students may take at least one but no more than five History courses for electives. While there are opportunities to learn about a variety of regional cultures, there is a major caveat – out of the 14 History elective courses active in the Spring 2023 semester, only two of them include the history and perspectives of Eastern and non-European cultures and civilizations. With registration right around the corner, only three of the nine History electives offered to undergraduate students for the Fall 2023 semester involve Indigenous and Eastern World cultures – two of which only discuss non-European people as victims of oppression, either by colonization or imperialism.
Discussing the darker and more violent aspects of history is important, especially when it involves accountability and learning from past wrongs in order to promote a more inclusive future. When we discuss Asian, African, Latin, and Indigenous cultures, however, it should not be only of them as the victims or the oppressed, but also of civilizations with their own unique history, attributes, and contributions to modern society. We can learn from them just as much as Europe and white or European Americans.
In light of this issue, members of the Millersville community put effort into making the History curriculum more inclusive of other civilizations.
“It’s a slow process, but we are working toward making courses more inclusive and reflective of our diverse campus,” says Dr. Miriam Witmer, a professor of Educational Foundations at Millersville and chair of the President’s Commission on Cultural Diversity & Inclusion. “We work with various departments to survey curriculum and syllabi, as well as shift our courses, to be more culturally relevant and promote competencies to prepare our students and faculty for a more inclusive and sensitive world.”
By making the history of a wider variety of cultures more inclusive and accessible to students and teachers, we promote tolerance and acceptance of said cultures. Representation matters, and by emphasizing that in our course material, our students who may otherwise feel neglected or underrepresented in the school curriculum will be seen and heard.
What happens in History may appear as a thing of the past, but it is quite the opposite. What we study and focus on both at the secondary and post-secondary levels greatly influences the image and craft of history, both as a discipline and as a story of our goals and interests as members of society. By making the mandatory history curriculum more inclusive and representative of all cultures, we set a precedent for the history of tomorrow.