A recent study reported a national decline in the number of history majors over the past six years. But at Yale, history remains the third most popular major for the class of 2019 as the department sponsors new efforts to bolster its global focus.
Last week, the American Historical Association published a study comparing the percent change in various fields of undergraduate study from 2011 to 2017, which found that the number of history majors has decreased by roughly 30 percent in the given time frame. This decrease marked a dip even below the major’s previous popularity decline in the 1980s. Despite national trends, Yale’s undergraduate program remains one of the five most popular majors at Yale, with 129 students declared in the class of 2019 alone.
According to department chair Joanne Meyerowitz, Yale’s Department of History plans to add as many as 11 new professors of history, six of which would focus on non-American and non-European history.
“Yale has a long tradition of a robust history major, and the college places emphasis on the importance of the liberal arts,” Meyerowitz said. “Over the past few years, we’ve made a concerted effort to hire more faculty in African-, Asian- and Latin American history and, more generally, in international and transnational history.”
While history has long been a renowned program at Yale, the number of history majors at Yale was in decline just five years ago, according to Edward Rugemer, director of undergraduate studies in history. He said the financial crisis may have factored into the major’s decreasing popularity as students turned to fields such as economics that are “perceived as more practical.” Similarly, the National Center for Education Statistics reported a decrease in history majors nationwide from nearly 35,000 students in 2008 to fewer than 25,000 in 2017.
Yet, Rugemer attributed the current upward trend in undergraduate interest in history to changes in the major, including new “tracks” focused on different regions or themes. Regions include the United States, Latin America and Middle East/Africa, while themes — dubbed “pathways” — vary from cultural history; to science, technology and medicine; to the world economy.
According to Rugemer, the department is currently looking for one more professor in African history. With the addition, the study of African history at Yale would be the largest in size during his memory at Yale, with three experts on the area. Meyerowitz, also a history professor, added that ongoing hiring searches in Japanese colonial history and Southeast Asian history will expand the number of faculty in those areas beyond the number in recent years.
“I think we need to broaden what we cover as much as possible while retaining depth in Europe and the United States and the parts of the world where the department has always focused,” Rugemer said.
David Engerman, a professor of history at Yale, echoed the sentiments of his colleagues, saying that the history major is “thriving.” He added that while some of the new hires would replace faculty members who had left the department, the addition of more global scholars is essential for a top department in the field.
Across peer institutions, history faculty members at Princeton and Brown told the News that their departments remain strong. Naoko Shibusawa, Brown University’s director of undergraduate studies in history, said that their number of concentrators in the field has also been increasing.
He added that enrollment in history classes among students not specializing in the field was also increasing. Between October 2017 and September 2018, Brown has increased its course offerings in history from 42 to 46 classes, with 1,082 students and 1,385 students, respectively, enrolled.
Yair Mintzker, a Princeton University professor of history, said that the school’s department experienced a temporary decrease in history enrollment after the 2008 financial crisis. Still, he said, the institution maintained history’s status as one of the institution’s most popular majors by increasing hires of junior faculty members in history.
The most popular major for the class of 2019 is economics.
Carly Wanna | firstname.lastname@example.org