Tuning Project Meeting: Shared Needs among Diverse History Programs

Screen Shot of Patricia Nelson Limerick keynote addressThe AHA’s Tuning project for history held its first full meeting in Arlington, Virginia, the weekend of June 9–10, 2012. Building on lessons from earlier AHA projects that explored the role of historical study in liberal arts education, history faculty from 65 diverse two- and four-year programs convened to frame a vocabulary to explain how history students are prepared for citizenship and careers. What does a history major offer a student? How can our students, upon graduation and beyond, draw on what they have learned to establish careers and contribute to society and civic culture?

Tuning aims to equip students with clarity about the skills, understanding, and knowledge they will acquire in a given degree program. The AHA’s Tuning project provides a collaborative forum and process for history faculty to articulate the core competencies of the discipline. It then asks participating faculty members to propagate those core elements in two directions: inward, by aligning their program requirements, courses, syllabi, and individual assignments; and outward, by promoting the value of students’ education in terms of personal development, civic engagement, and career potential.

AHA Teaching Division Vice President Patricia Nelson Limerick (Univ. of Colorado, Boulder) delivered a rousing keynote address, offering her characteristic combination of wit, humor, and insight into what historians do well—and what we ought to do better. Limerick underscored that Tuning—which aims to assist faculty in taking collective responsibility for student learning—entails neither restrictive standards nor homogenization of teaching methods. Rather, the process provides a broad framework for aligning student goals to what historians value. Limerick described her own recent efforts—including using a rubber chicken—to revitalize a large survey course. She envisions Tuning participants and the AHA spreading a spirit of renewal and excitement throughout the profession, while deepening public engagement with history.

In his introductory remarks, Executive Director James Grossman discussed the AHA’s inspiration to embark on the Tuning project and some of its potential benefits for the discipline as a whole. In particular, Grossman emphasized the need to communicate the distinctive content of history learning to the worlds that students will enter upon graduation.

AHA Teaching Division member Anne Hyde (Colorado Coll.) is faculty chair of the project. Hyde came away from the meeting with renewed appreciation for the diversity of the institutions participating in the initiative and optimism about the project’s potential reach: “After seeing the expertise and energy in the room this weekend, I could imagine how Tuning and its process might enrich the culture of history teaching on college campuses.”

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