Tuning and Teaching History as an Ethical Way of Being in the World

This might be crazy, but imagine a first meeting of the academic year where no one talked about budgets, assessment, course assignments, or parking. What if we all started the year discussing what disciplinary ideals link us as historians and how we might best introduce those to our students? The Tuning Project has now compiled dozens of examples of departmental and course level expectations for students and curricular maps to guide students in building knowledge and skills, all designed to clarify what we do and why.Tuning

The AHA Discipline Core* and the various versions that have evolved from it remind me of three things:

  1. How proud I am to be a historian and to have our sophisticated set of rules and practices to organize how we approach the past. Tuning’s iterative process has made me much better at explaining the complicated things we do.
  2. How much the discipline core sounds like the Girl Scout Promise** and its service-oriented aspirational tone. The History Discipline Core is a promise too—one that we make to ourselves, the public, and our students—about the utility and magic of history.
  3. How challenging it is to guide students into understanding and practicing our discipline’s particular and skeptical way of being in the world.

As we begin to think about the new academic year and how best to introduce students to what we do and why it matters, seeing how a range of historians has made the discipline core live in different classrooms and for different kinds of students is both daunting and amazing.

We are, in fact, demanding that students adopt a set of ethics, disciplinary expertise, and a big knowledge base so that they can build context. Those are high bars. Students can’t reach them unless we explain, demonstrate, and let them practice the different steps to get there.

The inspiring, and genuinely helpful, aspect of the AHA Tuning project has been watching how different history programs wrestle with these high aspirations in such creative ways. While we often share aspirations for our students about the analytical, interpretive, writing, research, and presentation skills they should have, every department has different ideas about how to teach and build those. Those differences enrich us and make us better historians, as we practice what we preach about toleration, debate, and evidence.

*History is a set of evolving rules and tools that allows us to interpret the past with clarity, rigor, and an appreciation for interpretative debate. It requires evidence, sophisticated use of information, and a deliberative stance to explain change and continuity over time. As a profoundly public pursuit, history is essential to active and empathetic citizenship and requires effective communication to make the past accessible to multiple audiences. As a discipline, history entails a set of professional ethics and standards that demand peer review, citation, and toleration for the provisional nature of knowledge.

**I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, considerate and caring, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I say and do, and to respect myself and others, respect authority, use resources wisely, make the world a better place, and be a sister to every Girl Scout.

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