July 28, 2009
By Robert B. Townsend
The Department of Education has just published a new Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) that tries to reduce our discipline to a few categories ranging from American history to military history, but the categories selected for note offer a rather distorted picture of what students are being taught in our field. The new list contains 10 categories: History; History, General; American History (United States); European History; History and Philosophy of Science and Technology; Public/Applied History; Asian History; Canadian History; Military History; and History, Other.
The primary purpose for this list is as a taxonomy for information gathering—primarily for colleges and universities reporting degrees conferred at their institutions. In practice, these categories are little-used. Most institutions just lump all their history degree recipients into the broad category of "history" (regardless of their subfield), matching their degrees to the label of the department conferring the degree. In the most recent report of degrees, less than three percent of the new undergraduate degrees were allocated to the smaller subfields.
Where this list may really matter is in what it says about how others perceive (or misperceive) what is going on in our discipline. There are two notable changes in the list (which was last updated in 2000). First, Public/Applied History lost its previous connection to archival training, which has now moved into the categories for library and information science. This makes obvious sense given current patterns of training, as archival training has been separated from most history departments for years now.
But the other substantive change seems much more peculiar, as the Department of Education added “military history” as a discrete category. This decision is quite puzzling, as few (if any) history departments outside of the service academies offer concentrations in military history. (And before I reignite any arguments about the discipline’s neglect of military history, let me hasten to add that very few departments offer concentrations in any other topics outside of history of science, public history, and the big geographic categories). Unfortunately, the description of the new classifications does not really explain why they made the change, and staff at the Department of Education did not respond to an e-mail asking for clarification. The closest thing I could find to an explanation is an observation that the department’s guidelines requiring that programs need to be a particular size to merit their own category “did not need to be met in the cases of foreign language, military science and technology, and homeland security programs.”
Aside from the recent changes to the list, there is also reason for concern about what was not changed, as the history of Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East still did not merit a place on the list. Apparently the histories of those regions are lumped under “Studies” programs, even though only a tiny proportion of the history degrees in those subjects are actually conferred by specialized studies programs. And in the meantime, this seems to suggest that large portions of the world lack a substantive history—at least as recognized by the Department of Education.
From a statistical point of view, the specialized categories are not terribly significant given the small number of degrees allocated to them. But the inclusion of a relatively small field like military history makes the excluded history categories stand out much more clearly. Regrettably, there seems to be little opportunity for revising these categories. The description of the review process speaks only of inviting comment from a technical review board and select federal agencies. One can only conclude that they would rather leave the definition of our discipline to the “experts.”
Thanks to James Grossman (Newberry Library) for calling this issue to our attention.