The Undoing of History: Steve Paikin Interview

second year and I don’t think we excite
that love of learning to make them
always come back to become history
majors now that’s interesting you’re
looking in the mirror for part of the
explanation here so what are you either
doing or not doing that you think is
contributing to this fall off yeah I
mean I think what Chris was talking
about you know we’re losing the
education pathway we’re losing the law
pathway that’s fine but I look at arts
and say we’re losing majors more than
other arts disciplines why is that well
I think part of it is that we sometimes
we try to sell his
they come into our clusters and we try
to say come here for critical thinking
come here for writing skills come here
for your communication skills and that’s
fine but that doesn’t really get to the
core of what makes history special and
the core is to me the core is an
understanding of ambiguity and
understanding of context the ability to
take scattered isolated data points
found in an archive or a library here
and weave it together into a really
compelling story that fires up students
fires up audiences what do you when you
look in the mirror what what
responsibilities do you think the way
you teach and your professors teach
right there’s two elements to theirs
they’re the objective conditions we can
say and I’m speaking now like a story
and I guess the financial crisis
generally the the mood of especially
North America of focus on identity
politics etc and then there are the
subjective elements of what should
administration’s history departments or
even individual faculty members – I
think that this this crisis or mini
crisis could be a blessing in disguise
because it could shake us a bit and make
us really consider how we’ve been
dealing with teaching history and
attracting students there’s a number of
things I think that we can do we can I
mean I hate to use this word but in the
commercial mindset that we’re all in we
can mark it history a little bit better
we don’t know the exact figures here in
Canada the Canadian Historical
Association hasn’t done a good study on
really how well do history mate how well
do is how well do history majors do in
the in the market after they graduate
and they actually do very well very well
exceptionally well in fact they even
compete with some of these science
majors in terms of getting jobs there’s
a rather low unemployment among history
majors they tend to earn good paying
jobs and it’s an excellent critical
thinking yesterday in fact the American
Historical Association has documented
that there’s a large number of employers
of stem majors
who lament the fact that they wish their
their employees knew a bit more about
history about liberal arts etc I mean
that’s that’s one thing we can market
ourselves a bit better the other thing I
think is that we really need to take
another look at the way we teach and
that is also rather complex well let’s
get into that here chris is there
something about the way you and your
colleagues stand at the front of a class
and teach 18 19 year old young people
that’s not resonating today in a way it
might have 25 or 30 years ago so maybe I
mean I I’m 46 so I don’t know really any
more but I think that you know this
academic specialization is a problem
right we specialized we company but
especially that specialization happens
everywhere in every field I think what
matters in history is that when we
specialize we tend to assume that
students are going to are going to be
interested in the particular niches that
we’re interested in and you know that
the essence of history is what happened
when did it happen and we all want to
talk about the why and get aget argue
about it you know but students coming in
at 17 18 years old they don’t have the
what and win and we just have to focus
on what happened when did it happen and
have some confidence that the history
we’re gonna teach it matters and they
need to know this I want to follow up on
that Ian how difficult is it to engage
young people in history in the