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Ovamir Anjum



Historical thinking, a necessary tool for us to make sense of an increasingly
complex world, is on a path of decline across the world. In a recent New
Yorker article entitled “The Decline of Historical Thinking” (February 4,
2019), Eric Alterman, an English Professor at CUNY and a public intellectual,
bemoaned the nosedive that enrollment in history departments has
taken in universities across the United States. For the past decade, history
has been declining more rapidly than any other major and across all
ethnic and racial groups, even as more and more students attend college.
The steep decline in history graduates (about a third!) becomes especially
visible after 2011, presumably in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis
when students and parents at the lower rungs of society began to worry
about the financial return of investment in a college education. History is
the top loser, but it is not the only one; in fact, nearly the same rate of decline
is evident in other humanities fields including area studies, languages,
philosophy, and, to a slightly lesser extent, social sciences (political science,
anthropology, sociology, IR, education). The winners, not surprisingly, are
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), particularly computer
science and health related majors.1 This trend is not a great surprise in
itself. What is unexpected, however, is that the decline is not uniform. In
elite universities in the United States, the humanities majors are thriving;
history remains among the top declared majors at Yale, for instance. The
educated elite, in other words, are becoming systematically differentiated
from the vast majority of people (“the demos”) in a powerful democracy,
one that still sets intellectual and political trends in the world, and one ...

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