BY KELSEY WAGNER
The history department at the University of Delaware perpetuates an inadequate western narrative. To graduate with a degree in history students have to take “one course in Asian, African, Latin American or Middle Eastern History.” The only other primary requirements are to take a course on pre-1700 history and either a class called “Europe and the world,” world history or U.S. history.
I find this requirement absurd. How can a student successfully claim to be knowledgeable in history while ignoring entire continents? Asia influences Europe and vice versa; Latin America influences the U.S. and vice versa, and so on. No one can even be proficient in so-called “western history” without paying attention to these connections.
Making Asian, African, Latin American and Middle Eastern histories substitutable for one another reduces them to educational afterthoughts.
The course “Europe and the World” similarly silences what it denotes as “the world” while focusing on European narratives. Yet a student in the department could take this course and fail to ever understand perspectives unlike their own, which they would more likely confront in other courses. The university already suffers from a diversity problem, and the history department’s commitment to the western narrative only perpetuates it.
The University of Delaware is not the only university to fail to address the systemic issues in the way we understand history and the rest of the world. Colleges and universities across the country have similarly lacking requirements for a history degree when it comes to regional diversity.
I compared the University of Delaware to other similarly-ranked, public universities in the area and found that they also have the same problems in the structure of their curriculum.
At Rutgers University, the history degree requires that of twelve courses, two must be taken in U.S. history, two in European history and two in “Global, African, Asian, Latin American, or Native American history.” Firstly, isn’t Native American history a part of U.S. history? Secondly, we see once again a prioritization of U.S. and European history.
The decision to lump together Global, African, Asian, Latin American and Native American history is almost to say that the world is split into two: the “West” (Europe and the U.S.) and the rest of the world; white people and non-white people; the colonialists and the colonized. Are we really so backwards as to stick with this narrative that seems to be a relic of the 19th century?
It is no better at Penn State, where history students are required to pick at least one course from European, U.S., Global or Pre-Modern history. Once again, everything outside of Europe and the U.S. is just lumped into a single entity represented in “global” history.
This is not a regional issue. Extending across the United States, we see that even UCLA, which is historically a more liberal and diverse institution, has a similar problem. According to its history department website, the requirements are “At least 10 upper-division history courses, including (1) two courses in U.S. history, (2) two courses in non-Western history from the same area (i.e., Latin America, Asia, Near East, Africa), (3) two courses in European history or in history of science …”
This tendency for universities to separate history into two groups, western history and non-western history, is clearly a systemic problem.
There is no way to accurately teach students history when the departments themselves are flawed.
A couple years ago I wrote a piece on what gets lost when one studies history through the perspectives of old white men. In the face of little change, I am once again turning to the pages of The Review to advocate for changes in how we as students learn about history.
I urge the University of Delaware history department to break with tradition and change this requirement to combat the imperialist narratives that continue to infiltrate university curriculums and to more accurately display the world and its diverse perspectives.
It’s about time that we move beyond the distorted western narrative of progress and identify the reality of the past. The only way to do so is by expanding our narratives beyond the history of the U.S. and Europe.
While there has been some improvement since the 2020 Black Lives Matter movement, in that the UD history department offers courses that reflect greater diversity in U.S. history specifically, there has not been enough change on the grander scale of the global history course offerings and overall curriculum.
Right now we need to ask, as students and educators, are we really okay with “Europe and the world”? I think we can do better.
Kelsey Wagner is a senior history and three language double-major and the current development officer at The Review. Her opinions are her own and do not represent the majority opinion of The Review staff. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.