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Tuning  History: Redirecting History Surveys for General Education


The Intro Course as an Introduction to Curriculum Change

Daniel J. McInerney



     Over the past decade and a half, much discussion about introductory courses in history has focused on the ways instructors approach, construct, perform, and assess their work as teachers in survey classes. Conversations have explored the subjects considered most significant for class time, pedagogies that best reveal disciplinary identity, cognitive styles that students bring to their studies, formats that enhance presentations, politicized contests that develop between policymakers and faculty, transfer agreements that facilitate student mobility, data that sheds light on student learning, and strategies that address public concerns over history's "value" – among many other topics.1

     Rather than revisiting the thoughtful answers colleagues have offered for the inquiries above, this essay opens from a different starting point: how do we pose questions about survey courses? From what perspective do we view the content, purposes, and design of the classes? Through what lenses do we perceive and examine the work? Whose interests and needs do we consider? In other words, what problems—and what range of issues—do we try to address in our teaching assignments? Five core questions can help instructors reflect more deeply and broadly on the work of an introductory course – and, at the same time, clarify its place in a refreshed and dynamic curriculum.

     Before addressing the five questions, some brief opening comments may help set the stage for the discussion. At the heart of the "questioning" offered in this essay rests the informing theme that the Association of American Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) selected for its 2016 conference on general education and assessment: moving "From My Work to Our Work."2 The AAC&U chose to focus on one of the major cultural changes affecting higher education in the early twenty-first century, a steady call for faculty to see their instructional tasks as part of a collective teaching effort rather than as a distinct set of individual course assignments.3 In an academic world where teaching is so often evaluated in strikingly different terms than research, where peer review and collaborative effort in the classroom are occasional rather than common practices, and where faculty may have little sense of control or "ownership" over any of their work, it is not difficult to understand why some cling tightly to course assignments as personal "possessions" to be guarded, cherished, and shielded from the prying eyes of others. The arguments are not entirely selfish. After all, a course is commonly assigned to a particular faculty member. That individual is "in charge" and fully accountable for what transpires over an academic term. And protection of the instructor's academic freedom is central to the mission of higher education.

     But a college class does not exist in some isolated, separate educational universe. That observation is particularly relevant to introductory history courses, the varied, entry-level survey classes in associate's and bachelor's programs that commonly examine the broad sweep of world, Western, and U.S. history. As with everything we historians study, such courses exist within a context. It is that rich and complex web of educational circumstances that we try to understand in greater depth, a context which (on many campuses) may very well involve a carefully-structured, sequenced, and intentional series of courses forming a major, a General Education program, and an institutional set of learning outcomes.4 While it is true that the assignment of courses is distinctly personal, the operation of courses is shared and collective.

     If one distinctive mark of historical thinking rests in the contextualization of experience, another characteristic quality lies in the importance of empathetic thinking.5 When it comes to our course assignments, how commonly do we instructors practice what we preach in our classrooms? Do we view the introductory course as we would a historical subject—from a variety of perspectives? Are we willing to see the experience through the different lenses of different subjects? Does our frame of reference extend beyond the individual goals we define for the work? Social studies educator Kaya Yilmaz observes that "engaging in historical empathy is both demanding and challenging for students."6 Similarly, engaging in pedagogical empathy may be a considerable struggle for many instructors as well.

     To build a more contextualized and empathetic approach to our teaching responsibilities, it is helpful to reflect on a series of questions that allow instructors to step outside of their individual interests, view their courses through a variety of lenses, and recognize the multiple levels on which an intro class operates for multiple audiences in the complex web of campus curricula.

Question 1: Who are my students in an introductory course?

     The question of audience is itself central. As a leading researcher in adult education, Stephen D. Brookfield, states in an often-cited comment:

     We may exhibit an admirable command of content, and possess a dazzling variety of pedagogical skills, but without knowing what's going on in our students' heads, that knowledge may be presented and that skill exercised in a vacuum of misunderstanding.7

     What do we know about those heads – and the reasons for their presence in a classroom? Think about a typical academic year. Consider the courses assigned to you over the length of those terms. As you run through all the classes, sort out the subjects and themes that make it into the syllabi, recall the texts, sources, and monographs assigned, and think back on the quizzes, exams, and papers distributed and graded, reflect on one particular question: Who are most of your students? Are they mainly the devoted, attentive, curious, and committed majors in your discipline? Are they registered for a series of courses in your field? Do they draw on a deep reservoir of knowledge and skills developed in your subject area? Or do most of the students you teach most of the time come from the large ranks of "non-majors" attending your institution?

     Of course, a large enrollment of non-majors in survey courses shapes instructor-based decisions about what the class provides in terms of topics, coverage, depth, exercises, and grading. In addition, a large enrollment of non-majors in survey courses can also help clarify the learner-based decisions about what the class supplies for students taking a course.8

     The latter point sparks some predictable questions: who are the students?; is their decision to enroll in a class academic, personal, or accidental?; what expectations do students bring into the course from previous work (in K-12 work, AP, dual enrollment classes, or interdisciplinary experience)?9 But attention paid to learner-based decisions can also illuminate questions that are basic, critical, and unanticipated – for both faculty and students. For example, do students comprehend the Carnegie credit system that categorizes a survey course as a "three-hour" class – or should a teacher in some exercise explain that every hour of in-class time will be accompanied by two hours of study outside the classroom? Do students in an introductory course understand the meaning of history as a "discipline" – or should some instructor at some point step back to explain the concept? Do students understand a syllabus assignment that simply states "read the last four chapters of Eric Foner's The Fiery Trial" – or would it be helpful, as David Pace recommends, for a faculty member to "decode" the exercise and explain how a professional historian would approach the task?10

     What practical consequence tied to curriculum change comes from reflecting on the students enrolled in the class and their levels of awareness about the nature of higher education? An introductory history survey may not only provide a foundational level of knowledge and skills in a distinct field of study; the course may also provide students with an informative foundation about the academic culture they have entered and the ground-level skills they will need to develop in order to succeed.

Question 2: How does the introductory course serve my discipline?

     It is the "foundational level" of knowledge and skills that comes to mind most often when faculty think about the introductory survey. However, it can be tough to frame and articulate the informing principles, information, and practices of a field of study at the freshman level. Once again, as with the intellectual habits of contextualization and empathy that we impart to students, faculty can experience their own difficulty establishing the "critical distance" necessary to gain perspective on our own specialty.

     Fortunately, history colleagues in the U.S. and different areas of the world have worked thoughtfully on the issue since the early twenty-first century. The most helpful sets of suggestions have come from historians engaged in an initiative known as "Tuning." Starting in 2000 as the university response to the European Union's 1999 Bologna Project, Tuning is a collaborative effort of history faculty to clarify the central goals of our field of study, to demystify the discipline by making implicit assumptions about historical study explicit, and to convey to administrators, policy makers, and employers the contributions history makes to learning and student skills.11

     In 2012, the American Historical Association joined the project as the world's first professional disciplinary society to experiment with the Tuning process.12 Linking the organization's offices with 2- and 4-year faculty as well as colleagues focused on the scholarship of teaching and learning, the AHA has now brought over 150 instructors on more than 120 campuses into the project. The collective effort of these participants – focused on building what has come to be called the "History Discipline Core" – describes "the skills, knowledge, and habits of mind that students develop in history courses and degree programs."13 The Core addresses six key competencies focused on inquiry and analysis, historical empathy, the complex record of the past, fruitful research strategies, narrative construction, and civic engagement. The outline also points to the central "learning outcomes" tied to each competency and suggests various ways in which students may demonstrate their work within each area.

     Beyond offering a broad outline of the core competencies developed in our field, the document also provides a basic resource for historians struggling to find the words that describe the essential work of our discipline. The Core's statements were never intended to serve as a declaration of "history standards" but only as sets of reference points that colleagues can use to launch meaningful discussions in their departments. From the starting point offered by the Discipline Core, historians can better determine goals that are desirable and appropriate for their own campuses (reflecting their particular resources, students, faculty, and mission).

     Starting with the shared language of the Core, historians can also view the localized applications of the project on a "Tuning Resources" website. The resource pages open up a variety of documents, presentations, conversations, and videos that explore how colleagues have refined and modified the AHA's reference points to best serve their own campus's needs.14

     What practical consequences tied to curriculum change come from reflecting on the relation between an introductory course and the essential qualities of our discipline? Faculty can help themselves and their students more clearly understand what one class reasonably aims to achieve over a wide range of objectives in a program of study. We can better explain how the pursuit of different skills and activities continually ratchets higher from lower- to upper-division classwork. We can thoughtfully structure a sequence of materials and skills. And, as colleagues, we can make certain that the knowledge and proficiencies we propose for our students are actually provided in the classes our program offers.

Question 3: How does the introductory course serve General Education?

     If a freshman survey is not only an individual class offering or a required piece of a major but, in addition, part of an institution's General Education program, the course offers an even greater opportunity for faculty to understand the operations of curriculum design.

     Four simple steps are worth reviewing to help clarify how an introductory survey fits one's own schedule, serves departmental needs, and also contributes to the broader foundational program of an institution:

  • Just in case any of us are uncertain, start by confirming if your introductory course is in fact listed among the Gen Ed offerings on your campus;

  • If so, is there a Gen Ed website (or available literature) that explains the program as a whole and the particular "category" in which your class falls (documentation that also lists other courses sharing the same classification);

  • Perhaps most useful, does the Gen Ed committee provide an application form for new course proposals within your category, a set of guidelines that can clarify if your existing class actually meets expectations for the program (standards that may have changed since you first offered your course); and,

  • (If you are looking for a reason to take a break from your office,) is there an academic advising center on your campus where you can chat with a staff member to hear how the course selection process actually works with students and advisors.

A fifth suggestion is, admittedly, more complex and requires an extra dose of commitment. As a recent AHA discussion board demonstrated, many faculty are anxious about the reduction (or elimination) of history requirements recently announced in Gen Ed programs across the nation.15 Such changes often undermine course enrollments, departmental stability, and faculty lines. But the discussion also raises a critical reminder about our own work: the importance of history faculty volunteering for – or continuing their dedicated service to—a campus Gen Ed committee, an assignment that allows us to express our concerns, clarify the content and skills contributed by our discipline, and take up the call for rigorous, informed "advocacy" in our field of study.16 The many historians who already perform this important task recognize that Gen Ed work is not "somebody else's job." They realize that few campus colleaguinstructional work ases from other fields may fully grasp – or persuasively state – the core contributions historical study brings to post-secondary education. Now more than ever, in conversations focused on curriculum reform, historians need to maintain their seats at the discussion table, borrow from the "learning outcomes" conversation in Tuning, and explain to faculty in other disciplines the indispensable knowledge, dispositions, and proficiencies that our studies produce for all students, not simply our majors.17

     Turning attention back to students, what practical consequences tied to curriculum change come from reflecting on the links between an intro history course and an encompassing Gen Ed program? If the course in question is a component of General Education, do students recognize that G.E. classes purposely expose them to a range of disciplines – or should a professor discuss the reasoning behind this distinctively American post-secondary structure? Will students figure out on their own why a history survey is one component of Gen Ed – or can an instructor find a timely topic in the course that helps clarify the value of examining urgent issues from multiple perspectives? Do students grasp that Gen Ed as an educational model has a history (and a fairly distinctive U.S. history at that) – or might a history teacher (of all people) incorporate a brief historical review of the topic into a class meeting?

Question 4: How does the introductory course serve my institution?

     As we try to get a clearer sense of a course's bearings in terms of students, the major, and general education, it's not a bad idea to understand how the teaching might also fit within the larger projects promoted by an institution's central administration or a statewide higher ed system. While funding, enrollments, and public trust may all continue to tumble on many campuses, we know we can count on a rising tide of "agendas" to keep ourselves busy in post-secondary education. One's home institution may focus on issues tied to educational progress (such as a completion, retention, transfer, or the K-16 agenda). The format of courses may attract considerable administrative interest (such as an online, hybrid, self-paced, or accelerated course agenda). Attention may center on social justice issues (such as an access, equity, or diversity agenda). A campus might foreground economic concerns (such as a career, credentials, or debt agenda). And there can be a wide variety of programs and projects that serve or "facilitate" each of these interests.18

     The expanding list of reform projects may seem to form a confusing collection of acronyms and titles—expressed in an often obscure vocabulary better geared to education specialists—that appear to shift constantly with whatever academic trend happens to be in fashion. As one reader in The Chronicle of Higher Education recently commented (referencing a business phrase from the early 1990s), "Sometimes I think administrators, in their wish to show how much they have accomplished, think that, 'if it ain't broke, break it.'"19 Even some respected advocates of academic reform projects acknowledge that the number, pace, and purpose of some efforts have gotten out of hand. Colleagues from the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, for example, recently suggested that a campus might best tackle the problem of "initiative fatigue" by "enacting a year-long moratorium on new initiatives."20

     Still, whatever well-grounded (or curmudgeonly) complaints faculty may have about multiplying reform projects, it is quite likely that our own focused attention on student learning and success will connect at several points with the initiatives that hold sway at an institution. For example, your college may be one of over 600 campuses across the U.S. that have adapted or used a recent initiative focused on the key credentials awarded in higher education. Rather than thinking about associate's, bachelor's, and master's diplomas in numerical totals of credit hours, grade point averages, or required courses, the "Degree Qualifications Profile" asks faculty to clarify what a degree means in terms of learning.21 Think back to the issue at the heart of the AHA's Tuning project: what should students know, understand, and be able to do when then complete a major? The DQP poses the same question on a broader level: what should students know, understand, and be able to do when they complete all components of a degree? The American Historical Association recognizes the fundamental connections linking Tuning and the DQP and works to advance both projects simultaneously.22

     What practical consequence tied to curriculum change may come from reflecting on the links between an intro history course and institutional reform initiatives? Instructors might be pleasantly surprised to discover that the diligent effort to reframe a survey course satisfies their own professional goals, their students' needs, their discipline's expectations, and their institution's broader objectives. The DQP is just one example of a popular academic reform addressing issues of accountability, assessment, and accreditation, initiatives that are faculty-driven, centered on student learning, committed to shared reference points and local implementation, and focused on educational development, career possibilities, and civic engagement.23 History faculty are commonly in the thick of all this work, perhaps without clarifying as well as we could to administrators the reflective, meaningful, and demonstrable contributions we make to our institutions.

Question 5: How does the introductory course offer transferable skills?

     One final point returns to the wide range of students we can and likely do serve in our introductory courses. For those history instructors regularly assigned to the freshman survey whose students are commonly non-majors entering our courses skeptical, leery, or downright ornery about their quarter- or semester-long "sentence," it can be helpful to offer some brief comments to class members (at different points in the term) about the practical contributions of the course.

     We know that many students ask themselves why they are in a history class at all, what the course could possibly do for them, and how any of the work has any meaning for their lives. Instead of dodging the complaints, why not confront them head on? If we take up the challenge from our own disciplinary society—by clarifying and demystifying our courses, syllabi, assignments, and evaluations and by addressing what students should know, understand, and be able to do – it should take just a bit more effort to think of one other major student concern: what does the coursework offer to majors and non-majors that they can apply in a variety of ways to further their education, careers, and civic life? What "transferable" skills do students develop when they study history?

     For faculty who might stumble trying to find the right words to describe the abilities and competencies their students develop, there is, once again, considerable help available from colleagues around the world who have wrestled with the same question. A good starting point is the material posted by the American Historical Association as part of its "Career Diversity" project. The history faculty at Cambridge University offer their own useful webpage on "transferable skills." The University of Wisconsin-Madison's history department turns the question around by asking "why would an employer want to hire a history major?" And the Association of American Colleges & Universities provides survey information from business people, nonprofits, and students describing the learning and skills brought to (and desired in) the job market.24

     What practical consequence tied to curriculum change may come from reflecting on the links between an intro history course and transferable student skills? Thinking back on a personal experience, I initially outlined these competencies during the Fall 2015 semester in my 200-student history survey, a class required for majors but largely-populated with non-majors fulfilling both a General Education and state-wide "American Institutions" requirement. After each of four essay exams on lecture material, a primary source reading, and a secondary source reading, I reserved ten minutes in class for review. My remarks focused on overall strengths and weaknesses in the essays, an Excel breakdown of grades, and, for the first time, an additional set of comments stating the broader skills students developed through the exercises.25 Though my comments require much greater refinement, I was taken aback by the class response. At no other point in the semester did I look out to see so many students with such fixed and focused attention on my words. Several students spoke with me later, all expressing the same point: it was the first time in their university experience that a professor paused to explain how a course exercise carried "real world" value. The experiment revealed to me the eagerness of our students to build a persuasive narrative of their educational experience, a task that survey instructors can

     help class members construct from the start of their post-secondary work.


     One of the most satisfying parts of teaching an introductory course is the sense of "control" it may offer a teacher in an otherwise bewildering and shifting academic landscape. The classroom can and frequently does generate considerable comfort, steadiness, and even solace on a campus where we might otherwise feel ourselves jostled about by all kinds of external forces and agencies.

     What I and my colleagues have discovered is that our willingness to engage in a rigorous, collegial, and pro-active reassessment of the survey course generates a greater sense of control, purpose, security, and "ownership" over our Gen Ed courses – as well as a clearer and more confident sense of the concrete contributions we make to student learning. Our approach is fairly simple: we take the history "learning outcomes" of contextualization, empathy, and critical distance that we expect from students and apply them to our own instructional work—as "teaching outcomes." From that starting point, we can more readily recognize the multiple lenses through which we view our courses and better understand how we work within a series of concentric educational circles to serve the different interests of our academic community.

Figure 1

Daniel J. McInerney received his Ph.D. from Purdue University in 1984 in History-American Studies. He is currently Professor of History and Associate Department Head at Utah State University. Since 2009 he has worked on the Tuning USA project, first in the State of Utah and then with the American Historical Association. He is principal investigator in the Utah Faculty Collaboratives project and a "DQP/Tuning Coach" with the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. He can be reached at


1 See: Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (Philadelphia: Temple University Press: 2001); David Pace, "Decoding the Reading of History: An Example of the Process," New Directions in Teaching and Learning 98 (Summer 2004): 13–21; David Pace, "The Amateur in the Operating Room: History and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, American Historical Review 109, no. 4 (October 2004): 1171–92; Gary Kornblith and Carol Lasser, "Beyond Best Practices: Taking Seriously the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning," Journal of American History 92, no. 4 (March 2006): 1356–1357; Lendol Calder, "Uncoverage: Toward a Signature Pedagogy for the History Survey," Journal of American History 92, no. 4 (March 2006): 1358–1370; American Historical Association, "The Next Generation of History Teachers: A Challenge to Departments of History at American Colleges and Universities" (2007), accessed 10 February 2016 at; Arlene Díaz, Joan Middendorf, David Pace, and Leah Shopkow, "The History Learning Project: A Department 'Decodes' Its Students," Journal of American History 94, no. 4 (March 2008): 1211–1224; Joel Sipress and David J. Voelker, "The End of the History Survey Course: The Rise and Fall of the Coverage Model," Journal of American History 97, no. 4 (March 2011): 1050–1066; Elizabeth Belanger, "How Now? Historical Thinking, Reflective Teaching, and the Next Generation of History Teachers," Journal of American History 97, no. 4 (March 2011): 1079–1088; Bruce A. VanSledright, The Challenge of Rethinking History Education: On Practices, Theories, and Policy (New York: Routledge, 2011); Gene B. Preuss, "'As Texas Goes, So Goes the Nation': Conservatism and Culture Wars in the Lone Star State," in Keith A. Erekson, ed., Politics and the History Curriculum: The Struggle over Standards in Texas and the Nation (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 19–38; Laura M. Westhoff, "A Perfect Storm and The U.S. History Survey," OAH Magazine of History 27, no. 3 (July 2013): 3–4; Lendol Calder, "The Stories We Tell," OAH Magazine of History 27, no. 3 (July 2013): 5–8; Keith A. Erekson, "The History Survey Project: Improving Introductory History Courses, OAH Magazine of History 27, no. 3 (July 2013): 41–43; Mark Pearcy, "Student, Teacher, Professor: Three Perspectives on Online education," The History Teacher 47, no. 2 (February 2014): 169–185; Christopher Brooks, "Connecting the Dots: Why a History Degree is Useful in the Business World," Perspectives on History (February 2015), accessed 15 March 2016 at; Lauren Horn Griffin, "Puzzling It Out: Teaching Marketable Skills in History Courses with the Jigsaw Technique," Perspectives on History (November 2015), accessed 15 March 2016 at; Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, "The Interstate Passport," accessed 30 January 2016 at; Tony Fels, "W(h)ither the US History Survey?," Perspectives on History (March 2016), accessed 15 March 2016 at; Anne Hyde, "Five Reasons History Professors Suck at Assessment," Journal of American History 102, no. 4 (March 2016): 1104–1107; James Grossman and Julia Brookins, "Assessment is What We Make of It," Journal of American History 102, no. 4 (March 2016): 1132–1137; Gary Kroll, Jessamyn Neuhaus, Wendy Gordon, "Slouching Toward Student Centered Assessment," Journal of American History 102, no. 4 (March 2016): 1108–1122.

2 Association of American Colleges & Universities, "General Education and Assessment: From My Work to Our Work," accessed 28 February 2016 at

3 For an early example of the approach (emphasizing shared faculty accountability), see: Scott Evenbeck and Sharon Hamilton, "From 'My Course' to 'Our Program': Collective Responsibility for First-Year Student Success," Peer Review 8, no. 3 (Spring 2006), accessed 27 February 2016 at

4 For an example, see: Dan Berrett, "At U. of Maryland, an Effort to Make Introductory Courses Extraordinary," The Chronicle of Higher Education, 17 December 2012, accessed 10 February 2016,

5 Ozro L. Davis, Elizabeth A. Yeager, Stuart J. Foster, eds., Historical Empathy and Perspective Taking in the Social Studies (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001); Keith C. Barton and Linda S. Levstik, Teaching History for the Common Good (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004); Kaya Yilmaz, "Historical Empathy and Its Implications for Classroom Practices in Schools," The History Teacher 40, no. 3 (May 2007), 331–337.

6 Yilmaz, "Historical Empathy," 333.

7 Stephen D. Brookfield, The Skillful Teacher: On Technique, Trust, and Responsiveness in the Classroom, 2nd ed. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 28.

8 The notion of learning that is "produced" and "consumed" in survey and General Education coursework comes from the analyses of historian Norman L. Jones. See: Norman Jones, "'Tuning'" the Disciplines, Liberal Education 98, no. 4 (Fall 2012), accessed 16 February 2016 at; and Association of American Colleges & Universities, "LEAP: Aligning General Education and the Major at Utah State University," accessed 16 February 2016 at

9 What may be a bit less predictable – and familiar – is the statement of goals, expectations, and outcomes that public school teachers in social studies have created to clarify the standards in their coursework with students. Faculty in colleges and universities should explore the document to understand the educational approaches recent high school graduates have taken in civics, economics, geography, and history. See: National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History (Silver Spring, MD: NCSS, 2013), accessed 16 February 2016 at

10 David Pace, "Decoding the Reading of History: An Example of the Process," in David Pace and Joan Middendorf, eds., Decoding the Disciplines: Helping Students Learn Disciplinary Ways of Thinking. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 98 (Summer 2004): 13–22, accessed 3 February 2016 at

11 For a useful overview of the Bologna project, see: European University Association, "The European Higher Education Area and the Bologna Process," accessed 22 February 2016 at Two key studies explored the Bologna Process for U.S. audiences: Clifford Adelman, The Bologna Club: What U.S. Higher Education Can Learn from a Decade of European Reconstruction (Washington, DC: Institute for Higher Education Policy, 2008), v, and Paul L. Gaston, The Challenge of Bologna: What United States Higher Education Has to Learn from Europe, and Why It Matters That We Learn It (Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, 2010).

     A large body of online materials describing the history, nature, and operation of Tuning may be found on two websites from the European Union: The Tuning Academy, accessed 17 February 2016 at; Tuning Educational Structures in Europe, accessed 17 February 2016 at In addition, the Tuning Journal for Higher Education provides exceptional research on global innovations in Tuning and competence-based education, accessed 17 February 2016 at

12 American Historical Association, "Tuning the History Discipline in the United States," accessed 17 February 2016 at

13 American Historical Association, "AHA History Tuning Project: History Discipline Core," accessed 1 February 2016 at tuning/history-discipline-core.

14 American Historical Association, "Tuning Resources," accessed 1 February 2016 at

15 For a recent discussion of lowered history requirements within General Education programs around the nation, see: American Historical Association, "AHA Members' Forum: Topic, Downgrading of History Requirements" (April 2016), accessed 9 April 2016 at

16 James Grossman, "Advocacy (n.): The Promotion of History and Historical Thinking," Perspectives on History (October 2015), accessed 4 February 2016 at

17 For examples of recent, accessible, and compelling overviews of general education curriculum reform, see: Paul L. Gaston, General Education Transformed: How We Can, Why We Must (Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges & Universities, 2015); "Advancing Collaborative Roadmaps for Student Success," special issue, Peer Review 17, no. 4 (Fall 2015), accessed 4 February 2016 at; Hart Research Associates, Recent Trends in General Education Design, Learning Outcomes, and Teaching Approaches: Key Findings from a Survey among Administrators at AAC&U Member Institutions (Washington, DC: Hart Research Associates, 2016), accessed 4 February 2016 at

18 Adrianna Kazar, "Change in Higher Education: Not Enough or Too Much?," Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 41, no. 6 (November–December 2009), accessed 30 March 2016 at

19 Comment from bsarchett, in Tricia R. Serio and Allison M. Vaillancourt, "Why Can't We Have More Productive Conversations?," The Chronicle of Higher Education (January 20, 2016), accessed 17 February 2016 at

20 George D. Kuh and Pat Hutchings, "Assessment and Initiative Fatigue: Keeping the Focus on Learning," in George D. Kuh, et al., Using Evidence of Student Learning to Improve Higher Education (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2015), 199. The authors immediately add a proviso, however: "part of the year will be spent deciding what to drop or scale back in order to create some space for worthwhile new ideas and efforts that address pressing, high-priority institutional needs."

21 Cliff Adelman, Peter Ewell, Paul Gaston, and Carol Geary Schneider, The Degree Qualifications Profile: A Learning-Centered Framework for What College Graduates Should Know and Be Able to Do to Earn the Associate, Bachelor's or Master's Degree (Indianapolis: Lumina Foundation, 2014), accessed 17 February 2016 at See also the home website for the DQP project:

22 Commendation of both the DQP and Tuning projects has come from notable sources. See, for example: Elena Silva, Taylor White, and Thomas Toch, The Carnegie Unit: A Century-Old Standard in a Changing Education Landscape (Stanford, CA: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 2015), 15–16, 18, 31–32; accessed 7 February 2016 at Carnegie_Unit_Report.pdf.

The most recent example of AHA-sponsored work derived from the DQP and Tuning was evident in the January 2016 annual conference in Atlanta. The AHA held an "Assignment Charrette," a four-hour workshop in which 42 historians submitted course assignments for peer review in small-group discussions. The carefully-structured assignments were purposely modeled on the work of AHA Tuning communities and the Discipline Core as well as the "proficiency" expectations outlined in the Degree Qualifications Profile. See the call for submissions: American Historical Association, "Teaching and Learning History: 2016 Workshop on Undergraduate Teaching, Assignments Charrette," accessed 7 February 2016 at; and American Historical Association, "2016 Undergraduate Teaching Workshop," accessed 7 February 2016 at

23 The work of Tuning, in particular, has been integrated with multiple projects sponsored by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, initiatives that include: Essential Learning Outcomes; LEAP (Liberal Education and America's Promise); High-Impact Practices; VALUE rubrics; Quality Collaboratives; GEMS (General Education Maps and Markers); and Faculty Collaboratives. See the AAC&U's homepage on programs, accessed 7 February 2016 at

For a concise overview of the connections that tie together different reform projects, see: Daniel J. McInerney, "Integrating the Initiatives," Association of American Colleges & Universities, accessed 7 February 2016 at

24 American Historical Association, "Career Diversity for Historians," accessed 28 March 2016 at; Faculty of History-Cambridge University, "Transferable Skills," accessed 28 March 2016 at; Department of History-University of Wisconsin-Madison, "Why Would an Employer Want to Hire a History Major?," accessed 28 March 2016 at; Association of American Colleges and Universities, "Falling Short? College Learning and Career Success National Surveys of Business and Nonprofit Leaders and Current College Students," accessed 28 March 2016,

25 Transferable skills developed on a primary source exercise:

  • -accurately examine documents from an earlier time and a different ideological setting
  • -report accurately on a point of view distinct from one's own
  • -recognize the complexity, ambiguity, and ambivalence of others' lived experience and perceptions (rather than portraying events and decisions in terms of rigid, dualistic categories)

Transferable skills developed on a secondary source exercise:

  • -careful examination of a complex argument
  • -extract informing themes expressed in a lengthy, detailed discussion
  • -identify key supporting evidence in an argument
  • -demonstrate skills of comprehension, analysis, synthesis
  • -demonstrate time management
  • -communicate complex ideas in a clear, organized, meaningful, and persuasive fashion

Transferable skills developed on a lecture-based exercise:

  • -demonstrate listening ability
  • -demonstrate note-taking skills
  • -demonstrate ability to synthesize complex material
  • -construct thorough and well-substantiated written arguments

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