By Gerry Lanosga, Indiana University
In 2015, AJHA members voted to convert the History in the Curriculum Task Force into a permanent standing committee. The decision reflects the reality that, in the face of our discipline’s digital turn, journalism historians must continue to vigilantly guard the place of historical study and research.
In programs that have a professional mission, there is an ever-present risk that instruction in conceptual areas such as history and ethics will be marginalized. Many of us have seen this firsthand with the relentlessly increasing emphasis on technical skills. Several recent Intelligencer articles have addressed the challenges of teaching history in schools where many do not see it as a priority.
Beyond the anecdotes, a review of the literature about the pedagogical priorities of journalism and mass communication programs yields some depressing results. In a 2012 survey of journalism program heads, for example, only 28 percent named history as a course they thought all of their majors should take.
But the literature also some bright spots. Just last year, Journalist’s Resource at Harvard University surveyed about 300 journalism instructors on the importance of journalism history in the curriculum, and about three-fourths of the respondents said they think it is very or extremely important.
Such data animates the work of our committee, whose mission is to identify and implement strategies to communicate the value of history as part of the core curriculum in both graduate and undergraduate settings. Last year, the committee determined that our task to do that would be greatly aided by fresh data about the state of journalism history education.
The first part of our data gathering – a member survey – is now complete. The online survey, conducted last fall, garnered 105 responses (about 43 percent of AJHA’s active membership) from faculty at 92 different colleges and universities. Thanks to all who participated! Some of the key takeaways:
*47% of the respondents work in ACEJMC-accredited programs
*25% said their programs had lost a media historian within the past five years, and a fourth of those respondents said the position was not filled with another historian.
*80% come from programs that regularly offer an undergraduate course dedicated to journalism or media history. Only about 28% of the programs require the course, but another 14% require a course that includes history as an element.
*About 44% of programs that have graduate degrees include a course dedicated to journalism or media history, but only about a third of those have offered the course within the last two years. About 8% of the graduate programs represented in the responses require a history course, and another 5% require a course that has history as an element.
It’s clear from the data that, even at schools where our members work, we face challenges in maintaining commitments to history in the curriculum.
Now that we have an updated snapshot of our own membership, the committee hopes to follow up in 2017 with a broader survey of deans and chairs of journalism and mass communication programs to get fresh metrics on the status of history in the curricula. Once we have that data in hand, we can use it in a variety of ways to promote history in the broader conversations now taking place about the future of journalism education. Specific initial activities could include publication of the survey data and follow-up contacts with program directors.
Beyond that, we hope that having comprehensive new data will help us prioritize renewed efforts to advance our committee’s mission. In reviewing previous work of the task force, it is clear that many strong ideas have been discussed yet never implemented. They include a mentoring program for grad students, posting information about publishing opportunities, an annual conference panel on teaching, maintaining a list of schools offering coursework in history, preparing a brochure or section of the website to promote successes of schools and scholars specializing in historical work, and even considering some type of accreditation or recognition of programs that have strong journalism history offerings.
Implementing even a few of those ideas will take hard work, but it’s the work of the angels! If you’d like to join the committee and help out, we would love to have you. Or if you just have an idea to share, please let me know. You can reach me at email@example.com.
One thing you can do right now to help is answer two questions that will provide information we can use to further our work. We distributed these questions at the conference in St. Petersburg but received only a few responses. If you have some time soon to send me your answers, we would be most appreciative. The plan is to use the information we gather to enhance the materials on the AJHA website. Here are the questions:
Please list 3-5 of your favorite/most useful online research resources.
Why do you think it is important for students to study history in general, and journalism/media history particularly. If you are willing to have your name associated with you answer, please so indicate.
Please send your answers directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your support, and best wishes for a Happy 2017!