By Malou Miedema
— The history track needs a revamp if it is to become a well-rounded track, according to current and former students of history courses at Amsterdam University College (AUC). For current and prospective history students, good news is on the horizon: after the changes to the Film track, which are to be implemented in the forthcoming semester, the History track is next in line.
With an average of about eight students enrolled in its higher-level courses and one course cancelled due to little interest, the History track is not doing so hot. Few students partake in the 200- and 300-levels after the generally well-attended 100-level, and many students who have taken history courses seem to be dissatisfied with the state of the track.
Elizabeth Schippers, a second-year Humanities student, says that she felt disappointed with the History courses currently on offer. “My love for history has not died, but AUC is apparently not really the place to pursue that love,” says Schippers.
Faye Hahlo, a second-year Humanities student, who originally enrolled into AUC to follow the History track, has switched to Culture due to her disappointment with the track. According to Hahlo, “AUC shouldn’t currently even advertise that it has a History track – these courses should either be revised completely or should just be integrated into other tracks.”
Currently, AUC relies on professors from The Vrije Universiteit (VU) and University of Amsterdam (UvA) to teach many of its history courses. Arent Boon, a third-year Humanities major, says that whilst these professors are very good, they have trouble connecting their material to the knowledge that AUC students have acquired through their cross-disciplinary work.
Marriëte Willemsen, Head of Studies Humanities, points out that the difficulty AUC students experience with external faculty does not have to do with the quality of the professors. According to Willemsen, the issue lies with the difference between a Liberal Arts & Science education and the traditional models of VU and UvA. “It’s really different, much broader and less technical. You want to make more interdisciplinary connections and that’s very difficult for teachers who teach at AUC for the first time,” says Willemsen.
Boon says that in order to tackle that issue, “AUC should appoint an internal staff member to organise 3-4 courses and take full responsibility of the track.”
However, a lack of faculty members is not the only issue. Connor Barette, a third-year Humanities student, says that the AUC course structure, which allows students to cherry-pick their courses, might be problematic for the history track as focussing on specific issues overlooks the bigger historical picture. “It’s not really connected,” says Barette.
Barette, Hahlo, and Schippers all say that students who come to AUC to study history are likely to be disappointed as the track currently cannot stand on itself. Schippers added that, even if the track is to function complementarily to other tracks in the Humanities, the history track still needs revision.
In addition, Boon says that AUC needs to define what the History track could contribute to a Humanities curriculum in which the historical context is already covered in many courses.
Willemsen shares students’ concerns about the track. In June, she hopes to gather around the table with current and former students as well as professors to see how the track might be revised. That attempt follows the revision of the film track which saw multiple courses replaced with four new ones, including a 200-level intensive course in film-making.
According to Willemsen, the history track will probably receive a less radical make-over than the film track. “We want to start in June, so it’s too late to do a lot for next year,” says Willemsen. However, Willemsen says that, rather than revising the entire track, the goal will be to rework currently offered courses.
Next to introducing more archive-based research-methods into existing courses, Willemsen wants to continue strengthening the bonds with VU and UvA professors so as to help them get accustomed to the Liberal Arts & Science method. Plans to hire a new faculty member are currently not in the works.
According to Willemsen, the emphasis will be on drawing deeper connections between history and other tracks, either within the humanities or across majors. One example of such efforts is the recently revised Global History course taught by VU professor Pal Nyiri, whose course combines both an anthropological and historical perspective into its discussion of poverty. Nyiri says that he felt students were generally quite motivated, a sentiment that was echoed in Willemsen’s own enthusiasm about the course.
Willemsen is open for the suggestions of history students to find out what they would like to see differently. “Film took a lot of time and there’s only so much you can do, but it’s about time for the History track to be revised,” says Willemsen.
Editor’s note: This news story is part of a collaboration between The Herring and AUC’s journalism course. The story was entirely reported, written, edited, and fact checked by members of the journalism course. Some material may have been altered by The Herring’s editors to fit its style guidelines.