In the December 2020 issue of the American Historical Review, I have a review of two books on history education (Jonathan Zimmerman and Emily Robertson’s The Case for Contention and Sam Wineburg’s Why Learn History (When It’s Already on your Phone). It begins:
As a secondary consequence of the financial crisis, most history departments experienced broad declines in enrollment and majors. A study by Benjamin Schmidt, published in late 2018, showed that the number of history majors declined in percentage terms more than any other major he tracked between 2011 and 2017. Yet at the same time as institutions have struggled to attract students in the same numbers as years prior, there has been a proliferation of spaces for historians to write for wider publics, especially since 2016. This dual condition, of simultaneous erosion and expansion, has led to many conversations, public and private, about what ought to be done with history education. The two books under review both agree that historical thinking is important to civic life, and both will be helpful to history educators looking to avoid pedagogical errors and produce more dynamic classroom experiences. To the larger question of how history education might be used improve the quality of American democracy, it is probably unfair to hope that either one would have any easy answers.