Hitting the Historical Note: The AHA’s Tuning Project



Lisa Swayhoover is a Ph.D. student in International Education Policy at the University of Maryland, College Park. For her dissertation research she would like to look at how global issues are taught in the US at the upper-elementary level (grades 3, 4, and 5). If you would be willing to share lesson plans or units that you teach, please provide your contact information here: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/teachglobalissues.  (takes less than 1 minute to complete!)  All material will be kept confidential and all contributors will be acknowledged in any subsequent publication.

I hope that you will be able to work with Lisa so that the work you are doing to bring the world into US classrooms can be part of her research.
This post’s  title is influenced by the 2003 Allman Brothers Band release “Hittiin the Note”. I missed their run this summer (I heard the Boston shows were especially good) but have been getting my fill with the award winning cover band The Peacheaters.  If you ever have a chance to see them, don’t miss the experience.

Wisdom is in the mind of the beholder. Gordon Wood on the benefits and uses of a history education. Click here.

So, what is the Tuning project?  The American Historical Association has been awarded a three year grant to “develop common language that communicates to a broad audience the significance and value of a history degree.”  To meet this goal, AHA has begun “a nationwide, faculty-led project to articulate the disciplinary core of historical study and to define what a student should understand and be able to do at the completion of a history degree program. This AHA project brings together accomplished history faculty from more than sixty institutions across the country. Tuning is a collaborative process which convenes experts in a discipline to spell out the distinctive skills, methods, and substantive range of that field. Participants then work to harmonize or ‘tune’ the core goals of their discipline and the curricula that support those goals on each participating campus.”

None of this is an attempt to generate a list of specific content (events, people, ideas, groups) to me mastered/memorized by students.  Also, it moves the benefits of history education beyond the inchoate musings of  venerable historian Gordon Wood who claims that a history education provides “wisdom.” Hmmm…

Sounds great! It also a much needed move that should reinvigorate the humanities.   The divide between the sciences and humanities has been a long running myth reinforced by limited iterations of STEM education (challenged unnecessarily by the equally divisive STEAM education).  Two of the best pieces on the mythical divide that has contributed to the rethinking of the left/right brain specialization are “C.P. Snows 1959 work “The Two Cultures” and the  1999 Mind Myths: Exploring Popular Assumptions About the Mind and Brain.
This past Monday, in conjunction with Connected Educators Month, I hosted a webinar  regarding the AHA’s initiative to “tune the history major”. This  session  provided an overview of the project and explored the objectives below with a focus on how they will impact secondary history education.
1)Articulate the core abilities, habits of mind, and knowledge required of their discipline
2)Develop a clear, common language to express the distinctive value of history for students, employers, and public culture. Students who can see clearly what they are learning, and why, are better equipped to direct their studies towards lifelong learning, meaningful employment, and civic participation
3) Provide a nationwide framework in which historians can design the systems used by their institutions to measure their achievements as teachers.
The powerpoint can be viewed here:  Connected Educators Month Tuning and the recording of the session is available at the CEM archives or here 2012-08-20 11.03 History Tuning Project_ Connected Educator Month
Generating a list of skills, qualities, or competencies regarding history education seems necessary and beneficial. I consider the Tuning project to be an

History is a construction and an internal process that engages the past, not an external “truth” to be memorized and “assessed” with a multiple choice test. If your school emphasizes the latter, something is way off.

essential undertaking especially in the wake of the Common Core State Standards and 21st century teaching and learning initiatives.  Maintaining the bridge between secondary and higher education will serve both schools and challenges James Loewen ‘s infamous claim about the disconnect between high school and college history in Lies My Teacher Told Me.  Moreover, I am curious how the numerous “historical thinking” initiatives will be incorporated withing Tuning.  I consider the efforts at the national history education clearing house and the history thinking project to be especially impressive.

But, where does that leave history education? I recall asking my high school students what they thought I had accomplished by getting my BA in History.  Answers typically included references to my expertise in content knowledge, the ability to do certain skills, and noted  that I was able to meet the demands of the institution. Pretty insightful indeed. I would also ask them why they thought they had to take History classes. It seems to me these questions are linked, and unique to the secondary level.  The AHA will eventually get to these points. Until then I hope you get involved with Tuning.  What’s more. are you and your colleagues engaged in discussing important questions about history education:
  • What are the benefits of teaching history?
  • How does history education concepts of culture and globalization?
  • To what extent should we teach history theory/thinking skills as part of the curriculum?
  • Do we utilize multiple narratives beyond a national one when teaching history?

Professor France Titchener of the State University in Utah emphasizes the marketable skills students can learn through their study of Greek History.  Their grades are based on only 25% of their historical knowledge.   In age where information can be accessed on demand, this makes incredible sense.  I encourage you to contact Dr. Titchener and the other professors engaged with the AHA to network, collaborate, and impact the goals of Tuning on history (especially secondary) education. As the Allman’s Brothers sing:

Crossroads, will you ever let him go?
Will you hide the dead man’s ghost,
Or will he lie, beneath the clay,
Or will his spirit roll away?

One thought on “Hitting the Historical Note: The AHA’s Tuning Project

  1. Hi Craig!

    You have a great blog here! Thanks for sharing the important work the AHA is doing in history education.

    I read an article on the History@Work website in which the author cautions that the AHA initiatives to standardize programs at the post-secondary level may have some negative effects. You suggest the AHA’s intent is is only to create a common framework. It’s an interesting debate.

    I know they’ve received an incredible amount in grant money for their work . . . Here’s hoping it leads to uniformity and a positive reform.


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