A few weeks ago, I had the honor and pleasure of speaking at Kean University’s grand opening of their new history center, the Liberty Hall Academic Center.
The event featured a ribbon cutting, a speech from the University President on the importance of history, and a dialogue between myself another a fellow historian on the importance of a history education and the significance of studying history today.
In addition to the formal program, I was also given a behind-the-scenes tour of the new center. Honestly, I was blown away. Not only is it new and modern, it was designed to maximize the use of the university’s unique archival holdings. Thanks to the university’s namesake, the Kean family, the University Archives and Collections preserves an incredible snapshot of American history in the form of Congressional papers, historical correspondence, institutional records and rare books. All of which, are made available for undergraduates to work with on site!
Most history undergraduates, and undergraduates in general, never have the opportunity to work with and interpret such a rich collection of historical documents from their own history building. I certainly did not! Having such an opportunity definitely provides a superior education and certainly gives Kean history undergrads a huge advantage should they want to pursue graduate school.
Since beginning my career as a historian, I have been constantly reminded of the challenges the discipline of history (and the humanities more generally) faces as society and institutions promote and value STEM and vocational training over a liberal arts education. History departments are facing low enrollments, insufficient funding, the loss of tenure track positions, and, in some cases, even the dissolution of history majors.
Obviously, I find this alarming. I have argued for years that a history undergraduate degree is one of the best educations for providing the skills necessary to succeed in almost any field or graduate program, and necessary for becoming an engaged, informed, and responsible citizen (you can read more about what history skills can do for you here).
Fortunately, Kean University agrees. To my knowledge, no other university has recently invested millions in a new history building. But, Kean has! Not a new business or science building, but a new building dedicated to history, the history department, and providing the space and materials needed to teach the skills of studying and making history! It is nothing short of a miracle and I hope more universities follow suit.
I was blown away by the strength of Kean’s history department faculty and their enthusiastic and engaged students. Now more than ever it is important to share and celebrate universities like Kean that appreciate and support their history departments, faculty, and students.