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English 891EW, Fall 2021

History of Higher Education in the United States

University of Massachusetts Amherst



This course is a graduate-level introduction to the history of higher education in the United States, treating the educational past both as a field of scholarly inquiry in its own right and as a lens to think about the educational present. The idea of the course is twofold: 1) to encourage historical research on higher education among students who might not otherwise have a chance to study that topic; and 2) to prepare future academics for careers in higher education by helping them see their work in a broader institutional and sociocultural context. The course is meant, in other words, to make space within graduate education for both the study of higher education in general and the history of higher education in the United States specifically – though I hope we can keep the boundaries around those topics as porous as possible, welcoming other topics as warranted and trying to enact a constant dialectic between past and present, understanding and practice, your interests and questions and my initial framing of the course.

There are many ways to organize a course like this: a) by chronology (from European precedents to American colonial and republican era colleges, from the “university revolution” of the late nineteenth century U.S. to the expansions and crises of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries); b) by types of higher education institution (the liberal arts college, the land-grant institution, the research university, the women’s college, the historically black college and university, the community college, etc.); c) by disciplines, roles, projects, themes (e.g., the rise of science, the development of graduate education); etc. In a sense, I’ve tried to combine all of these approaches into a single, wide-ranging introductory survey, devoting each of the first ten weeks of the course to a substantial but relatively discrete piece of the larger puzzle, balancing sweeping, book-length, “canonical” histories with more focused research articles. Lending some specificity to the course will be a deep dive into the rise of English as a discipline, including histories of literary study, composition-rhetoric, and creative writing. For some of you, that will be an opening for further research into just those topics; for others, it can serve simply as an example of disciplinary history.

Threaded throughout the course will be opportunities for reflexivity about historical research itself, both to help us critically read advanced scholarship in these areas but also to help you prepare for your own research projects at the end of the course. We’ll use these moments to talk about how to locate promising research questions, review the relevant literature, select appropriate methods, and work towards some kind of contribution to a field or sub-field. The last third of the course will be focused nearly full-time on your projects: brainstorming, research, writing, revision, presentation, etc.

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Work in the course will include the following components:

Reading and response.  Expectations for reading – both close and wide – will be high. In the past, I have experimented with different ways of having students prepare for class discussion of readings (e.g., by submitting a weekly written response to Moodle, along with a reply to at least one classmate’s response). For the time being, I’m leaving this open, something we’ll talk about at our first meeting. Perhaps we’ll try some different approaches and see what feels most productive. In any case, I expect everyone to read the required reading(s) for each week with care; you will probably also be asked to do some kind of preparatory writing about the readingsfor class discussion.

Discussion and presentations.  In the past, I’ve usually divided up the readings in a course like this and asked each student, at least once during the semester, to lead part of the class discussion, preparing a summary, with questions, thoughts, and/or comments, regarding a reading for that week. I’d like to leave this open for now, too, something to talk about at our first meeting. I’ve been thinking we could experiment with panel discussions of, say, three students, with a questioner and respondents?

Research and writing.  Finally, you will turn in at the end of the semester a substantial paper, about 15-20 pages long (typed, DS, including works cited), or the equivalent, reporting original inquiry into some issue relevant to this course. The classic seminar paper is the default version of this project: some kind of primary or secondary historical research (e.g., archival research) that you conduct on a topic of interest to you. (The rise of this kind of assignment is part of the very history we’ll be investigating!) But I’m open to other kinds of final projects: bibliographic, theoretical, pedagogical, multi-media, “public” history, etc. The project will be worked through in several stages, with multiple opportunities for feedback from others.

  1. a problem-posing paper. 1 p (SS), due week 10. In this initial stage of the project, you will identify a relevant problem or question you are curious about, interested in, or committed to and give some sense of why you’re drawn to it. The problem or question can – and most likely will – change, in some cases dramatically, over the course of your project.

  2. a modest literature review with oral presentation: 2 pp (SS), due week 11. Prepare an annotated bibliography of 3-5 sources that you’re finding helpful regarding your problem or question; preface the bibliography with your current research question or problem. As above, your sources will likely change over the course of the project, so this should be treated as preliminary. In addition to the paper, prepare a 5-10 minute informal oral presentation to share with the rest of us, laying out some initial thoughts on your topic.

  3. a project proposal. 1-2 pp (SS), due week 12 (Thanksgiving week!). Having identified a problem or question and done some initial reading and thinking about it, now propose a project you would like to pursue for the remainder of the semester. What is your question now? How do you propose to go about answering it? What do you hope to accomplish, and why is that important?

  4. oral progress report. 15 minute presentation (about 7-8 pp DS if read) + 15 minute Q & A., scheduled for either week 13 (half of you) or 14 (the other half). Having shared your question and methods with us, tell us what you’ve learned in the meantime, how the project has changed, what you still need to do.

  5. final paper. 15-20 pp (typed, DS, including works cited), due by end of the day (5:00 pm) on Dec. 14, delivered in hard copy to my mailbox in South College; we can negotiate submission details at the end of the course.

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3.  TEXTS.

I’ve chosen seven books as our principal readings for the course. All are available as free e-books from UMass Libraries; they are all also still in print, available for purchase through Amazon and other venues. I’ve listed them below in the order in which we’ll read them. This is NOT our full list of readings for the course and should not be taken as fully representative of our topic. For example, probably the best-known book on the history of women in U.S. higher education (Barbara Miller Solomon’s In the Company of Educated Women) is unavailable as a free e-book; we’ll likely read it via PDFs. There are also many important perspectives and approaches to our topic that we will get mainly through articles and chapters (the role of Islamic learning in the rise of the European university, the origins of English as a discipline, etc.). We’ll also likely do archival research together on local topics (e.g., histories of the five colleges) through online and in-person sources. In any case, I’ve designed the course so that all of our readings are free unless you choose to purchase print versions.

Attached here is a supplemental bibliography of readings.

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day topics and assignments
1 T Sept 07 Introduction to course and one another. Pedersen, The First Universities; Makdisi; Perkin.
2 T Sept 14 Rudolph, The American College and University: A History. Also: Harvard’s First Fruits; response to Rudolph from Webster; sample case study: McLachlan.
3 T Sept 21 Menand et al.: The Rise of the Research University; articles/chapters from Axtell; Kohler; Shils; Veysey.
4 T Sept 28 Origins of English, three case studies: Graff; Connors; McGurl. Rise of the professions: Bledstein; Haber; Leslie
5 T Oct 05 Women’s higher education: chapters from Solomon; Berg; Poulson; Garbus; history of normal schools (Ogren; Rothermell)
6 T Oct 12 HBCUs (Favors, Shelter in a Time of Storm; Bracey); Native American (Boyer; McCoy, Risam, & Guiliano; Waterman), Asian American (Hoang), and Latinx students in U.S. higher education (Salinas; Santa-Ramirez)
7 T Oct 19 Community colleges: Brint & Karabel, The Diverted Dream (also Brint; Hart); college in prison (Karpowitz); history of distance learning, extension courses, adult continuing higher education. DUE: midterm research exercise
8 T Oct 26
Freeland, The Golden Age of Academia, 1945-1970. The Cold War university (Lewontin; Loss); Kerr, Uses of the University; Trow  back to top
9 T Nov 02 The 1960s: Fleming, From Form to Meaning; on graduate education: Cassuto
10 T Nov 09 Higher education today: Readings, The University in Ruins. Chapters from Labaree; Marginson; Newfield
DUE: problem-posing paper
11 T Nov 16 DUE: literature review + brief oral presentations
12 T Nov 23 no class Thurs schedule followed.  DUE: project proposals
13 T Nov 30 DUE: oral progress reports, group 1
14 T Dec 07 last day of class.  DUE: oral progress reports, group 2
15 T Dec 14 DUE: final projects in my mailbox by 5:00 pm. grades due midnight Dec. 22.

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