Tulane’s lack of non-Western history classes proves problematic

Kevin Young, Staff Writer

This is an opinion article and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo.

Tulane University’s Department of History is of the world’s most renowned programs. The department boasts dozens of scholars in social, political, cultural and economic history of the United States, Europe and Latin America from ancient to modern times. Tulane students are truly fortunate to learn with world-renowned scholars in subjects that effectively span the entirety of Western history. The department, however, lacks courses in non-Western history, and this must change immediately.

Currently, the department splits its non-Western history course offerings into three groups: African history, Middle Eastern history and Asian history. Unfortunately, this semester, the Department of History only has one African history class and no Middle Eastern history or Asian history classes. The department also does not and has never taught world history, in stark contrast with the practice of most American universities. These omissions are truly irresponsible and completely inexcusable.

The department has three full non-Western historians: one for African history, one for Middle Eastern history and one for Asian history. They study Eastern Africa, the Ottoman Empire and China, respectively. The fact that these scholars are expected to teach their entire areas of the world by themselves is absurd. No one would seriously suggest that Tulane’s French historian be responsible for teaching Polish history or that the German historian be expected to teach Greek history.

Tulane’s lone historian of Asia, trained in Chinese history, has to teach courses on other Asian countries like Japan regularly.

Tulane is currently in the process of establishing a Middle Eastern Studies program, yet there is not even a Middle Eastern historian currently teaching. Tulane also has Asian Studies and Africana Studies programs, yet the Department of History is offering no Asian history courses and only one African history course this semester. This does not make any sense.

At the very least, Tulane should offer three courses in each of these three areas of the world each semester. If some of these professors are on leave – like the Middle East historian and Asia historian currently are – adjunct instructors, visiting professors or graduate students should be temporarily hired to teach courses in their places. Not teaching entire areas of the world for an entire school year is simply not acceptable, and scholars going on leave is not a legitimate excuse. Even when these professors are not on leave, each of them is hired to teach only one or two courses each semester, and Tulane has never offered more than two courses on these areas of the world during a semester.

Try imagining that Tulane decreased its European history course offerings by one or two courses for a semester; the result would be a furious public outcry and backlash. But when an entire area of the world – such as the Middle East – is not taught for an entire school year, there is no mention of it. It is reasonable for a university in the United States to be more focused on Western history, but completely ignoring entire parts of the world leaves people uneducated about the world in which everyone lives.

If Tulane wants to be seen as a seriously competitive international research university that attracts students and scholars from all over the world, the Tulane community needs to first make sure that it understands these various people’s histories and backgrounds.

Kevin is a senior at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected]

Leave a comment