MC History Department Proposes New Public History Minor

By Angelina Persaud, News Editor

The history department has proposed a new public history minor to allow students to further engage with NYC’s rich history and diverse population. 

The minor is currently still in the planning phase as it must go through several stages of approval in order to be officially registered in the Manhattan College catalog. However, the public history class will still be taught in the spring semester as a three credit course. 

All minors at MC go through the same approval process where they must be presented before a school-specific curriculum committee for the school where the minor will be cataloged under, in this case the Kakos School of Arts and Sciences. Then it will transfer over to the college curriculum committee for any additional amendments. After committee review, the provost will then have the ability to officially sign it into the course catalog.   

Cory Blad, Ph.D., the current dean of the School of Liberal Arts, spoke about how multiple forms of input across the college leads to the success of adding courses to the catalog. 

“Regardless of what school the proposal is coming from, all faculty at Manhattan College will have [some] kind of input opportunities,” Blad told The Quadrangle. 

The idea for the minor was proposed by two professors from the history department who wanted their students to be able to engage with the community around them while being able to learn about history in different forms. 

Chairperson of the history department, Adam Arenson, Ph.D., suggested the minor as a way for students to understand history in their everyday lives. 

“A lot of people encounter history in classrooms, but a lot more people encounter history out in the world, whether that is statues or museums or on social media,” Arenson said. “It’s really important for students to be able to think about how to make historical arguments and understand historical facts.” 

Arenson also noted that this will be the second minor that is specific to the department in addition to medieval studies. Traditionally, the department worked in close relation with the division of education to offer courses for students pursuing a history concentration as an education major. 

“I think it’s important to understand that everything has a history and when people go out in the world, there are historical questions that matter,” Arenson said. “It’s not just what they might learn in a classroom.” 

Arenson also expressed his love of history and how he encourages his students to understand how it’s present around them everyday. 

“I think history is the place where people learn to find accurate information, and make compelling arguments… I think there are lots of careers whether it’s journalism or law, where those kinds of skills matter a lot,” Arenson said. 

Jennifer Edwards, Ph.D., was also involved in the proposal since she wanted to find new and creative ways to engage her students to study history. 

Currently, Edwards is involved with the classical origins, medieval studies and digital arts and humanities courses. She laid out how the courses involved in minor will include most of the courses she teaches as foundational courses along with the already existing public history class.

Her strategy for teaching takes a unique approach to give students hands-on experiences: using role playing games. 

“So students get immersed in role playing games, where they solve historical crises,” Edwards said. “One of the ones that we’re going to do is called the Benin Bronzes game, which is all about museums that have these bronzes they got during a period of imperialism and Benin wants those repatriated.”

Edwards explained that the goal for the minor is to help students obtain formal, historical experience that can be translated into a job when they graduate. Whether that be a museum educator, librarian, lawyer or government worker, the minor is intended to help them expand on their skill set. 

“We need to give students better tools to be able to get those internships and get those jobs… even if they don’t want to go into work as museum educators or librarians,” Edwards said. “How can they effectively communicate what they learned about the past, to a public audience? Whatever career they go into, how can they be more effective at communicating persuasively about the past?” 

Along with the required courses for the minor, there will also be an internship requirement where students will be able to gain first hand experience as well as multiple trips to various museums and exhibits in the city. 

“It’s such a fabulous resource to be in New York City and access these materials and to really see things, not just see them online,” Edwards said. “I took students to see medieval manuscripts at the Met and they made podcasts where they each had an expertise in a particular meaning [of the manuscript]. It was really special and amazing for them.”

She also noted that there would be opportunities for students to engage with the local Bronx and Riverdale area through their courses. These opportunities include a breadth of topics ranging from medieval festivals to the history of slavery in the Bronx. 

“There’s a slave burial ground just beyond our college and it’s something really amazing to study and come up with a project of how you’re going to get back to the community,” Edwards said. “We’ve been talking about maybe doing a Manhattan College student research project where students go into local schools and talk about the Middle Ages.” 

Overall the minor is slated for development, but students will still be able to take the public history class in the spring until it is finalized in the catalog.