Randi Storch, SUNY Cortland’s History Department chair, wants the world to know that historians prepare their majors to be more than “walking encyclopedias.”
“History majors are problem solvers, great communicators and excellent researchers,” said Storch. “They know how to ask the questions that need to be asked.”
That was the point of “Tuning Talks: A Tuning Conference for SUNY Historians,” a two-day conference hosted by SUNY Cortland’s History Department on Sept. 22 and 23 at the College. The conference brought dozens of SUNY history faculty from all over the state to discuss how to align history curriculum, program assessments and outreach with the historical skills that history majors develop at the college level.
Some of the distinctive skills that history majors should have upon graduation include asking good questions, conducting research, communication, management, flexibility and being evidence-driven. The question historians throughout the country are asking themselves is whether their programs adequately emphasize these skills, assess them and promote them. This method of questioning and adjusting programming is known as tuning and was started among historians in the United States by the American Historical Association (AHA) in 2011. Participants work to tune the core goals of their curriculum by spelling out the methods they’ll use to support student development. Faculty were encouraged to share their experiences, success stories and teaching practices to improve and build upon the current experience for undergraduate history majors.
The conference also served as a great opportunity for faculty to improve their teaching methods and update curriculum. Workshops, discussions and panels allowed faculty to interact and give meaningful feedback about how and when to incorporate certain skills into their curriculum.
“History majors understand that it’s not about facts, it’s about questions,” Storch said.
Storch and her History Department colleagues Kevin Sheets and Scott Moranda led the tuning initiative at SUNY Cortland.
After attending an AHA national conference and meeting with other SUNY history faculty, Storch, Sheets and Moranda were determined to start holding tuning conferences within the SUNY system.
“Some of the questions we ask ourselves are, ‘What is the major? Where in the curriculum do we teach these skills? How do you tell the world that we’re doing that?’” said Storch.
The conference featured two keynote speakers, Jim Grossman, the executive director of AHA, and Dan McInerney of Utah State University. Both speakers are internationally recognized for their work in historical outreach and tuning.
Grossman is a prominent figure within the history community. He’s an associate faculty member at the University of Chicago and has published books, articles and essays that focus on American urban history, African American history, ethnicity, and the place of history in the current culture. Grossman is the vice president for the National Humanities Alliance and serves on the advisory boards for the National Park Service, Center for New Deal Studies at Roosevelt University, Illinois Historical Society, City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, and Chicago Public Library. He serves on the boards of the Association of American Colleges and Universities and the Center for Research Libraries.
McInerney is a professor and associate department head in the History Department at Utah State University. A member of the Tuning USA Advisory Board and the E.U.-U.S. Tuning Board, he has given tuning talks to audiences all around the world, including AHA conferences in Brussels and Rio de Janiero.
Visit tuningsunyhistory.com for a full schedule of events.
Storch hoped that the conference would raise awareness about the value of a history major and showcase SUNY as a leader in the national tuning initiative.
“We want the public to understand that history majors have experience and training that encourages them to be informed and engaged citizens. They also develop strong academic skills that can take them on any number of career paths,” said Storch.
For more information, contact Storch at 607-753-2054.
Prepared by Communications Office writing intern McKenzie Henry