History 340: Too Good To Leave

Since it became public knowledge that Ed Quattlebaum would retire at the end of this school year, the question of which teacher would take on his daunting History 340 course, Modern European History, has been much discussed. The current answer appears to be a resounding nobody; the course will not be offered in the 2009-10 school year. I would be remiss not to submit my impassioned plea that those with control over such matters reconsider it. Whether this is simply a one-year hiatus for the class or a tactful way to draw a beloved course to a close, it is clear that the future of the course is in doubt, leaving the history buffs of the Class of 2012—at least—in the lurch. Three-forty is an indispensable part of Andover’s curriculum. It is the school’s only course that attempts to encourage the passion of talented underclassmen in history, the only comprehensive European history course offered at PA and a course of enormous intrinsic merit. Three-forty is the only history class at Andover requiring an entry exam and the only high-level history offered before Upper year. As such, it is the only opportunity for potential underclassmen history jocks to take a course with like-minded and interested peers. PA, whose mission statement exhorts students to “develop… what is finest in themselves,” offers five levels of calculus and four variations of year-long chemistry. Yet the school does next to nothing to encourage its keen history students to meaningfully develop their passion for the subject. By abolishing 340, the school would turn its back on such students entirely. In so doing, the History department does a disservice not only to its students but also itself: it is largely 340-ers who power the History 300 sections and senior electives. By eliminating underclassmen’s only opportunity for high-level learning in history, the department will be encouraging potentially passionate history students to instead seek out another, more flexible discipline. It is not simply as a high-level course, though, that 340 is vital to the curriculum, but also as Andover’s only survey course in European history. A thorough, meaningful understanding of history requires at least a basic knowledge of Europe, which Andover provides only through 340. Cultural relativism aside, it is from European political culture that American and much global political culture stem. European, American and global historical trends are deeply intertwined, and must be understood in relation to each other. The Western World grew from European roots, and, at a school that—embarrassingly—does not offer any form of ancient history, some way to gain historical context is critical. American history, the core of the department’s offerings, cannot be fully understood by students who, lacking a broad knowledge of European affairs, study it in a vacuum. While many students have no desire for such an understanding, the department would now actively bar the path of those who do seek it. Of all the reasons to keep 340, the most important may be this: 340 is considered by many of its alumni to be one of the highest quality courses at Andover. The course single-handedly shaped my love for and understanding of history. It is simply too good to abolish. A succession of talented teachers built an astounding, elegant course, and Robert Palmer’s “A History of the Modern World” is without question the best textbook I have encountered in any subject. Even since graduating from 340, Palmer has been an invaluable resource and constant companion through my study of history, providing, in my experience, better preparation for U.S. history tests than U.S. history texts. History 340 changed the way I and countless other students think. Palmer, along with Mr. Richards’s inestimable course plan and Dr. Quattlebaum’s robust guidance, taught that history cannot be compartmentalized, that nothing occurs in a vacuum. Three-forty teaches both precision in historical specificity and constant consideration of historical universality. Not only does 340 provide an immense quantity of factual information, but it also teaches us how to learn history, how to love history and why history is valuable. Many students I have talked to agree that we have not taken a more important course. Complaints of perceived Eurocentrism fall flat when the plethora of geographically variant history courses is considered: the only true crime against well-roundedness would be the failure to offer a survey of the continent that is, like it or not, the center of modern history. Three-forty does not damage history classes by taking the best students out of History 200, the one-term alternative lower year history course. Two-hundred is the only term of seven required in history without those students, and other departments split their entire curricula without problem or complaint. And most importantly the premise is false: plenty of exemplary students, who simply do not have the schedule opening or interest to take 340, can be found in 200 classes. On the flipside, many of those students who take 340 enrich the standard curriculum considerably when they, honed by a year of rigorous study, take 300. It serves nothing to force passionate history students to take a two-term leave from the subject and to cut off their access to a vital part of history’s story. History 340 is an indispensable piece of Andover’s curriculum that has changed lives and still has the potential to change more. Abolishing it, for any length of time, discourages passionate history students and corrodes the quality of the education Andover offers. To anyone listening—this is a mistake. I beg you to reconsider. Jake Romanow is a three-year Upper from Cambridge, Massachusetts.