Letters to the Editor

On History 340:

To the Editor: The decision not to offer History 340 in the 2009-2010 academic year has generated understandable comment and concern. As was highlighted in these pages a week ago, taking this course has been a special experience for many Andover students, and it has been the only course in the History and Social Science Department requiring an entrance exam in order to qualify for a seat. Just as significantly, it has been led by eminent instructors, most recently one of PA’s most beloved faculty members, Dr. Quattlebaum. The magic that can result when highly motivated students share a classroom with an experienced, talented teacher and together explore some of history’s most exciting developments is special, and nobody relates to that more personally than the members of our department. The decision to “bracket” H340 was taken neither lightly nor in a vacuum. There are multiple, legitimate reasons — immediate and longer-term — lying behind it. In the past two weeks, I’ve had two separate forty-minute conversations with a total of four Phillipian staffers and one other interested student explaining the variables and answering questions. In view of that, and desiring brevity, let me present a few main points: (1) none of the teachers capable of, or interested in teaching H340 next year was able to take on that commitment; (2) we must staff our diploma requirement courses first, and the number of sections in those courses varies annually as our enrollment is reshaped; (3) the H340 review is part of an ongoing process that has extended longer than a decade and, when it is completed, will have taken under consideration every course in the department, as well as our pedagogical methods; (4) we are not signaling that H340, or modern European history as a subject of study, has been dropped from our curriculum; (5) all options are open regarding the future form of H340 and the place(s) of modern European history in our program; and, (6) the decision to put H340 on hiatus was made after thorough consultations and discussions with department members — individually, in groups and as an entire body — over a period of several months. The spirited support expressed for H340 reflects its strengths and the esteem in which the teacher most identified with this course is held, not just by his students but by his colleagues, too. We will approach our review of H340 in a way familiar to our instructors: the Chair will form a committee charged with leading our review and it will report to the full department after some length of time. If it would have been possible to continue to offer the course during this process, we would have done so. In any case, we were set to review it, as we are doing with the rest of our offerings and our program of study as a whole, and we will follow through with that plan. Peter Drench Instructor on the Class of 1945 Foundation Chair, History & Social Science To the Editor: I would like to enthusiastically second Jake Romanow’s outstanding article “History 340: Too Good to Leave”, printed in last week’s Phillipian. As a fellow 340 alum who had the benefit of meeting with History Department Chair Peter Drench about the subject, I feel strongly that the course should be kept. Not only was History 340 an iconic course in its own right, it was the only yearlong class offered to Lowers in the social sciences. If it were to be eliminated or suspended, it would be grossly unfair to history-loving students in the class of 2012. This would never be tolerated in math or english, and it shouldn’t be the case with history. A survey of the course catalogues of our peer schools reveals that Exeter, Choate, Loomis, Deerfield and Lawrenceville all offer yearlong European History classes, and most offer a variety of options to students in their Sophomore/Lower year. Given our extraordinary history faculty, I would hate to see Andover develop a reputation as a school with a weak history department. From my conversation with Mr. Drench, I understand that the reason behind the course’s elimination is “staffing problems.” To this, I say that History 340 is such a valuable part of the Andover experience that we have to find a way to make it work. If the school is unwilling to prioritize the hiring of another history teacher above the multimillion dollar renovation of our dining facilities, that is beyond Mr. Drench’s control. But I believe that we have the teachers on faculty right now to teach the class if we make it a priority. The work of finding a text and preparing and refining a syllabus has already been done by the legendary Dr. Quattlebaum and his predecessors. Someone like Ms. Doheny, whose official Andover biography states that she maintains her interest in European history, or Ms. Mulligan, who has been sitting in Dr. Quattlebaum’s class all year, is surely qualified to teach the class. And that’s to name but two. The history department is full of eminently qualified teachers only one of whom need teach the course next year. History 340 is a class unlike any other offered in the Andover course catalogue. The bond between those students who together braved Dr. Q’s one-man crusade against grade inflation (I once received a “0+” on a quiz) is more characteristic of an athletic team than an upper-level elective. For decades now, history-loving students have together burned “Palmer” at the annual History 340 class barbecue and shared inside jokes involving the McCormick Reaper. I feel lucky to have been given the chance to take 340, and the last thing I would want is for future generations of students to be deprived of the same opportunity. Respectfully, Alex Gottfried ’09