The End of History (as we know it) Part One

Viewing history close-up is problematic; Image from

Historians are all agitated, for good reason. They’re being squeezed between two forces: a highly politicized and polarized atmosphere and a steady decline in the number of students majoring in history. But are students really ditching history? And is this climate of bashing historians even unique? This variation of an intergalactic trash compactor makes a familiar grinding sound; we’ve been here before. If you want to understand what’s going on with History as a discipline, you have take a broader view and look at…(you know it’s coming) the whole history.

This topic arose during a three-day conference of the American Historical Association that kept me wandering through the rabbit warren of the Hilton in downtown San Francisco last week. By the time I was done musing about the concerns of historians–and listening to some fascinating discussions about how AI was affecting teaching, whether women had a Renaissance, why Senegalese soldiers were recruited in World War I, and how to get published–I was full of thoughts. So many thoughts about the purported slump of the history profession that I decided it warranted two separate posts.

In this post, let’s talk about whether the number of history majors is, in fact, in a tailspin.

The Disappearing History Major

There’s been plenty of hand-wringing over the decrease in the number of history students. The decline of students was part of a trend that the Chronicle of Higher Education article had noted back in 2018: “Why Are Students Ditching the History Major?” This study of the change in college degrees awarded over a span in the 2010s showed history at the bottom–a 34% drop in degrees awarded. Science and engineering crested the top, which is why you shouldn’t mention the word STEM to history department administrators unless you want to hear a stream of invective on how they are sucking up all the resources and how they get churn out published articles by rearranging the names on the same data sent to different journals. (Hearing that from my graduate history adviser and knowing how hard my son, the physics major, worked on his articles created some major cognitive dissonance!)

2018 data from

This study from 2018 and its continuing trend prompted other articles by the American History Association which wondered whether the decline has ended, is extended, has reversed, or has backed up and run over itself? The conference held two sessions on the topic, which I confess I didn’t attend because I wanted to learn about the complex use of the word “medieval” in South Asian History and how gender and power was reflected in the Byzantine “apple affair.” But trust me, the AHA is still worried about it.

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Drought’s Over, Right?

One good January won’t reverse climate change. Photo from Reuters.

Californians always seem to have too much of something: too much sun, too much traffic, too much money, too much water in the wrong place at the wrong time, and not enough elsewhere. Our recent spate of rainy days caused massive flooding and damage, and we gritted our teeth, slowing down for all the construction equipment, muttering the magic words “snowpack” under our breath. Every day in late December and January, the local newscast would have a story that started with, “The rain this past week has everybody asking, ‘Is the Drought over?'” Researchers say…


The creek near Niles Canyon. Spikes won’t last long enough. Photo from

It Ain’t Enough

Our snowpack level is at 205%. Woohoo! Creeks have flooded, hills have slid, and all the measurements that can have spiked. But don’t be fooled by all the temporary flooding.

There is good news. The snowpack is at its deepest level in 30 years. News stories like this one are saying “the drought could be coming to an end.” Dams like Shasta and Oroville are back up to 65-70%. This is cool! How many times have we driven by Mt. Shasta when it didn’t have any snow in March? That was depressing. This is good. We want rain; we want snow. Sorry to all of you stuck in snow traffic on highway 50. Too many, California, too many skiers, too much traffic. Same as it ever was.

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Whither Bacon?

Bacon Shortage? see…from 2013

Coffee, then gas, paint, cars, toilet paper, artificial sweetener–my Diet Vanilla Coke!! my Starbuck’s Lite Bottled Frappaccinos, my Diet Mountain Dewwwwwwww— and, now, BACON?!?!?

Have we reached the end of civilization? Will this bacon shortage finally break our collective will?

I have news for all of us. While the pandemic has created and intensified shortages–supply and demand fluctuations–in some of our favorite products, a good chunk of the news around the Current Bacon Terror is manufactured. How do I know? Because we’ve been here before. Price spikes and shortages aren’t always related to the actual resource in demand.

Britain’s Gas Crisis, Explained! shouts The New York Times

However Will I Drive to the Grand Canyon?

Chances are, you’ve seen or heard about gas lines at some point in your lifetime. The first one I recall was way back in 1973, and, ever since then, gas shortages crop up with regularity in some part of the world, such as when hurricanes are forecast. This, despite gasoline consumption per person being down some 20-40% since the 1980s. We use less gas; gas costs more; temporary shortages cost spikes.

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