The History of History at PC

A review of college catalogs reveals that history has been an important discipline of study at Presbyterian College since the year the college was founded, 1880.* Students then were required to take courses in the history of the ancient world in the freshman year, the modern world in the sophomore year, and England in the junior year. By 1890 it was possible to earn a masters degree in history from PC by taking a few more classes in the subject beyond the baccalaureate degree. Beginning in 1901, Prof. Woodworth assumed primary responsibility for history courses and offered courses that covered much of American and European history.

A turning point in the history of history at PC came with the arrival of Prof. Marshall Brown in 1924. Under his leadership, the department offered new courses in the French Revolution, Renaissance and Reformation, South Carolina History, Near Eastern History, Teaching History, Medieval Civilization, Expansion of Europe, and Europe Since 1914. Then in 1937, the first reference was made to a history major. Prof. Brown continued to spearhead innovative courses on the history of music, fine arts, American frontiers, the South, economic history, and the history of political theory until 1945 when he assumed the presidency of the college.

After Brown’s elevation to the presidency, new faculty with training in history from Yale, Columbia, Northwestern, Harvard, Duke, and UVA came to teach at PC. In 1946, the general education program was introduced with a two-semester requirement from the social sciences that could be filled with either economics or history. By 1948, the History of Latin America was initially offered and keeping current with the times and the international realities, the History of Russia appeared as a stock course in 1950. Social history came to PC in 1951 with the appearance of a course on American social history since colonial times.

In 1953, European Civilization became a requirement of general education, and course offerings continued to expand with the addition of Civil War, Historiography, and Modern US. In 1959, the first standardized requirements for the major were stipulated in the catalog. The requirements then would describe a social studies major by today’s standards as credits in economics, political science, sociology, and psychology were expected. By this time, the department’s faculty were also providing guidance to students who were considering a career in education. It was in this year that the Department of History and Political Science made its formal appearance.

1964 brought Prof. Ron Burnside to PC and soon important and innovative changes occurred in the history curriculum. In 1967, the college changed its general education requirements from Western Civilization to World Civilizations. New courses poured forth from the department, having hired two more historians, Profs. Coker and Needham in 1968. Some of these new offerings included readings courses, Colonial History, US Intellectual History, 18thC Europe, Between the World Wars, Asia, Africa, and a seminar in 1920s America. Over the years, courses became more specialized. For instance the History of Russia was split into Early Russia and Modern Russia, and Modern Europe became 19thC Europe and 20thC Europe, and Africa became Pre-Colonial Africa and Modern Africa.

Continuing in the tradition of innovation, the department members reworked the major in 1990 to consist of twenty-four hours above the general education courses, an area studies course, and the US survey courses. To support the new area studies requirement, faculty in the department developed a new slate of courses on topics such as traditional China, South Africa, and India. Other new courses to surface in the 1990s included Fascism, History of Christianity, African-American Religious Experience, and History of American Women.

Beginning in 1997, the trio of Burnside, Coker, and Needham, who had anchored the department since the 1960s, began to retire and a new era opened for PC’s History Department. Over the succeeding decade, the department, though preserving the strong foundation established by the emeriti faculty, has continued to build a strong department that conforms to the highest and current standards of professionalism in the discipline, that provides exceptional and rigorous instruction inside and outside the classroom, that promotes study abroad, and that places high value on the faculty-student relationship as key to successful learning. Changes that demonstrate these principles include adding new positions in Asian and in Latin American history. Recent faculty hires bring expertise in current fields and methodologies such as gender, environmental, social revolutions, and race and ethnicity. The department has broad offerings in early and modern periods, covering most areas of the globe.

History has been central to the PC educational experience from the college’s very beginning. Leaders and innovators, such as Profs. Brown and Burnside, launched and presided over periods of growth and development of the program and its offerings. From its earliest days, PC history faculty have striven to provide courses that ensure coverage as well as relevance, the latter being exemplified by developing world civilization general education courses in 1967 and offering non-western courses as early as 1929. The current team of faculty carry on the tradition set down by those who have gone before, offering students courses as diverse as Fascism, Violence and Terror, Revolutions in Latin America, 1960s America, Women’s History, History of Scotland, and the African-American Religious Experience, as well as sequences of courses such as the upper-level US History courses, Traditional and Modern China, and Colonial and Modern Latin America. Twice a year, the department leads study-abroad trips to destinations such as Istanbul, Ireland, Vietnam, Lewis and Clark Trail, Spain, Central Europe, New Zealand, and China. In all these ways and more the History Department at PC is contributing significantly to the growth and development of PC’s students and the  college’s mission and goals.

* Source: PC Academic Catalogs, 1880-present. Presbyterian College Archives, Clinton, SC.