How UPEI is bringing sexy back to its history program

History programs across Canada have seen a sharp decline in enrolment over the past several years but a professor at UPEI says the local program has actually seen a boost in numbers.

'We've been offering different first-year courses that are somewhat designed to entice'

'We offer students a range of skills from analytical skills, to research skills, to writing skills, to communication skills that will … help them in their career path,' says James Moran, chair of the history department at UPEI. (CBC)

History programs across Canada have seen a decline in enrolment over the past several years but a professor at UPEI says the local program has actually seen a boost in numbers.

The jump can perhaps be attributed, at least in part, to the department developing new, eye-catching courses to generate interest among students, said James Moran, chair of the university's history department.

"I would say over the last two or three years we've been offering different first-year courses that are somewhat designed to entice incoming university students — straight out of high school," Moran said.

Major increase at UPEI

The 2016-17 school year at UPEI saw a mere 39 students choose history as their major. The number of students choosing it as a minor was even less — just 20 students.

UPEI history students and professors gather for the Atlantic Universities Undergraduate History and Classics Conference. (Submitted by James Moran)

But the 2018-19 school year has seen about 68 students select history as a major — that's about a 74 per cent increase from the 2016-17 school year. The number enrolled as a minor didn't change.

Moran said newer courses like the history of rock and roll, the history of Nazi Germany and the history of the devil in western society have quickly become some of the most popular courses in the program.

"They've definitely tried to rename courses to make them sound more interesting or to catch the interest of the students," said Emma Doucette, a third-year history major who previously served as the president of the UPEI student-run History Society.

Humanities in decline

According to Statistics Canada, the humanities as a general field of study has seen a decline in enrolment since 2012.

Newer courses like the history of rock and roll, the history of Nazi Germany and the history of the devil in western society have quickly become some of the most popular courses in the entire program, says Moran. (Submitted by James Moran)

In the 2012-13 school year, Statistics Canada reported enrolment in the humanities hovered near 302,400 across Canada. By 2016-17  — the most up-to-date numbers available — that number had fallen to below 258,900 — about a 14 per cent drop.

The decline in enrolment in history and the humanities as a whole, Moran said, could be because young people are increasingly concerned with learning skills that will secure them gainful employment after graduation.

The skills absorbed by students in the humanities, although not as obvious as those in programs like nursing or business, are just as valuable, Moran said.

We offer students a range of skills from analytical skills, to research skills, to writing skills, to communication skills that will … help them in their career path. — James Moran

"It's hard to explain to students ... we offer students a range of skills from analytical skills, to research skills, to writing skills, to communication skills that will … help them in their career path," he said.

"When students are more engaged with the content of the program and perhaps just slightly less concerned or anxious about the employment piece, I think ironically what they end up doing is thriving in the program and then again — somewhat ironically — doing well in the work world when they're finished."

New ideas a 'great motivator for history students'

To further attract students who may be more concerned about securing employment after graduating with a history degree, the department is looking to develop co-op and work experiences for UPEI's history students, Moran said.

UPEI students from the first year course the devil in western society present their research on posters. (Submitted by James Moran)

"There are some voluntary placements we're working on right now — at the Department of Veterans Affairs and also in the municipal heritage community as well," Moran said.

"So there are ways in which we can do it, it's tricky in a smaller place than in a larger urban environment, but we're working on that as well. So far it's been paying off."

Having a co-op experience is a "great motivator for history students" because they get the best of both worlds, Doucette said — studying history and gaining meaningful work experience. 

More P.E.I. news

About the Author

Sam Juric

Web Writer

Sam Juric is a journalist with CBC P.E.I.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.