Is History in decline in academia?

  • pursuing lucrative degrees
- Weena Pun, Kathmandu
Is History in decline in academia?

Jun 16, 2014-

In his eighth and ninth grades, Sajan Duwal was fascinated by history, especially the Rana era that shaped modern Nepal and the Second World War that shaped the world. On Friday as he waited outside the Office of the Controller of Examinations in Bhaktapur for the SLC results, he was thinking about leaving History behind and pursuing Business Studies in Plus Two.

“Because a degree in History will get me nowhere,” says Duwal. But he is not alone in sharing this sentiment.

The number of students studying history in the intermediate and higher levels has been on a steady decline for the past few years. Some believe the reason lies in history being a non-lucrative degree; others suggest that it is the non-reflective nature of the history departments in academia. Some historians are worried that this dearth of academic historians will hurt critical historiography on Nepal. Others do not find it as disconcerting, as historical works continue to be produced from beyond history departments.

According to the Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB), only 270 Grade XI students, out of the total 263,491, appeared for history exams last year. Three years ago, the number was almost four-fold at 907 out of 299,910 students.

According to the State of History Education and Research in Nepal published by Martin Chautari in early 2014, 17 students were enrolled in MA in History first year at Tribhuvan University. A year before the number was 92.  

The number of PhD dissertations in history submitted to the university has also remained comparatively low. In its 44 years, the TU Central Department of History has received only 63 PhD dissertations—less than two per year on an average. Then, there are allegations that most of these theses are written by someone else for a small fee.

In the book, the head of the Central Department of History, Bijaya Kumar Manandhar, says that the declining number of history graduates and post-graduates is linked to the decreasing number of students in the higher secondary level. The Plus Two system, he believes, does not promote history, and other humanities and arts degrees, as it does science and management.

HSEB Member Secretary Bhim Lal Gurung disagrees, saying that the board cannot thrust history on students. “If the students and their parents do not see market prospects in history studies, the students will not enroll in the subject,” says Gurung.

Some historians disagree with both of these arguments, and view the decline as an inevitable consequence of “decades of systemic assault on arts, humanities and social sciences”. The career prospects for graduates of arts, humanities and social sciences have always been dire, as the stated objective of education in the country has been to produce skilled human resource. The system, they say, has been discriminating between what it considers skilled and leisurely disciplines.

“But we’ve failed both in producing globally competitive technical manpower and in understanding ourselves and our country,” says Ramesh Dhungel, history researcher and professor at TU. “And when we fail to write our own history, outsiders will write it for us.”

A few of the famous books written by foreigners include ‘Nepal: Strategy for Survival’ by Leo E Rose published in 1971, ‘Dangerous wives and Sacred Sisters’ by Lynn Bennet in 1983, and ‘Fluid Boundaries: Forming and transforming identity’ in Nepal by William F Fisher in 2001.

Nepali writers from backgrounds other than history have also been publishing books on the country’s history, especially on its contemporary political accounts. Examples are Manjushree Thapa’s ‘Forget Kathmandu’ (2005), Sudheer Sharma’s ‘Prayogshala’ (2013) and Prashant Jha’s debut ‘Battles of the New Republic’ (2014).

“This is fine, but we still need people who can define and critically analyse our history, someone trained. Someone willing to study historical variables behind an event,” says Dhungel.

the dismal picture

Year              Grade 11                   Grade 12

             Appeared    Pass    Appeared    Pass    

2011          907         309             794          57    

2012          470         179             749          63    

2013          270         88               370          57    

Master of Arts history enrolment in TU colleges

                  2012                           2013

1st year    2nd year                       1st year    2nd year    

92                   9                                 17                2     

Source: HSEB/Martin Chautari

Published: 17-06-2014 09:06

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