Should history, as a discipline, be classified under “humanities” or “social science?”

Million dollar question posed by Matt Reed:

Should history, as a discipline, be classified under “humanities” or “social science?”

I’m sort of amazed that in the decade-plus that I’ve been writing this column, I’ve never asked the question directly of my wise and worldly readers. It’s worth asking.

It matters because of distribution requirements. Different types of degrees — AA as opposed to AS as opposed to AAS — require different distributions of credits in the various categories. The “distribution requirement” model of general education is out of favor among reformers, but it’s still very much alive on the ground, as students who don’t check the boxes before trying to transfer can attest.  

In New Jersey, the state has answered the either/or question with a firm “yes.”  In the context of AA degrees, it can count for either, and it even gets its own category.  But in AS and AAS degrees, it doesn’t. And that begs the question of whether the state got it right, which is, to me, the much more interesting question.

At Holyoke, it counted as a humanities course, but it was housed in social sciences.  At CCM and Brookdale, it’s housed in social sciences, but it can count for either. It’s the “and sometimes “Y’” of academic disciplines.

I’ll admit that if I had to make the call, I’d put it in social sciences. Part of that is because of its role as the parent of political science, which clearly belongs there, but mostly it’s because I tend to think of the division between the two camps as “social-fact-bound” versus “social-fact-optional.”  Fiction, of course, is fact-optional by definition. Music, art, and the performing arts are clearly fact-optional. History is not. (Political science is not, but politics clearly is.) Here I use “social fact’ as distinct from “natural fact,” which I consider a calling card of STEM.

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