Kerby: Why history? It’s no mystery

Thanks to packing my first-year schedule, my final-year schedule has few constraints outside of predictable upper-level physics courses. Counting General Relativity, Electricity and Magnetism and my senior capstones, I was two credits below the 12 credit minimum for a full-time student.  I decided on Greek history, a crazy swerve when I could have settled for something familiar and arithmetic where I would just crunch some numbers and spit out some nice graphs.

Much to my chagrin, the humanities seem neglected by many at Case Western Reserve University, viewed as curiosities instead of curricular keystones. The Seminar Approach to General Education and Scholarship (SAGES) is a feeble attempt at a diverse education that garners eye-rolls in its current form and breadth requirements can be quickly swept away with Advanced Placement credits. A CWRU education shouldn’t involve cloistering all the engineers in the Charles William Bingham Mechanical Engineering Building, all the physicists in the Rockefeller Building and all the business majors in the Peter B. Lewis Building.  

Crashing headlong into a totally alien way of thinking based on artifacts and inferences instead of graphs and logarithms broadens the scientific mind. Conversely, some courses on biology or computer science might prove useful to an English major. Ideas are best grown when fed on soil rich in diverse academic nutrients. Aristotle was both physicist and philosopher, Gregor Mendel both monk and geneticist.

Why did I choose history instead of something familiar like theater or music? To be pithy and modern, history is the first, last and best weapon against fake news.  

These days it’s easy to shout about how the latest scandal is an invention of the liberal media.  Without constant vigilance, our shared history, the very root of our society, could be revised at the whim of crooked politicians for their own ideological gains. The truth, though, has no agenda.

I could have chosen one of a slew of other history courses at CWRU, all of which are more pertinent to modern times. Some of the tantalizing courses that the Department of History offers are World War I: Crucible of the 20th Century, Women in American History I, Introduction to African-American Studies and the History of Zionism. These are topics and events on the forefront of modern thought, not some collection of tall tales from a patch of the Mediterranean the size of Ohio. Other courses cover subjects as recent as a few decades ago whereas my Greek history course stops around 150 B.C.

Greek history might not appear immediately applicable to current issues, but it lies just beneath the surface of every other topic in Western civilization. Everyday, we live steeped in Greek history; Greek linguistics builds our languages, Greek legends color our idioms. Even after only a few classes, I feel like I’m studying more than just a list of dates but rather a story about the naissance of western culture.

The university has done a poor job of promoting in-depth studies in fields different from one’s major, judging by the dismissive treatment of SAGES and breadth requirements by the student body. Sacrificing intellectual flexibility in the name of graduating quickly into a highly-paid sector might look good for job prospects from a statistical perspective, but it’s a poor reason for forgetting our past. Serious study of the humanities is not mutually exclusive with a scientific education in four years.

Steve Kerby is a senior studying astronomy and physics. When he grows up he wants to be a Jedi Knight.