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The ‘Dark Age’ of Allegheny’s history department

For many Allegheny students, the history department lacks options

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Photo contributed by commons.wikimedia.org

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Looking around during my last semester here on campus, I am reminded of what Allegheny’s history department is severely missing: Professors specializing in certain time periods, specifically, the Middle Ages.

In my first year at Allegheny, the only medieval historian, history professor Stephen Lyons, retired. And with him, any last hope of taking a true medieval history was lost. Since his retirement, the history department, as I know of, has not made any moves to hire a new medieval history professor.

You cannot have a full and exceptional department when you are missing a huge chunk of history, so the absence of medieval history studies is infuriating. History from 476 to 1500 A.D. is missing in the department, a time period in which my senior project is based.

In my current History 600 class, I am the only medievalist in the room. One student out of 21. My professor has mentioned it too, saying that I could be the last medievalist to pass through the senior project classes.

I do not know which is sadder, the fact that I may be the last medievalist for quite some time at Allegheny or the fact that the department does not seem to want to fill this gaping hole.

I do not know which is sadder, the fact that I may be the last medievalist for quite some time at Allegheny, or the fact that the department does not seem to want to fill this gaping hole.”

— Jen Rodriguez

Students miss out on important events that have been proven to influence later historical events. Not to mention, the amount of amusing and fascinating stories within this time period are so enjoyable to learn about. The Crusades, Charlemagne and the Holy Roman Empire, the Hundred Years’ War, the Black Death, and so much more existed within this immense time period.

This list is not exhaustive and does not even include any literary works which are still influential today, the works of Chaucer, Dante or St. Augustine, for instance. I do not know how many times I need to reiterate it, but medieval history is important. 

The lack of medieval historians in the history department is also reflected in the medieval and renaissance studies minor. I have a MEDRN minor but am missing many of the requirements because there are no professors teaching classes for it. Exceptions have been made for coursed to fulfill requirements, but the fact that exceptions need to be made is ridiculous.

If you do not know already, the MEDRN minor is more than likely going to disappear in the next five years, maybe even sooner. It is still being offered to students, but professors insist that students declare it sooner rather than later.

But why try to attempt a minor you will never be able to fully finish?

It frustrates me that the minor is offered when students cannot fully finish. I am all for students becoming interested in medieval history and potentially declaring a MEDRN minor at Allegheny and having more students attracted to this specific history is good. But with so few classes to inspire that curiosity into medieval history, how can we expect to bring it back if there are no classes to appeal to students?

How can we bring medieval history back if no one is advocating for it? Professors I have talked to  agree that it is sad to see the MEDRN minor and medieval history disappear from the curriculum, but nothing official has been done. I know it may take time to fix this problem, but Allegheny needs to act soon, or there may not be anything left to salvage.

For Allegheny’s history department, it seems that it has reached its “Dark Age.”

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About the Writer
Jen Rodriguez, Opinion Editor

Jen Rodriguez is a senior majoring in history with minors in writing and medieval and renaissance studies. This is her second year on staff, and she is...

3 Comments

3 Responses to “The ‘Dark Age’ of Allegheny’s history department”

  1. Micalyn on December 3rd, 2018 2:48 pm

    As a graduate of Allegheny and fellow history major – I have to say that your article comes off as rather whiny, to be perfectly honest. Allegheny is a tiny school; do you think it’s realiatic to expect it to have every subject in every department covered? History will always play second (or rather more like sixth) fiddle to any of the other disciplines. History isn’t a money-maker for Allegheny. So while it is regrettable that Prof Lyons’ (one of the best professors I had) position hasn’t been filled, it’s hardly unexpected. When history becomes profitable, that’s when you’ll see the department truly flourish. Until then, utilize the library and your own know-how.

    And isn’t one of the hallmarks of history doing research? Learning on one’s own? Going out and finding the information you need rather than having it handed to you? It’s the entire point of the senior comp. I’m sure that your advisors in the history department are more than capable of guiding you in your writing, even if they are not medieval specialists.

  2. Kyle Nicklin on December 3rd, 2018 3:25 pm

    Embarrassing for the person that wrote this article. Why should Allegheny hire a Medieval professor if she’s the only one out of the 21 senior majors that are interested in Medieval studies? The only argument she provides is that it lasted a long time (~1kyrs).. but can’t the same be said for the rest of the 200kyrs of human history? Maybe she should take a business class instead and learn about supply and demand, or transfer to a school that specializes in Medieval studies. My take from this article is that the author firmly believes that Medieval studies is the most important academic discipline in the world because that’s what she happens to be interested in, and is upset because she’s not getting her way. Allegheny is TINY by design and you cannot expect it to offer every specific subset of every major. If so we would need like thousands of professors.

  3. Stephanie Zellers on December 5th, 2018 12:25 pm

    While I understand that the article isn’t the best written, as an alum and a History Major who went on to a graduate degree in a very specialized area of history, this is sad. Allegheny cannot continue to claim to be a top school turning out top students if they are only grazing the surface of “less profitable” majors. If you are going to have a history major, you have to teach all of history. I specialize in an area that is taught, that has specialized professors and I was still told by multiple professors in my graduate program that I did not deserve to be there and never should have been accepted because I did not receive the education I should have from Allegheny. Students choose Allegheny expecting a top notch education but the truth is, unless you major in sciences, you just aren’t getting it. This truly shows that Allegheny isn’t terribly concerned about that fact.

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The ‘Dark Age’ of Allegheny’s history department