UMass Amherst and Area Colleges Inaugurate Innovative History Program

AMHERST, Mass. - An innovative graduate program in history which stresses collaboration among area colleges is being inaugurated this month at the University of Massachusetts with a lecture and reception on Thursday Sept. 18 at 4:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall. The speaker is Bonnie Smith, a specialist in European women’s history, and the author of numerous books.

The UMass/Five College Graduate Program in History has been in development for years, and involves the formal collaboration of historians at UMass, Smith, Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Hampshire colleges. This collaboration offers not only a breadth of experience for students, but helps each of the schools respond to a number of crises in higher education, says University history professor and program director Kathy Peiss.

Chief among these crises, Peiss says, is the decrease in faculties at most American universities as a result of budget cuts and retirements. By combining the resources of area colleges, the UMass/Five College cooperation allows the University not only to maintain what it had before these cuts, but to offer even more courses and fields.

In a related vein, the program acknowledges the challenges faced by Ph.D.s in an increasingly lackluster job market, Peiss says. By accepting only a small number of Ph.D. candidates while placing special emphasis on the master’s degree, the program reroutes many students to careers other than those in higher education, according to Peiss.

"The master’s program is a two-year degree program with rigorous training in historical analysis and research," Peiss says. "While it as an excellent degree for those who wish to pursue further study at the doctoral level, its special emphasis is to help those who wish to pursue a career in a history-related field but not necessarily through the traditional track of university teaching."

Graduates with master’s degrees in history at UMass have already found work in museums, archives, and even documentary film-making, Peiss says. Many others have gone into secondary-school or other forms of teaching, bringing fresh approaches to the way history is usually taught in these areas.

"There is a strong public service component to this aspect of what we are doing as well," Peiss says. "Not only are we training quality students to teach within smaller communities and high schools, we’re also offering advanced-level workshops and graduate credit for area secondary school teachers.