Click to enlarge: application form to Elon College (1913). Image Source: Elon University via Chronicle for Higher Education.
For today, as classes start at universities across North America this week, see a college application from 1913 to Elon University, North Carolina, USA. It is only four pages long! The source is a report from the Chronicle of Higher Education. Those were the days when liberal arts were both progressive and considered a solid background for doing just about anything (including, unfortunately, dying in World War I). Post-2008-recession, critics consider the liberal arts to be politicized breeding grounds of the hopelessly underemployed, unemployed and unemployable. Today's defenders of the liberal arts insist that the arts and humanities teach their students critical thinking. Part of that critical thinking can extend to considering how progressive the new Millennium really is.
A friend, J., observed that at Elon University, "They didn't mention that, until 1963, only white people need apply!" He suggested that the progressive view now recognizes that the western-centric view of history - which this application embodies with its emphasis on classics - has given way to a broader, enlightened world history.
I agreed that this is the current prevailing view, although I feel it contains an anachronism. We now assume automatically that the western-centric vision is causally bound to racism, inequality, slavery, oppression, patriarchy. The notion that today's discipline of world history is more advanced than the previously western-centric, classics-focused liberal arts curriculum includes its own hubris-laden, anachronistic assumption about contemporary progress.
In 1913, people could not travel or communicate the way we can now. So why would we automatically expect people from that time to have the same broad global vision we do? Yes, it was an oppressive, unequal, patriarchal system. But at the time, wasn't the classics curriculum the founding source of liberal arts education? Wasn't that curriculum considered the epitome of progress in 1913?
One hundred years from now, what will people say about late 20th century and early 21st century liberal views of inclusion? Probably they will say that it was woefully benighted and reflective of its own time and place. We could equally say that today's world history discipline derives from perspectives informed by economic and political globalization, not the expansion of tolerance - even though it looks that way. Isn't it true that in today's globalized world, whose official creed is advanced progressive, tech-driven liberalism, there are more slaves now than at any time in history? And beyond that conventional definition of slavery, isn't technology not-so-quietly enslaving the entire plugged-in population? Bondage happens. That brutal reality - namely, that inequality, loss of freedom, vicious hatred, and violence are integral to the shiny, ultra-advanced globalized Millennium - breaks through heady tech dreams in unpleasant surprises and shocks.