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Inclusive Curriculums: A Case Study

mpottash's picture

Thucydides, one ofthe earliest historians, built his historical studies around the “politicaltower”, which dealt with the study of “great men, the church, government, [and]politics” (Arnold 33, 41).  Writingthousands of years after Thucydides, in her essay “Interactive Phases ofCurricular Perspective”, Peggy McIntosh proposes different ways to studyhistory.  Using the refinement ofwomen’s role within the discipline of history as an example of ways in which tomake curriculum’s more inclusive, McIntosh notes five stages of curriculumdevelopment, which range from women being left out of history, to women (andeveryone) being included in history (McIntosh 3).  An inclusive curriculum can be defined as one that coversthe people and subjects that have long been left out of history.  Thucydides’ mode of history left manypeople and areas of society out of the historical realm.  However, as Arnold discusses in hisbook History: A Very Short Introduction, the study of history hasprogressed greatly away from the idea of the “political tower” into a study oflarger societal studies, focusing not only on people and events but on culture,economics, geography, social systems, etc. (Arnold 48, 53).  We can use McIntosh’s example of womenin history to trace the ways in which the study of history has developed toencompass not only women, but all of society.  Bryn Mawr’s history department provides an example of aninclusive curriculum by offering courses that study a wide variety ofgeographic locations, as well as courses that offer varied ways of looking atsociety.

As a seniorhistory major at Bryn Mawr, I have had almost four years in which to experiencewhat the history department has to offer. I am primarily interested in cultural history.  This means that while I am interested in political eventsand the “important people” behind these events, I am primarily concerned withhow these larger events affected cultural and societal change.  My primary focus has been on Westernhistory, mainly the United States, and thus I admittedly do not have as muchknowledge about the way in which the department handles other geographic areas;however, I can assume that the department’s overall philosophy of inclusioncarries over to these courses.

McIntosh believesthat by excluding certain people from the curriculum, the discipline of historyinstills hierarchical values in students. McIntosh argues that “history is usually constructed…to exclude thosewho didn’t possess a good deal of public power”.  In this method of history, “nonwhite males and women…areconstructed as not worth studying in a serious and sustained way, and not worthincluding in the version of reality passed on to students” (McIntosh 7).  McIntosh believes that history is stilllocated in the “political tower” because it focuses on those in the higherreaches of society, and that this tower enforces the prestige of the “top” ofthe societal pyramid.  Historyreflects the ways in which society is shaped by those in power. 

            BrynMawr’s History Department works to deconstruct hierarchical views ofsociety.  The department’s websitestates that “history at Bryn Mawr is about questioning and explaining how thepast has been constructed, understood, and made into what we call‘history’”.  Here, the departmentacknowledges, as does McIntosh, that the past has been socially constructed,and that this construction has shaped our very definition of history.  This statement suggests that there canbe different definitions of history, and that the department’s goal is toexplore these definitions.  Thedepartment tells students that it will “challenge [them] to play an active partin the making of history as a type of knowledge, rather than merely consumingthe past as a spectator” (  The department gives students the role of being able toconstruct history according to their own learning, knowledge, andinterests.  By allowing studentsthe ability to make their own history, the department allows flexibility in thekinds of materials and subjects that historians study.  By constructing the past in this way,students are able to reassess and challenge what has been seen as the “top.”           

Two of thefoundations of Bryn Mawr’s history curriculum are the Historical Imagination,an introductory class, and Exploring History, the senior seminar.  The Historical Imagination is meant tointroduce students to history as an academic discipline.  The course description states that thecourse “explores some of the ways people have thought about, represented, andused the past across time and space”(  The Historical Imagination demonstratesthe fact that there has not been one static idea of history, but rather thatthe discipline of history has changed over time; the notion of different ideasof history allows students to make crucial decisions about their own personaldefinition of history.  McIntosh’sPhase 3 deals with the “politics of the curriculum” (9) and “challenges theliterary cannon” (11).  The coursequestions the way in which the curriculum is developed by acknowledging thatthere are multiple ways in which to think about history.  As an example of the ways in which thecourse challenges the literary cannon, my class read a book entitled EscapingSalem: The Other Witch Hunt of 1692, by Robert Goodbeer, which studies thewitch trials of Stamford.  Inpointing out that there were indeed other witch trials, but that popular andcanonical literature and knowledge has focused on Salem, the course highlightsthe construction of history.  Thecourse encourages students to question the things that are presented ashistorical fact, and to acknowledge the work that went into creating certainversions of history.

            Thesyllabus for Exploring History (in which I am currently enrolled) states thatthe goal of the course is “to provide an opportunity to discuss theintellectual premises of history as a discipline and some significant issuesand debates in historical theory and interpretation.”  The fact that the course covers historiographic debatesreflects the fact that historians with differing viewpoints construct history.  Like The Historical Imagination,Exploring History enters Phase 3 by dealing with the politics of history as adiscipline.  In class, we havestudied different historical theories. For example, the Whig theory of history holds that the discipline ofhistory tells the history of progress, and is a story of continuity, while postmodernistsfocus on the discontinuity of history. The course also discusses the ways in which gender and race can be usedto analyze history, looking at, for example, postcolonial history.  In this way, the class studies thosewho on the bottom of society, those who have been left out of historicalstudies, moving into what McIntosh calls Phase 4 (McIntosh 11).

            Onecrucial element of Bryn Mawr’s history department that makes it an example ofMcIntosh’s inclusive curriculum is that if offers courses in subjects and areasthat have not been included in “traditional” history.  In The Emperor’s Mirror: Understanding Cultures ThroughPrimary Sources, Russel J. Barber and Frances F. Berdan note that in themiddle of the twentieth century, historians typically focused on Westerncivilizations, and expanded their studies in the later part of the century(8).  Bryn Mawr offers a variety ofcourses that study the non-Western world, such as Africa, Asia, and the Atlantic.  McIntosh’s Phase 4 “constructs lifebelow the break in the pyramid as the real though unacknowledged base of lifeand civilization” (McIntosh 11). By studying areas and peoples that have long been left out of historicalstudies, these courses do deal with “life below the break in the pyramid” (withthe pyramid, in this case, referring to a structure of historicalstudies).  However, from thevariety of courses that the department offers, it can be assumed that thedepartment does not believe that such civilizations form the base of history;rather, the department presents these courses, as well as Western historycourses, in order to offer a full historical curriculum and to allow studentsto develop their own personal interests.

            Manyof the department’s classes do cover Western civilization.  However, by focusing on culture andsociety as well as on politics and events, these classes also offer aninclusive vision of history.  Forexample, the course description for “American History: Civil War to thePresent” states that the course “emphasizes social history as well as politicaldevelopments, and looks at the powerful impact of race, class, and gender onthe production of a distinctly ‘American’ ideology’” (  The course does not only focus onpolitical history, but examines the social aspects of history as well, studyingthose on the ground who did not possess a great deal of power.  I took the class “American History,1942-the Present”, a different version of the class taught by the sameprofessor.  Not only did we look atoften marginalized groups in society, but we looked a wide range of historicalmediums, such as music, film, and television, to study history and get a morerounded view of society.  McIntoshstates that in Phase 4, “most of the teaching materials arenon-traditional.  Moreover, theboundaries between disciplines start to break down.” (18).  The course employs non-traditionalmaterials by using sources such as music and film, and in using thesemedia-based methods of study, also breaks down boundaries betweendisciplines.  These texts allowedus to move away from a political focus and into the cultural realm.

            McIntoshdefines Phase 5, the highest phase in her curriculum development, as one thatwould teach students to “see patterns of life in terms of race, culture, class,gender, religion, national origin, geographical location, and other influenceon life…” (McIntosh 22).  Here,McIntosh expands her focus from women to all of society.  Taken as a whole, with its focus bothon socio-cultural historical factors, as well as on diverse and variedgeographic locations, Bryn Mawr’s history department has reached Phase 5 incurriculum development.  With itsemphasis on the fact that history can be both viewed and constructed in avariety of different ways, the department produces students who are critical ofthis construction, and pay attention to the people or things that are includedor left out.  After numerousdiscussions about feminism in this course, I have come to the conclusion thatone of the key values of feminism is inclusion, not just of women, but ofeveryone in society.  It is thiselement of inclusiveness – for McIntosh, the inclusion of women, and for BrynMawr the inclusion of society as a whole – that makes Bryn Mawr’s history departmentfeminist.


Works Cited

Arnold, John H. History: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2000.


Barber,Russel J. and Frances F. Berdan. The Emperor’s Mirror: Understanding Culture Through Primary Sources.Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1998.


“Courses.”Bryn Mawr College.  2008.  Bryn Mawr College.  7 Dec. 2008.<>


"HistoryDepartment." Bryn Mawr College. 2008. Bryn Mawr College. 7 Dec 2008<>.


McIntosh, Peggy. “Interactive Phases of CurricularRe-Vision: A Feminist Perspective.” 1983


Anne Dalke's picture

Feminism as Inclusion

I like the way you’ve woven together, here, our reading from McIntosh with Arnold’s little book introducing history, and an account of the way the history department here operates, based both on their public report and your own experiences in the core courses. You argue both for feminism as inclusion and for the history department here as feminist.

The chair of the history department gave the First-Friday Faculty talk last week. I was very struck by the range of metaphors he used to describe his methodology: trying first to use a “microscope” to understand a phenomenon, switching to a “telescope” to take in a larger view, then learning that some important material could only be seen “peripherally,” caught by not looking for it directly. The talk was so engaging, and the questions so multiple when he finished, that I didn’t get an opportunity to ask him to talk some more about what “objectivity” looks like in history: is it about trying to “see it all”? If you want to pursue that question, you might also take a look @ the book we’re reading for the Humanities Theory Seminar this Thursday (also selected by a member of the history department): Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison’s Objectivity.

I’d be intrigued if you wanted to go on with this study (perhaps with something meta-critical about your own thesis?) If that is the direction you want to pursue, here are my nudges:

• What’s the difference between “belief,” “opinion” and “argument”? What does it mean to say that “a department believes”? That an essayist does?
• What’s the most appropriate tense (historical past, fictional present?) to use when describing what McIntosh “believes”?
• Your description of two of the “foundations” of the history curriculum here makes me want to invite you to think some more about the “foundational” as a way of conceptualizing an inclusive curriculum. You might look @ Evolution and Literature: Notes on Change and Order (a talk given in my Emerging Genres class last spring) and also the essay on which that conversation was based: "From Complexity to Emergence and Beyond: Towards Empirical Non-Foundationalism as a Guide to Inquiry," Soundings: An Interdisciplinary Journal 2007 (90, 1/2): 301-323.
• what’s the difference between “imagining” and “exploring” history? What does the dept. expect you to have covered inbetween the intro and the final courses? How do they expect your thinking to have changed? (How HAS it changed?
• Given all our talk in class about the relation between the professional and the personal, I’m quite struck, throughout this essay, by your saying that students are allowed “to make crucial decisions about their own personal definition of history” and “to develop their own personal interests.” Such claims seem to elide the professionalizing that (I think? See Derrida and Sosnoski on this) is inherent in socializing majors into a (any) discipline.