History shows geographical bent

November 24, 2000

Geography is becoming more important to history departments, with a growth in more regional degree programmes, according to a survey by the History at the Universities Defence Group.

The survey identified a clear pattern of institutions responding to their location by developing programmes, particularly at masters level, such as Scottish, Welsh or maritime history.

Social history degrees have also been established, while academic appointments suggest early modern, American and Asian history are other developing areas.

The survey, which received responses from 41 history departments across the United Kingdom and covered developments between 1997 and 2000, raised fears of a serious decline in the number of mature history students. In many institutions mature applicants had more than halved in the three years.

Virginia Davis, head of history at Queen Mary and Westfield College and compiler of the survey, said a number of respondents had blamed fees and loans for the drop.

She said the survey also suggested that new universities were losing out to old in the competition for a limited supply of students. For example, the number of history undergraduates at the University of Nottingham was increasing while the number at Nottingham Trent was declining.

"When an old institution decides to expand they are not taking students who would not otherwise have gone to university but are taking students from their local poly," she said.

The survey found an improved gender balance among university historians since the last survey three years ago, at 22 per cent women and 78 per cent men, although only 10 per cent of professors were female.

Nearly half of all staff in post were aged over 50 and just 4 per cent were in their 20s.

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