Life after the Demise of a European Studies Track

At many universities, undergraduate area studies programs are on the block because of the need to reduce expenses.  Although their main function is to help students focus their course work in a particular direction, at large universities, many of which have undergraduate and graduate area study programs, budgets may exist for clerical staff, publications, guest speakers, special events, scholarships, and faculty positions.  Such programs at major institutions not only face the loss of internal funding but external support from the federal government, which hopefully will not abandon its tradition of recognizing the crucial need to train experts in foreign cultures and languages.

In the fall of 2011, European Studies Track at my institution will go away, a victim of the bureaucratic urge to cut programs, even though the university may incur no expenses in maintaining them.  This does not mean the courses that comprised the European Studies Track will disappear.  In a twist of irony, the university’s offerings in European history and other fields actually expanded as the track ended.  Students who already have declared their history major and have opted for the track wonder what this change means for them, but they need not be concerned because they are grandfathered and will be able to complete their intended course of study.  Nevertheless, this administrative decision leaves many entering students with the question of what impact the elimination of the track will have on their course of study.  In light of the demise of the European Studies Track at UWF and the absence of such programs elsewhere, this article provides suggestions for students wishing to devise their own unofficial European studies interdisciplinary major at institutions with no such foreign studies program.

It is crucial to understand what a track or program typically entails.  Almost always they all are majors in a specific field along with a corresponding number of courses outside the department that usually equate to the credits needed for a minor, typically 15 credits.  In the case of the European Studies Track at my institution, students majored in history, taking “Methods and Materials” and upper-level courses distributed across various regions and periods of European history.  They then selected 15 credits worth of courses in European affairs outside of history.  Furthermore, students took 11 credits of a European language, with two years of high-school language substituting for the first two semesters (eight credits) of a collegiate language course.  Once a student had completed the requirements, the Registrar's Office noted on his or her transcript and diploma that the student had majored in history and had completed the European Studies Track.  It was a convenient way of demonstrating to graduate and professional programs as well as to potential employers that the student had a special emphasis within the history major.

The lack of a European Studies Track does not devalue a student’s history degree if they are interested in pursuing a graduate program related to Europe or wish to find employment with a firm that has ties to Europe.  Students still can replicate the European Studies Track and explain their assemblage of courses as a crucial talking point in a graduate application, cover letter, or resume.  A little planning is all one needs to put together an attractive series of complementary courses pertaining to Europe.

A major in history is still a logical basis with which one can construct an unofficial European studies program.  On most college campuses, departments of history offer more courses pertaining to all regions of Europe than any other, with political science often a close second.  At the University of West Florida, for example, the Department of History has a medievalist, Dr. Marie Thérèse Champagne; a military historian with a specialization in Nazi Germany, Dr. Derek Zumbro; and me, an East-Central Europeanist.  Dr. James I. Miklovich, who technically is retired, continues to teach three courses each semester dealing with modern Europe and Britain.  Furthermore, Dr. William Belko offers a course on the Scottish Enlightenment, and Dr. Amy Mitchell-Cook teaches courses in maritime history that relate to Europe, although they do not have an EUH prefix.  History majors need to take “Methods and Materials” as well as one upper-level non-Western course (Latin American, Asian, or African history), two in European history, and two in American history.  Once this distribution is complete, the student may take any mix of history courses to finish the major.  Those interested in European affairs have plenty of courses from which to choose, and they should include courses that range from the Ancient to the Modern Era and courses that cover Western and Central Europe as well as Eurasia.

A major in history at UWF requires 33 credits, which means that a student needs 27 additional upper-level credits to graduate.  Those who wish to create their own unofficial European studies program and are majoring in history with a European emphasis have three options: 1) declare a minor in a field that deals with European affairs; 2) take courses with a European focus in various departments that amount to 15 credits; or 3) combine a minor with additional courses in European affairs from other fields.  The alternatives are numerous since political science, English, art, philosophy, music, anthropology, and other fields have courses that pertain to Europe.  There are courses in which half the content or more deals with Europe, even though it might not be apparent in the course name.  When in doubt, verify the amount of information about Europe a course will cover with the professor before registration, or examine the syllabus during the add-drop period.  Keep in mind that all universities have some sort of course rotation.  UWF has a two-year cycle for courses, which means that a course generally will not appear again for two years.  As a result, if something in the time schedule is appealing, register for it.  The chance to take it may not come again for some time.

Languages play a pivotal role in European studies tracks at any university, and graduate programs as well as potential employers expect that a student with undergraduate training focusing on Europe has an excellent command of one European language.  The assumption is that an applicant can read a text, such as the front page of a newspaper or a selection from a text in one’s field of study, usually without a dictionary, and be able to provide a fairly accurate translation of the reading.  Fluency in speaking, oral comprehension, and writing is not expected in every case, but these skills are unavoidable if one is going to work or research in Europe.  Frequently, graduate programs and employers also demand that candidates for positions have some basic knowledge of a second language, which is equivalent to at least two or three semesters at the college level.  Graduate programs require either standardized tests for languages or tests that they devise and administer.  It is best, therefore, to decide on a major language early and take as many courses as possible to build fluency.  Adding a second language will enhance one’s prospects for employment or admission to postgraduate programs.

A combination of a history major with a European concentration, at least five courses or a minor in European affairs outside of history, and language courses to build fluency in at least one language is a common configuration for European studies tracks or programs throughout the United States.  One easily can construct an unofficial European studies program at any institution.  Not only does the informal European concentration afford the student total flexibility in putting together their mix of courses, it gives students the opportunity to explain to their target graduate school, professional program, or employer how they were innovative in creating their own specialization in European affairs.  Regrettably, European studies may disappear, but gray clouds have their silver linings.

Rev 8.V.2011