What Knowledge is Useful? > History
Audio Clip — McCraw on enrollments
Now what history brings, and I think that—just to jump to your question about why so many people who might otherwise be the last persons you would expect to enroll in these history courses, as we develop them—the answer, I believe, is the following.
One, the first thing is they’re very smart. They know a good thing when they see it.
Second, the quality of what we put before them was really, really good, and still is. That is, if we had put before them these kind of just heroic stories of a few people who got really, really rich, and how they did that, then the enrollment would have stayed quite low.
When I first came to the School as a post-doc, and sat in on the course, 1973-4, the enrollment was, I think, 33 in that course. And we built it, as you know, to what could have been five sections, and for a long time was four sections. From about 1986 to the present, it has been taught usually in both semesters. It will fill, in most years, not every year, it will fill four sections, which is 400 people, you know, which is almost half the enrollment.
Gordon Donaldson always thought—and Nancy Koehn said this very explicitly—that we were the beneficiary of the short-termism of all the rest of the curriculum. That is, people who come to the School are extraordinarily heterogeneous, as you know. But they’re all smart, and most of them, even though they don’t have a historical sensibility do know that the past is prologue, and those who don’t understand the past are doomed to repeat it, and all these other clichés. And so that we benefited from the absence of anything like this in the rest of the curriculum—the condition being that we do it right, and that we know what’s in the rest of the curriculum.