An Interview with Will Fitzhugh: The Concord Review—an outlet for Exceptional History Students

Jul 16, 2019 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Will, here we are in the middle of the summer—and some teachers are preparing to teach history, social studies, economics—and [a very few] preparing to assign major term papers. But where are the outlets for these students’ good works?

National History Day accepts history papers of not more than 10 pages and it doesn’t publish any. The average paper in recent issues of The Concord Review was 36 pages long, and we recently published a paper on the U.S. election of 1916 that was 84 pages, including 355 endnotes and a bibliography, and the author will be at Oxford in the Fall. The National Writing Project prefers students to write about themselves, and in general the Adolescent Literacy Community would like students to confine themselves to reading and writing only fiction, not history.

2) Let’s talk about the personality traits that make a good historian and good writer of history—what are they?

It is important in any field to be diligent and literate. A good High School student of history is curious about some historical person or event and reads enough about it until they reach the point at which they really want to tell others what they have learned. This is the most important step on the path to an exemplary history research paper. We have published 1,329 of them from 41 countries in the 121 issues of The Concord Review since 1987—see some at tcr.org.

3) “No Shortcuts” is your recent statement. You and I know that good writing requires good research, writing, editing and polishing. Are teachers teaching these skills however?

“No Shortcuts” was a motto of the extraordinary California teacher Rafe Esquith. We borrowed it to point out that no one can do the reading for or the writing of a serious history research paper for the student. The student must do all their own work. For the most part, Social Studies Teachers have neither the training nor the inclination to assign serious history papers, so they don’t. More and more of our best essays were done as independent studies, often by students who have read or heard about the work of their peers that was published in The Concord Review.  And sometimes the teacher knows nothing about them.

4) In your most recent edition of The Concord Review—what were some of the researched topics?

In recent issues, we have had papers on Vietnamese Refugees, the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Bleeding Kansas, the Northern Wei Dynasty, Superfrigates, the Nanking Safety Zone, John Wilkes, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, and the Caste System, among scores of other interesting historical topics. We don’t tell students what to write about and we don’t tell them how long their papers should be.

5) Where have some of your high school students, who have published in The Concord Review matriculated to?

150 have gone to Harvard, 113 to Yale, 82 to Stanford, and the like, but a few have gone to Caltech, MIT, Oxford, and Cambridge as well. Altogether, 35% have gone to the Ivy League or Stanford so far.

6) What have I forgotten to ask?

There has been a sharp 30% decline in history majors in our colleges. While there have been moves to STEM, economics and the like, too many of our politically correct instructors want to rewrite or erase history rather than teach it, and that turns students away. The absence of nearly all courses in diplomatic, political, and military history persuades many students that the history department is not for them.

In our high schools, Social Studies has long been dominant over history and in many colleges the history department is shrinking almost to the point of extinction. In addition, the vast majority of our high school students who head for college do so having never read even one complete history book or written one serious history research paper, so they are much less well prepared for college work than they should be. 

Feel free to send comments or questions to Will Fitzhugh at fitzhugh@tcr.org.

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