DURHAM, N.C. — When compared to some of the nation’s other historically Black colleges and universities, the history department at North Carolina Central University has an impressive record of training their undergraduate students to gain admission into competitive doctoral programs in history.
In the 75 years since the history department came into existence at NCCU, the faculty have graduated more than 80 alumni who have gone on to earn a Ph.D. in history at other universities and have since carved out impressive careers as engaged researchers, university professors and museum curators.
Dr. Jim C. Harper II, who graduated from NCCU with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history in 1994 and a Masters of Arts degree in 1997, returned to his alma mater eager to teach a new generation of students after earning his Ph.D. from Howard University.
“You will find our history alumni teaching at universities across the country from Northwestern University to the University of Louisiana,” said Harper, who has served for the past three years as chair of the 12-person history department. “Our students are teaching at top Division I research institutions, and that is not easy as a first appointment after earning a doctorate. That speaks to how well we have prepared our students.”
The department was recently honored with the Equity Award by the American Historical Association for its ongoing work in “recruiting and retaining underrepresented racial and ethnic groups into the historical professions.”
NCCU officials have long boasted that they now lead the way — among HBCUs — in sending more African-Americans into doctoral history programs. According to Harper, there are 19 NCCU history alumni currently pursuing their Ph.D.
“As a small department, we work closely with our students, especially in the area of research,” said Harper. “Students who are interested in pursuing a Ph.D. come to our program because they know we will give them the solid foundation they need to prepare for doctoral work.”
Indeed, NCCU has had a number of distinguished scholars on their history faculty, including the late Dr. John Hope Franklin, who spent several years teaching at the public university that is part of the North Carolina system. During his tenure at the university, Franklin wrote the first edition of From Slavery to Freedom: A History of Negro Americans, the seminal history of Blacks in America. The textbook is still widely used in college classrooms across the country.
According to Harper, there are currently 80 undergraduate and 36 master’s students pursuing history degrees at NCCU. The department offers both undergraduate and graduate instruction in American, African-American, African, Latin American, African diaspora and European history and offered a concentration in public history in August 2008.
“The future of the department is quite bright,” Harper said, adding that he anticipates that the number of majors may increase over the next few years. “History is a billion-dollar industry, in part because of entertainment. From the History Channel and blockbuster period films to documentaries, there is a role for the historian.”
Jamal Eric Watson can be reached at [email protected]. You can follow him on Twitter @jamalericwatson.