D. G. Myers wants to know "what happened to literary history?" According to Myers, "Seven decades after John Crowe Ransom named the movement, the New Critics have achieved what they were after. . .The syllabus of nearly every English course is little more than a series of discrete texts which can’t be read historically because no one has any literary history."
Although I agree that "undergraduates arrive at American universities notoriously ignorant of their cultural heritage," I certainly cannot agree that this is because for these students "no other conception of literature, if it is to be studied as literature, has any standing" other than the New Critical strategy of "close reading." The problem is that while informing them of literary history (even focusing narrowly on the students' own "cultural heritage") is not on the agenda in what remains of the high school literature curriculum, neither is a focus on literature "as literature," at least to the extent that the "study" of literature means close critical analysis. Since this kind of analysis isn't really testable on the kinds of anti-intellectual, utilitarian tests now favored by the political bean counters and educational "experts," works of literature are reduced to simplistic sources of information that might somehow be "relevant" or contribute to "core skills."
The biggest problem with Myers's own analysis is his identification of the pedagogical strategy at work in both high school and college classrooms as New Criticism. Certainly few high school teachers these days have been trained in New Criticism, but even if we accepted that what literature professors now do with their "discrete texts" is a form of close reading, it is not in any way the kind of close reading advocated by the New Critics. At best this form of close reading amounts to a vague "paying attention" to some elements of the text (certainly not the text as whole, as illustrated in the practice of New Critics), but such attention is not focused on the literary qualities of literary texts but on those details or characteristics that can prompt a consideration of cultural, ideological, and, yes, historical questions. The "history" so addressed indeed is not literary history, but this only confirms that ultimately no one any longer wants to teach or study literature "as literature" at all.
I was in graduate school sufficiently long ago now that some of the faculty still had been influenced by New Criticism, although a number of professors were also conventional literary historians. These were considered not antithetical but mutually supportive approaches. Literary history was important in properly contextualizing the encounter with any particular text, but the reading experience itself required the kind of close attention to not just the particulars but the overall shape and the interdependent relationships among the parts of the text encouraged by New Criticism. If for the last twenty-five years or more students have been deprived of literary history, that's because literature itself is not considered central enough that we would need to know anything about its history, just as we don't really need to read it very carefully.