The History Major: Introduction



The history major—Historians examine the past to form a meaningful image of events previously hidden, partially understood, or deliberately misinterpreted. History is based on a foundation of documents, novels, maps, archival materials, memoirs, numbers, artifacts, and factual data combined with scholarly writings and analysis. It is a field of study that is part social science, part poetry, and always a humane quest for understanding. To know what is true about the past may be impossible, but the effort has its own rewards. The facility gained by students in interpreting the world historically can transform their consciousness and their lives. Propicit qui respicit: One who looks back looks forward.

Many approaches to history are introduced within the department’s program. Courses on the ancient world, the Middle Ages, contemporary Europe and America, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean form the core of a curriculum designed to encourage a wide range of historical explorations. Social, cultural, intellectual, political, and transnational histories carry students across various areas and time periods.

Majors master the skills of critical reading, analysis, interpretation, and writing and are introduced to mutually reinforcing approaches to the past. Graduates go on to successful careers in academia, law, business, government, social service, and many other fields since the tools and worldview transmitted through the study of history creates a springboard for endeavors in many realms that rely on the skills a historian learns.

Courses at the 100 and 200 level are the foundation for the advanced seminars and writing courses of the major. Each is a portal that introduces fundamental historical perspectives, chronological ordering schemes, and the secondary literature that defines the fields surveyed. There are also methodology courses at this level that introduce ways of studying history and methods of engagement with primary-source materials.

One cardinal emphasis of the history major is original research based on primary-source materials and the creation of essays or theses that represent a synthesis of evidence and relevant historiographical materials. The upper tier of our major—the 300-level seminars—consists of small seminars whose goal is to foster original projects based on primary sources. Primary materials are also available in abundance on the Web and, when not available locally, can be obtained readily through the Library’s Reference Department.