Over the centuries, the study of history has stood at the heart of a liberal education. In the twenty-first century – as human societies the world over become ever more closely interconnected and historical time itself seems to accelerate – a well-informed and well-reasoned understanding of the past has become all the more vital.
In its sweeping subject matter and wide-ranging methodologies, history is an unusually robust field of inquiry. Historians employ methods as diverse as the kinds of evidence they study – from geological traces to the archival manuscripts of dynasties long gone to the digital information of the modern world. Whatever the subject, the study of history involves the student in all of the most essential elements of liberal learning, including the acquisition of knowledge, the development of critical thinking skills, and the strengthening of oral and written communication. Whether the past being examined is that of a foreign country or one’s own, history involves a recognition of the central importance of sequence and context – the crucial differences of time and place that shape the possibilities of human endeavor and the meanings of community. Reflecting a broader concern for human values and needs, historians seek the universal in the particular, the global in the local, the breadth of human experience in the details of the everyday.
The History major is flexible, enabling students to devise individual programs tailored to their specific needs and interests. In consultation with their faculty advisors, students should design a major that makes sense in terms of their other course work and career plans. The strategy will be different for each student. A student planning a professional career in history, for example, will certainly want to take a broad variety of courses, perhaps do an independent study (HIST 98a or 98b), write a senior thesis (HIST 99d), and master the foreign languages required for that area of specialization. Students interested in other careers, such as law or business, will design programs of study that complement their course work in other departments and programs (for example, legal studies or economics). The department strongly recommends that students acquire geographical and chronological breadth, which is best provided by our surveys in American, Asian, European, Latin American, and World history. Students should also select appropriate offerings from our more advanced courses that are thematic or national in scope and that permit more intensive analysis. The department is deeply committed to the development of writing and analytical skills, which are invaluable and transferable, regardless of future career—be it higher education, teaching, law, business, or public service. The advanced courses, with smaller class sizes, provide an ideal opportunity to develop those skills. Internships in History (HIST 92a) allow students to gain work experience and to improve their writing and analytical skills in real-world settings with faculty guidance.