About the History Major

History, as is often noted, is at the center of the liberal arts. Partially as a result, you will learn basic skills that transcend the discipline of history.

  • You will learn how to read closely, analyze rigorously, and speak and write clearly.
  • You will learn how to identify and assess arguments.
  • You will learn how to develop and sustain arguments of your own, in speaking and in writing.
  • You will learn how to conduct research.
  • You will learn how to understand and respect the positions of others.
  • You will learn how to grow as human beings by engaging with the ideas of others and by developing ideas of your own.

You will be prepared to face the challenges of the present and future.

  • You will learn how the world came to be what it is today.
  • By learning about the past, you will be prepared for life in the present and the future, making you knowledgeable and effective global citizens.
  • You will learn how to be aware of contemporary public discourse about the past, to understand the stakes involved in how the past is remembered, and to bring your scholarly knowledge about the past to bear on contemporary public discourse.

You will learn to question assumptions about the past.

  • You will learn to challenge received knowledge: to deepen your understanding of past ideas, experiences, and events, and to analyze the structures and forces that produced them.
  • You will learn to question their own assumptions and to be aware of their own perspectives.

You will learn to appreciate historical change.

  • You will learn that the world has not always been as it is today and to analyze how and why it has changed over time.
  • You will learn to appreciate that many of your assumptions about yourself and the world are not universal truths but are instead the product of a changing history.
  • You will learn to appreciate the transitory nature of the present, a present different from what was and what will be.

 You will learn to appreciate historical continuity.

  • You will learn about a common human heritage and common human experiences that connect us to people from different times and places.
  • You will learn to recognize that history is characterized by patterns of change and continuity that shape the relationship between past and present.

You will learn how to know and understand times, places, and people different from our own.

  • You will learn historical empathy, to try to understand past people as much as possible on their terms and not on ours.
  • You will learn to use your knowledge and imagination to think your way inside the experience of past people in order to understand those people’s feelings, thoughts, and actions.
  • You will learn to appreciate historical contingency and to disrupt assumptions about historical inevitability by exploring how people in the past understood the options open to them and responded to the circumstances in which they found themselves.

You will learn to appreciate how the present affects our understanding of the past.

  • You will learn how our experiences in the present shape our readings of the past, causing historical interpretations, historical scholarship and knowledge, to change over time.
  • You will learn that history is a dynamic discussion characterized by debate and disagreement that change along with history itself as the present throws up new questions and concerns that cause us to see the past with new eyes.
  • You will learn that history is in a sense an ongoing dialogue between the past and the present, between the people of the past and the historians who study them.

You will learn to appreciate the diversity, complexity, and messiness of the past.

  • You will learn to study the human past in all its richness, diversity, and complexity.
  • You will learn to appreciate the complexities of the historical record and the past it represents.

You will learn to appreciate and to assess different interpretations of the past.

  • You will learn to appreciate the contested nature of historical knowledge.
  • You will learn that history is not an assemblage of facts but a series of interpretations of the past.
  • You will learn that, given its complexity, diversity, and the fragmentary and contradictory nature of the historical record, the past is open to numerous, often contradictory, interpretations.
  • You will learn how to read historical scholarship critically, identifying the central argument, assessing the logic of the argument, and determining whether the evidence presented supports the argument.
  • You will learn to think about the way historians represent the past in historical writing.
  • You will learn historiography and how to engage in historiographical debate.

You will learn that there are different, valuable, and legitimate ways to investigate the past.

  • You will learn that history is an interpretative field, that there are a multiplicity of legitimate approaches to take to the past, and that the most complete picture of the past is gained by viewing it from multiple perspectives.

You will learn source criticism.

  • You will be introduced to a wide and diverse range of primary sources and you will learn about the possibilities and limitations of the evidence on which historians base their interpretations.
  • You will learn about the nature and use of evidence, that every document expresses a particular point of view, comes in response to a particular situation, reflects a particular context, is directed at a particular audience, and seeks to achieve a particular end.

You will learn to interpret the past.

  • You will learn to develop interpretations based on a careful, systematic, and rigorous evaluation and analysis of historical evidence, and to use that evidence to support your interpretations of the past.
  • You will learn to articulate the historiographical significance of their interpretations of the past.

You will learn to conduct historical research.

  • You will learn not merely to be a student of history but to be a student historian.
  • You will learn how to formulate significant historical questions and to develop a research plan to answer those questions.
  • You will learn how to find sources to help you answer the questions you have posed.
  • You will learn to present a logical, lucid argument that is derived from and supported by historical evidence.