Outline of the Requirements and Rationale for the History Major

The history major consists of a minimum of thirty-six credits in history, including History 299 (formally 201), History 401, a "comparisons and encounters" course, and a 400-level seminar. No more than 6 credits at the 100 level will count toward the major. The department offers courses in seven geographical areas: Ancient Mediterranean, East Asia, Europe, Islamic World, Africa, Latin America, and the United States. The major program must be planned by the student and adviser to include at least one course in each of four of these areas at the 200- or 300-level (three areas for students graduating in 2013 or 2014), at least one course treating the pre-modern period (at any level), and two related courses within one geographic field (at 200 or 300 level). In addition, college requirements, including the major exam, must be completed. History Major Checklist (Classes 2013 & 2014) or History Major Checklist (Classes 2015 and later).

Why Study History?

The study of history develops your understanding of the human condition through the ages. Learning about women and men in different times, places, and environments makes you aware of the possibilities and limitations of humanity and helps you to understand your own situation. History is the most comprehensive of the liberal arts, embracing, potentially at least, whatever people in any walk of life, at any time, have done or endured. By liberating us from the confines of our own time and place, history makes life larger and richer.

As professional historians, the history department naturally hopes that students will share our enthusiasm and find in history a lasting source of intellectual challenge, pleasure, and enrichment. History is worth studying for its own sake and for the improvement of the life of the mind. The study of history teaches you to think creatively, independently, and with discipline. In addition, Whitman's history department helps you to hone your skills in analysis, synthesis, and writing. All history courses require writing outside the classroom. Proper grammar and spelling are crucial to good writing and will be considered in the grading, including the comprehensive exams. (Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers, or Diane Hacker, A Pocket Style Manual, are the appropriate guides for acceptable form for all papers written in history classes.)

History, therefore, is also an excellent preparation for many rewarding careers as well as for post-graduate study. History students acquire analytical and expository skills; they learn to sift and organize information, to formulate arguments, and to express them in oral and written form with force and clarity. These skills are useful in any career, and they are indispensable in such professions as law, business, government, journalism, and education.

The Organization of the Major

The history major is organized to provide, within the limits of the department's size, breadth of knowledge, a base in historical method, and a depth of understanding in a particular area. The major culminates with comprehensive written and oral exams.

At the introductory level, the department offers broad survey courses in Ancient Mediterranean, East Asian, European, Islamic, Latin American, and United States history. These courses introduce students to historical evidence, the ways historians have interpreted such evidence, and the writing of history papers. A student's coursework in the major may include up to two of these classes.

The majority of credits in the major will be earned in courses at the 200 or 300 level. Most such courses are organized regionally or nationally and chronologically (e.g. The US Since 1945, 19th-Century Europe, Modern China) or thematically within a region (e.g. courses on gender, environment, revolution, etc). Some are organized comparatively or with a focus on encounters between cultures. All majors must take one class exploring a period before 1500CE (at 100, 200, or 300 level); further requirements are discussed below.

Early in the major, but after completion of at least one course at the 200 or 300 level, all History majors study historical research methodology, historiography, and the use of theory in history in History 299 (formally 201). This course explores various "types" of history (e.g. political, social, oral, quantitative), as well as the "how to" of the discipline, culminating in a major research paper using primary source material.

Courses at the 200 or 300 level should be chosen in consultation with the major adviser. They must include courses in at least four (three for the classes of 2013 and 2014) of the following seven areas: Ancient Mediterranean, East Asia, Europe, Islamic World, Africa, Latin America, and the United States. This requirement encourages understandings of global diversity as well as exposure to different areas of history and different professors. And they must include two related courses, the combination of which is designated a "field." This requirement encourages some depth of historical inquiry, as material in each course informs understanding of topics covered in the other. (See the discussion of major exams for more information on fields.) Finally, these courses must be chosen to include one of the courses focused specifically on "comparisons and encounters." For example, "Cuba and Nicaragua" compares the history of two nations, while "Colonial Latin America" explores the encounters between Natives, Africans, and Europeans in Latin America.

Specialized knowledge and independent research are vital to an undergraduate history education. The culminating work of the major includes both specialized study and comparative history. All seniors take the capstone class, History 401: Topics in Comparative History. It is designed to assist students in integrating and synthesizing what they have studied in the major as well as preparing them for the oral portion of their major exams. And all majors take a 400-level research seminar in which they examine a subject or time period in depth and write a research paper based on primary sources. Research seminars are designed to build upon previous courses in a particular area (prerequisites can be found in the course description for each seminar). The research paper marks in some respects the culmination of the student's development as a history major. It should be noted that students who are seeking honors in major study write a thesis in addition to the other course work outlined above.

Last updated April 2012. Please email us with any corrections, comments, or suggestions.