Know the past, shape the future.
How we understand the meaning of the past has crucial implications for our present and our future. As a Whitman College History major, you’ll learn how to think critically about human history and develop an appreciation for its complexity. Supported by a close-knit academic community of engaged students and inspiring professors, you’ll gain practical skills that will prepare you for countless careers or graduate school, and you’ll be ready to take your place as an informed global citizen.
3 Reasons to Study History at Whitman
Interested in History?
We’d love to send you information, including more on academic majors and student life at our beautiful campus in Walla Walla, Washington.
“I was interested in international relations as a career and was inspired by how much I could learn about that field through studying History. My freshman advisor was a History professor, and the first Whitman History class I took hooked me. I love how passionate the faculty are and how much room to explore there is within the major.”
Courses in History
See just a few of the fascinating courses you might take.
History and Ethnobiology of the Silk Roads
Drawing History and Biology together, this course brings students onto the Silk Roads of China prior to 1400 to understand the trade of agricultural goods like food, fiber and animals during that influential time. How and why were certain goods chosen for trade? What impact did those choices have on the people, their health and their lands?
The World Wars in Africa
The World Wars changed Africa’s relationship with colonialism in countless ways. This course brings the military history of Africa into focus and explores the social, political and cultural changes these wars brought about on the continent. You’ll learn of the effects of war—intended and unintended—that have shaped its inhabitants in the decades since.
Cleopatra: History and Myth
Glamorous seductress. Self-indulgent victim. Tragic romantic. Power-crazed visionary. Who was the real Cleopatra? How did she construct her own legend? What did her contemporaries think of her, and how have we understood her and her times since her reign? Explore the many “Cleopatras”—and her impact on gender, culture and politics throughout history—in this fun and fascinating course.
Pacific Whaling History
From shore-based hunts to modern factory ship whaling, the pursuit of whales has drawn people together and set them at odds with each other throughout history. And the rise of the modern environmental movement has only added complexity to the debates. In this course, you’ll explore the changing attitudes toward whaling and its environmental impact across the Pacific Basin.
Make Your Major Your Own: 7 Tracks to Take
On the Global Track, students travel the world broadly studying an array of different geographical regions and time periods. This track is designed for students seeking a wide understanding of major trends in global history. By studying the local histories of several regions, students will become familiar with four particular parts of the world while also gaining the tools to draw trans-regional connections across them.
Cultures and Ideas
On the Cultures and Ideas track, students approach history through the lenses of cultural and intellectual history. Ideas, grand narratives, and belief systems structure meaning that cultural historians explore in aspects as varied as religion, everyday life, clothing and cuisine. Ideas and ways of thinking have histories too.
Empires and Colonialism
On the Empires and Colonialism track, students engage with a dominant form of government from human history. Students will examine empires in a variety of regional and temporal contexts, asking questions such as: What is empire? How did resistance to empires develop? How did empires shape societies and interact with individuals in terms of gender, race and class?
Revolution, War and Politics
On the Revolution, War and Politics track, students examine the intersection of politics and conflict in shaping change. These courses challenge students to ask how radical change occurs, what is the relationship between revolution and ideas, can economic change be revolutionary and, of course, who wins and who loses with rapid shifts in politics and meaning?
On the Social Justice track, students gain a clear understanding of social movements, change and justice. Students ask questions such as: What are the sources of injustice? Who makes that call and how does that change? How did resistance groups organize? What are effective ways to institute change? Could justice be achieved within an oppressive regime?
On the Before Modernity track, students explore the patterns of life, thought and power that preceded the period now termed “modern.” Historians continually interrogate the meaning of the “modern” itself, along with its applicability to different regions of the world, and so these courses ask critical questions about continuity and change from the past to the present. Because pre-modern history often requires different methodologies than its modern counterpart, this track will expand the range of students’ historical skills.
Environmental history studies the interactions between humans and the natural world in the past. Understanding environmental influences on human society and vice versa means using historical evidence from scientists that go beyond the written record (studies of ice cores, tree rings, animal behavior, chemical processes, etc.). This highly interdisciplinary field also draws on artistic and literary sources to delve into nature’s cultural impact on human societies and illustrate changing attitudes towards the natural world both before and after the concepts of environmentalism and the anthropocene emerged. As an environmental historian, you will be able to better grasp the human condition as embedded in the broader environment through the ages. This leads to a deeper sense of the possibilities and limitations of humanity, how we have shaped our world and how the world has shaped us, from antiquity to our contemporary situation of environmental crisis.
Amazing Experiences You Can Pursue
Immerse yourself in world history. With connections to over 100 study abroad programs, History majors have abundant opportunities to study the past where it happened and access resources that aren’t available in the U.S. History majors have also traveled with faculty mentors to study archives in Senegal or conduct interviews in Germany.
Have powerful academic experiences. In the History program, you’ll benefit from a vibrant and stimulating community of colleagues. You’ll conduct your own original research and share it in a senior capstone project. And you’ll learn from visiting lecturers who supplement Whitman’s course offerings for even more thought-provoking conversations.
Make career connections. Our History majors consistently say that the bounty of practical, relevant internships, classes, on-campus jobs, mentoring and interdisciplinary collaborations gave them insight and direction for their lives after graduation. Each connection is a step that helps our History majors succeed.
Your Questions Answered
As a History major, you’ll become practiced in the ways historians ask questions, find evidence and expand knowledge of the past. You won’t just memorize dates and names. You’ll build complex arguments, learn to understand the nuances of past events, and bring hidden voices and truths to light. It’s a valuable major whether you’re curious about the world broadly or focused on a fast-track to graduate school or a job.
History major requirements emphasize reading, writing, research, analysis and collaboration. So you’ll graduate having mastered the foundational skills for a career in law, research, technology, education, business, journalism, library sciences or other meaningful professions.
History majors can definitely have a life outside the classroom—with research, clubs, internships, jobs and so much more. You might work part-time alongside staff and administrators, write for campus newspapers, participate in campus events and arts, or volunteer in the community.
Off-campus study, including study abroad and summer internships in other countries, can help you make the most of a liberal arts education and apply the theory and concepts that you learn in your coursework. It’s also one of the most enjoyable ways to understand a region that is central to global events.