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Departmental Goals

History Department Goals

History Majors Should:

  • develop a sense of the significance of history in interpreting the world around them,
  • provide a "temporal road map to life",
  • understand what happened,
  • comprehend cause and effect in the past,
  • think rigorously and creatively about the past,
  • engage primary sources, and
  • enter into scholarly discussions through secondary literature.

History Majors Should Learn to:

  • think critically about the past, our own society and those foreign to us
  • distinguish our own culture or individual perspectives
  • understand methods historians use to analyze the past
  • put those methods into practice
  • understand that the facts do not "speak for themselves"
  • understand that historians must grapple with complementary and competing ways of explaining what happened
  • assess the strengths and weaknesses of each on the way to constructing an explanation or narrative about the past

A History Graduate will be able to:

  • speak intelligently about several major areas of the world
  • command the historiographical and methodological issues of one area
  • constructively discuss historical issues
  • write effective history
  • orally present an effective historical argument

Writing Statement

Reading and writing are the primary tools of historical inquiry, and while historians may evaluate oral and material sources as they set out to discover the past, the normal means by which they communicate their discoveries to a wider audience is through essay-writing and the formal research paper. These are the conventional form of discourse among professional historians. The skills required are at the heart of what it means to think critically about past and present, our own society and those that are foreign to us, as well as about what distinguishes our own cultural or individual perspective. "Writing to Learn" is therefore an integral part of the process of historical discovery. At an introductory level writing assignments might consist in asking students to identify the particular perspective represented by a text's author (when did he or she write? in what place? what religious or social group did he or she represent?) or simply to provide a descriptive summary of the source's structure and method of argument. Once students have had an opportunity, through writing such assignments to explore the limitations of our access to earlier modes of thinking and to the way historians write, they can move on to more sophisticated analysis. Effective communication at the college level requires the use of clear and correct English, a solid grasp of argument and organization, and the economic but effective use of proper documentation. Learning to write is, therefore, an integral part of most history courses, since we continue to raise our standards throughout a student's career in the History Major, and to teach methods of written analysis 

Importance of Language Study

We strongly recommend that students consider the study of one or more languages as part of their training. It will be obvious that students interested in advanced study of history should devote themselves as early as possible to language study. Different languages, or different versions of languages, may be essential depending on the period one studies. It is difficult, for instance, to study any part of medieval Europe without Latin. It is important to consider too languages of 'minority' populations (examples might include Spanish for United States history, Polish for German or Russian history, Arabic for virtually any European history). There is also a great deal of historical literature written about regions in languages other than the local standard. Many of you have read literature written in English on histories of Asia, Europe, or Africa, for instance. Remember that Asians, Europeans, and Africans may be writing about the region you are interested in. This literature often offers fundamentally different and extremely valuable ways of thinking about your field. Students should conduct investigation to determine the languages most valuable in their chosen field of history. Graduate schools look quite closely at students' language training when considering applicants, and it can be a costly mistake for a student to take history courses in translation while neglecting language training. Graduate programs in history, including United States history, require a reading knowledge of one or two languages beyond English, and students who gain even a year or two of facility with them will have an advantage in research and advanced studies.