Goals for the History Major

Students who complete the major in History will be able to

  • Think critically about the relationship between historical evidence and arguments.
  • Challenge and revise existing narratives of the past, both to comprehend the events they describe and to shed light on society’s evolving needs and concerns.
  • Question their own ideas and assumptions, and reflect on the often hidden relationships between ideas and social institutions, and between individuals and their cultures.
  • Analyze texts, documents, and oral historical materials, and assess the uses made of these materials by other historians.
  • Frame research questions, conduct independent research, and write persuasively.

The requirements for the history major encourage students to develop these capacities by studying the history of a particular region or historical topic in depth and by ranging more widely so as to fulfill geographical and chronological breadth requirements.

Majors will demonstrate their mastery of history by successfully completing nine history courses that include the following:

  • Four courses in an individually chosen area of Concentration
  • One course each in at least three different geographic areas
  • Breadth: Either two courses that cover the pre-1800 period [P], or one pre-1800 course and one comparative history [C] course
  • A research seminar (usually numbered 400 and up) resulting in the completion of a 20- to 25-page research paper that conforms to the department’s Guidelines for Research Papers
  • History 301, Writing the Past

Exceptionally, for courses taken during the spring 2020 semester, the history department will count courses with a grade of Pass toward major graduation requirements.

Some individual courses may fulfill more than one of the above requirements. Students who have taken history courses outside of the Five College Consortium (including history courses taken in study abroad programs) must petition the department to receive its approval to count those courses toward the major requirements. Majors should consult their department advisors as they select their courses or if they have questions about the requirements.

In addition, all majors must satisfy a comprehensive assessment in one of the following ways:

  • Completing a senior thesis on an independently chosen topic, and participating in an oral defense of the thesis with three faculty members chosen jointly by the student and the department. The thesis adds two to three additional courses (normally HIST 498 and 499) to the major program for a total of eleven or twelve history courses. The thesis is a requirement for the student to be a candidate for a degree with Latin Honors.
  • Completing a Capstone project. A major who elects not to write a thesis will meet the Capstone requirement by successfully completing the following courses.
    • HIST 301: Writing the Past; and
    • A research seminar (usually numbered 400 and up) resulting in the completion of a 20- to 25-page research paper that conforms to the department’s Guidelines for Research Papers.

Concentration Within the Major:  Geographic

In completing their major, History students may take four courses either in the history of one geographical region (chosen from the six possibilities listed below), or in the history of a particular historical topic (for example, colonialism or nationalism), or in a comparative history of two or more regions, chosen by the student. The geographical regions are as follows: 1) Africa and the diaspora (AF); 2) Asia (AS); 3) Europe (EU); 4) Latin America and the Caribbean (LA); 5) the Middle East (ME); 6) the United States (US). Each student shall designate a concentration in consultation with his or her advisor.

Concentration Within the Major:  Thematic (NEW as of 2018-19)

As an alternative to a geographic concentration, a major may choose a thematic concentration that allows the student to specialize in a topic across geographical areas and various time periods. Students may construct their own thematic concentration of four history courses by petitioning the department, or students may choose one of the following concentrations designated by the department:

  • Cultures, ideas, and emotions [TC]
    The study of cultures, ideas, and emotions allows for a broader examination of intellectual history beyond the history of political thought and ideology. Historians in this thematic area ask questions about civic and social identity as well as the construction of the self; cultural innovation and borrowing as well as cultural traditions; and the formation of emotional standards and regimes across historical periods and national boundaries. Courses in this concentration study how historical actors understood their lives and times at various moments in time and place.

  • Empires, nations, and encounters [TE]
    Political encounters between empires and nations have often been marked by violence but have also been mediated by other forms of cultural and economic exchange. Historians have debated the relative significance of these encounters in studies of imperial conquest, major world wars, nationalist and anti-colonialist movements, and the development of international trade networks. Courses in this concentration study transformations in political structures, institutions, and processes in a wide variety of historical and regional contexts.

  • Social justice, rights, and inequality [TS]
    Struggles against inequality and for social justice and political rights have created large-scale social movements to demand access to political power and a voice in determining social policies. Historians have examined structural forces, modes of governance, and attitudes that perpetuate inequality, as well as the development of social welfare policies, and ideas of citizenship and civil society that advance particular rights claims through the study of civil rights campaigns, struggles for racial, gender, caste, and economic equalities, anti-imperialist movements, and the evolution of international human rights organizations. Courses in this concentration explore the making and transformations of social inequalities in different geographic and temporal settings.

Breadth Requirements for the Major

History majors must take courses from at least three of the six geographical regions listed above. In addition, all majors must take either two courses that focus on a pre-1800 period (p), or one pre-1800 course and one course in comparative history (c).

Departmental Honors Program

The department recommends Latin Honors for seniors who have achieved distinction in their course work and who have completed a thesis of Honors quality. Students who are candidates for Latin Honors will normally take two courses, History 498 and History 499, in addition to the courses required of all majors. With the approval of the thesis advisor, a student may take either History 498 or History 499 as a double course. In special cases, and with the approval of the entire department, a student may be permitted to devote more than three courses to his or her thesis.

Course Levels in the Department of History

    • Introductory-level history courses (numbered in the 100 range) assume little or no previous college- or university-level experience in studying history, either in general or in the specific regions covered by the courses. They are appropriate for both students new to the department’s offerings and those who wish to broaden their historical knowledge by studying a region, topic, or period that they have not previously explored.  

    • Intermediate-level courses (numbered in the 200 and 300 range) usually focus on a narrower region, topic, or historical period. Although most intermediate level courses have no prerequisites (see the individual course listings), they assume a more defined interest on the part of the student, and are appropriate for those who wish to enhance their understanding of the specific topic as well as their analytical and writing skills. Courses at the 200 level typically aim to strengthen students’ ability to analyze primary documents and other sources as they deepen their historical understanding of a region; some courses may require individual research projects. Intermediate courses at the 300 level typically present students with historical topics that have been analyzed extensively by leading scholars, and ask students to dig into the theoretical and evidentiary debates underlying divergent conclusions. Although the reading and writing requirements for intermediate courses vary, the workload for 300-level courses is not necessarily heavier than the workload for 200-level courses.

    • Upper-level courses (numbered in the 400 range) include both research seminars and Honors thesis courses. Research seminars may require either the permission of the instructor or have prerequisites which vary according to individual courses. These courses are appropriate for students who have demonstrated an ability to work with historical sources and to write shorter, evidence-based analytic papers. In research seminars students will do background readings on the particular topics and will then go on to research and write a 20- to 25-page paper, based on both primary and secondary sources, under the supervision and guidance of the faculty member teaching the course. The completion of at least one such research seminar is a requirement of the History major. A History major who chooses not to write a senior Honors thesis will prepare a Capstone project in the second semester of the senior year based on this research paper. Students who wish to write an Honors thesis in their senior year should be in contact with a member of the department or the department chair late in their junior year to discuss possible topics.

Key for Concentration and Breadth Requirements

Concentration: Geographic

  • [AF]: Africa and the Diaspora
  • [AS]: Asia
  • [EU]: Europe
  • [LA]: Latin America and the Caribbean
  • [ME]: Middle East
  • [US]: United States

Concentration: Thematic

  • [TC]: Thematic: Cultures, Ideas, and Emotions
  • [TE]: Empires, Nations, and Encounters
  • [TS]: Social Justice, Rights, and Inequality


  • [C]: Comparative
  • [P]: Pre-1800

 Last Updated: 06 Sept 2018 cla