About the Major
History is not a body of facts to be transferred from the erudition of a professor to the memory of a student. It is a way of understanding the whole of the human condition as it has unfolded in time. Like the other social sciences, it has established methods of investigation and proof, but it differs from them in that it encompasses, potentially, every area of human culture from the beginning of recorded time. Like the other humanities, it uses ordinary language and established modes of telling its stories, but it is constrained by evidence left us from the past. Education in history aims to produce students who can identify and analyze historical problems, interpret difficult bodies of evidence, and write clearly, even eloquently.
Of course, you have to know a lot about some area of the past to be a historian at all. History major requires eleven credits, up to three can be from outside department, if related to the area of study and approved by the advisor. To encourage depth and breath, students will identify and complete two focused modules of four courses each. These modules, in thematic, geographic, and chronological areas, may be selected from the list approved by the department faculty (see the Requirements for History Major page, below) or may be created by the student, with the approval of the major advisor. Breadth is also encouraged by the requirement that everyone take at least one course in the history of the world before the great transformation wrought by industrialization (pre-industrial era).
There are two types of courses: seminars and lectures. Lectures offer broad overviews of the subject, while seminars offer intensive, focused work on topics focusing on special problems. Three seminars above HIST150 are required, one of which (HIST362) is devoted specifically to introducing the varieties of contemporary historiography and the variety of methods and concepts that historians have worked out to understand the past.
Finally, and most important, the department asks everyone try their hand at real historical research and writing. This may take the form of a senior thesis (required to graduate with honors; typically at least 80 pages long, requiring a two-semester research tutorial), a senior essay (roughly half the length, in a one-semester research tutorial), or a research paper submitted as part of the work in an advanced seminar.
There is no single path to historical knowledge, nor any prerequisite for admission to the history major. Related and supplementary courses in other disciplines will enlarge and enrich the student's historical understanding. During the first two years students should consider the preparation needed for advanced work and take courses designed for prospective majors (especially seminars HIST150-199, though an FYI is a good place to start as well), but also courses not in history, such as training in theoretical approaches to social and political issues, and perhaps such technical skills of social science as statistics or economic analysis, and foreign languages (discussed below). First- and second-year students are encouraged to discuss their programs with any history faculty on duty.
Prospective majors may obtain an application form on line from the History Department web site at http://www.wesleyan.edu/history/forms/histmajorapp.html. Any history faculty member may serve as an advisor, by agreement with the student.
The major program in History consists of 11 semester-courses, including at least eight courses number 201 or higher.
- Eight of those eleven courses must be History courses; courses taken outside of Wesleyan may be included among these eight courses.
- Up to three courses in other departments, programs, or colleges may be counted towards the total of 11 required courses (non-History courses must be approved by the student’s advisor).
- One first-year seminar course and one research tutorial may be counted towards the eleven required courses.
Those 11 courses must include the following:
- Modules: Two modules, each composed of four courses with a thematic, geographic, or chronological unity. Students may create their own modules or they may select their modules from the list prepared by the department faculty, Link to Modules. In either case, students work closely with their advisors to identify the modules and the specific courses which are at the core of their major programs. Link to specific Courses.
- A course may belong to only one module; any non-history course counted toward the 11 courses required for the major must be within a module.
- History 362 cannot be included in any module, but the two additional seminars required for the major must be.
- Seminars: A total of three seminars, including HIST 362: Issues in Contemporary Historiography, which is ordinarily taken during the fall semester of the junior year.
- Both sophomore seminars (numbered 150-199) and advanced seminars (numbered 300-399) can satisfy the semian requirement.
- First-year courses may not be used to satisfy the seminar requirement, but one of the first year seminars can count toward the major.
- All History seminars must be taken at Wesleyan.
- Pre-Industrial: At least one History course chiefly concerned with the pre-industrial era. A list of courses that meet this requirement can be found on the department’s home page.
- Research Project: A substantial research project completed at Wesleyan under departmental faculty supervision.
- This project may take the form of an Honors thesis or a senior essay done through an individual tutorial (e.g. HIST 409 or 403), or a research paper completed in an advanced seminar in one of the student’s chosen modules, with the approval of the student’s advisor and the instructor of that course. If the senior research project is completed in an advanced seminar, this seminar cannot count toward the seminar requirement cited above.
- Non-Wesleyan Credits: Only two History courses taken outside of Wesleyan may be counted toward the minimum of eight required History courses.
- At the adviser's discretion, additional History courses taken outside of Wesleyan may be applied to the 11 courses required for the major.
There is no foreign language requirement for history majors, but the department strongly advises all history majors to learn at least one foreign language. Students concentrating in European history normally should acquire a reading knowledge of a European language (modern or ancient) by the end of the junior year. Wesleyan sponsors semester-long study programs with language training in several European countries, in Israel, and in Japan and China. There are programs under different auspices for other countries and other continents.
Transfer of credits does not automatically mean the credits will be accepted towards the major; history majors must consult their advisors in advance. Upon return to Wesleyan students should provide their advisor with syllabi and other materials, such as exams and papers, from the course(s) taken elsewhere. Wesleyan credit for work done away from Wesleyan is assured only when the arrangements for study are made through Wesleyan, for instance, through the Office of International Studies for certain formal exchange programs. In all other cases, a student must petition for transfer of credit before going away to take the course(s). Transfer of credits does not automatically mean the credits will be accepted toward the major; history majors must consult their advisors in advance.