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. The history department has defined six areas (concentrations) in which you may acquire this knowledge. Two are geographically defined: Europe and the United States. The others are thematically conceived and cut across geographical boundaries: intellectual history; religion and history; gender and history; and worlds, empires and encounters. In addition, a student may construct his or her own concentration with the advice and consent of an advisor. The requirements of a concentration are met by taking six history courses that fall under its purview. Breadth is encouraged by the requirement that everyone take at least two courses outside the concentration and one course in the history of the world before the great transformation wrought by industrialization. More intensive work in short periods or special problems is done in at least three seminars, 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 of the course.
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 of college, students should consider the preparation needed for advanced work, not only the first courses in history and related subjects, but also foreign languages (discussed below), training in theoretical approaches to social and political issues, and perhaps such technical skills of social science as statistics or economic analysis. First- and second-year students are encouraged to discuss their programs with any of the department's major advisors. Students interested in a particular period or area will find historically oriented courses offered in other departments and programs.
Prospective majors may obtain an application form on line from the History Department website at http://www.wesleyan.edu/history/HistoryMajorApplicationForm.pdf. Any history faculty member may serve as an advisor, by agreement with the student, or a new major may choose the advisor designated for his or her field of concentration. The advising experts for 2013–2014 are Paul Erickson, Intellectual; Magda Teter, Religion and History; Vijay Pinch, Worlds, Empires, and Encounters; Erik Grimmer-Solem, Europe; Ronald Schatz, United States; Jennifer Tucker (fall) Laurie Nussdorfer (Spring), Gender and History. For admission to the history major, a student must satisfy a departmental advisor of her or his ability to maintain at least a B- average in the major program.
First-year students have preference in the FYI courses that the department schedules every year. Like all FYI courses, these require vigorous class participation in discussion and are writing-intensive. For 2013-2014 the History Department's FYI courses are
- HIST101 History and the Humanities (Oliver Holmes)
- HIST111 Understanding the Arab Spring (Bruce Masters)
- HIST118 Barque Rome (Laurie Nussdorfer)
- HIST122 The Atlantic World (Jeffers Lennox)
- HIST138 The Enviroment and Society in Africa (Laura Ann Twagira)
First-year students also have preference in enrolling in the gateway courses in European history, which are offered as follows in 2013-2014:
- HIST203 Modern Europe (Nathanael Greene)
- HIST202 Early Modern Europe (Oliver Holmes)
A sophomore seminar is required for the completion of the history major. These courses require roughly the same kind of commitment as FYI courses, but sophomores are given preference and the courses are more oriented toward history as a discipline. In 2013-2014 the sophomore seminars are:
- HIST159 War and National (Re) Formation (Demetrius Eudell)
- HIST179 Gender and History (Laurie Nussdorfer)
- HIST153 Enlightment and Concept of the Self (Oliver Holmes)
- HIST182 Imaginary Empires (Jeffers Lennox)
Knowledge of foreign languages is essential to most kinds of historical inquiry and is indispensable to anyone planning graduate study in history. 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.
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 to be safe.