History Department

About the Major

Department/Program Description

Why history?

History is a way of understanding the whole of the human condition as it has unfolded in time. Without history, nothing makes sense: from the meaning of words to the formation of identities, to institutions, states, and societies. History straddles the boundary between the social sciences and humanities. 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.

Majoring in history will help you develop valuable skills transferable beyond the classroom: critical thinking, interpretation, and persuasive writing, as well as analytical and research skills for tackling complex questions. These are all essential to doing a job well after you leave Wesleyan. History is inherently complex and requires the ability to acquire knowledge from large amounts of information and assess evidence and conflicting interpretations of the past. As a history major you will learn to make sense of complexity and tell a good story.

Admission to the Major

How do I join?
Any history faculty member may serve as an advisor by agreement with the student. If you are not certain which faculty member would be an appropriate advisor for your intended course of study, you should meet with the department chair, currently Gary Shaw (gshaw@wesleyan.edu) and beginning with spring 2018, Demetrius Eudell (deudell@wesleyan.edu). Talk to your advisor or the chair and then go to your portfolio and declare the history major.

Major Requirements

Requirements for the HISTORY MAJOR FOR THE CLASS of 2018 and 2019

What next?
The breadth of topics covered by the Department of History allows students to create geographic, thematic, or chronological unity in their own unique course of study. A history major will develop two concentrations by choosing four courses from each of two thematic modules. (The full list of modules is provided below.)

To be a history major, you need eleven credits; at least eight must be history credits in two modules. There are no prerequisites to declare a history major.

There is only one required course for all history majors: HIST362. It is offered only in the fall and should be taken in your junior year.

What counts?

  • At least eight of the 11 courses must be history courses, and at least two of those should be history seminars.
  • You may also count one first-year seminar (HIST 100-149) and one senior research tutorial toward the major.
  • Two courses taken outside of Wesleyan, for example, during the semester abroad, may be included among the history courses.
  • Up to three courses in other departments, programs, or colleges may be counted toward the total of 11 required courses with the approval of the student’s advisor.  

Is there a senior research project? 
Yes. See the Honors/Capstone section for more details.

What are the modules?
Modules are fields of concentration that provide a thematic, geographic, or chronological unity for the courses you take for the history major. Any one course may belong to several modules, but for the major it may be counted only toward one module; any non-history course counted toward the 11 courses required for the major must be within a module. HIST362 cannot be included in any module, but the two additional seminars required for the major must be.

Students consult with their advisors to identify the modules and the courses needed to complete the major. With advisor approval, students may occasionally create their own coherent module.

The modules reveal the richness and depth of the history curriculum. The department offers modules in many subjects and you can also fashion your own. In fact, over 40 different modules have been pursued by students. For a fuller description, go to Descriptions of Modules. Some of the currently popular modules include:

  • Europe
  • North America
  • Empires & Encounters
  • Revolutions & Social Movements
  • War & Violence
  • Visual Arts & Culture
  • Religion
  • Intellectual History
  • Economy & Society
  • Contemporary History
  • Nation & Ethnicity

You may also go to the Department of History's Modules page for more information.

Requirements for the History Major for the class of 2020 and beyond

In general: The major program in history consists of at least nine history courses. These must include one Introduction to History course (numbered from 150-189), normally taken as a freshman or sophomore, and eight other courses, numbered 200 or higher. Students must also complete two modules and do a capstone research requirement.

In detail, a major will have:

  • nine history courses, including
    • one Introduction to History course numbered between 150-189, normally taken as a freshman or sophomore at Wesleyan
    • A minimum of eight other HIST courses, including the following:
      • All majors must include at least one course focused on the period before 1800 in their nine HIST courses. It can also count toward a module.
      • HIST362, the required seminar that all majors must take, typically during the fall semester of the junior year
      • two other HIST seminars, numbered 300 or above, taken at Wesleyan
      • Note that only two history courses taken outside of Wesleyan may be counted toward the nine required history courses and these will count as non-seminar classes.
  • Modules: Students pursue two modules, each composed of four courses with a thematic, geographic, or chronological unity, assembled from both history and non-history department courses. Students may create their own modules, but most select their modules from the large list prepared by the department faculty. In either case, students work closely with their advisors to identify their modules and the specific courses that are at the core of their major programs.
    • Here are a few things to remember about the courses in your modules:
      • A course may be used in only one of a student's modules.
      • Most courses in modules will be HIST courses, but up to three courses from other departments or programs may count towards the modules.
      • HIST362 cannot be included in any module.
      • Pre-1800 courses may count towards modules.

        Research Project: Every major must complete a substantial research project completed at Wesleyan under departmental faculty supervision.
Capstone Experience

APPLIES TO ALL CLASS YEARS

All history majors try out their skills in a senior research project. It can be a senior thesis or a senior essay written in a tutorial or in a 300-level seminar. The senior research project gives all history majors an opportunity to explore a topic they are passionate about.

  • Research Project: Every major must complete 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. HIST409 or HIST403) 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. A paper completed in an advanced seminar must be in addition to the course's normal requirements.
Language Requirement

Is there a foreign language requirement? There is no foreign language requirement for history majors, but the department strongly advises all history majors to learn at least one foreign language.

Transfer Credit

Transfer credit must be preapproved by the appropriate department before the course is taken. All preapproved credits will be posted to the student’s transcript for graduation credit. However, history majors wishing to count transfer credit toward the history major must consult with their history advisor in advance, and upon their return to Wesleyan provide their advisor with syllabi and other materials, such as exams and papers, from the course(s) that they wish to apply toward the history major. Once approved by the advisor, it may count for major credit.