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History Majors & Minors


History, a discipline that belongs to both the humanities and the social sciences, is the study of change over time. By exploring the complexities of peoples and societies in the past, the present becomes more comprehensible. As a core discipline of the liberal arts, history encourages students to think critically, to argue logically and to examine the values of their society and those of other societies. By developing research, analytical, writing, oral communication and problem solving skills, the undergraduate major in History is valuable preparation for a broad range of occupations, for graduate and professional schools and for the responsibilities of informed citizenship. Recent history majors have pursued careers in education, law, government service, journalism, public history, social agencies, business and finance. The History department brings historians and history makers to campus, encourages off-campus study and travel, shows films and documentaries, sponsors field trips to historical sites and assists students in finding history-related internships. The History department offers introductory and advanced work in the following geographic fields: Africa, East Asia, Europe, Latin America and the United States. Students wishing to count courses taken off-campus toward a major or minor in history should note that approval is not automatic and that they must obtain prior approval from their academic advisors and the department chair.

Course Catalog

Requirements for a major


Total courses required Ten--Nine in History and one in cognate field
Core courses
  • Either HIST 100 or HIST 197
  • HIST 295
  • Either HIST 490 or HIST 495 and HIST 496.
  • The core courses in the major, as well as all required 300-level courses (with limited approved exceptions) must be taken on campus,
Other required courses
  • Of the remaining six courses, five must be at the 200-level or above, at least three of which must be at the 300-level.
  • Students must select a concentration in one of the following four thematic areas: Empires, Nations, Migrations & Politics; Gender & Sexuality; Ideas, Health, the Body, & Science; Race, Religion, & Identity. To fulfill a concentration, students must take four courses--3 of which must be History courses, and 1 course must be from a different discipline, department, or program that addresses the concentration from their perspective. At least one course in the concentration must be at the 300-level. Courses in concentration should not be confined to a single global region or country.
  • At least one course must be taken in three of the following seven geographic fields: Africa, East Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, the Pacific Islands, and the United States.
  • The content of at least one course must primarily cover a period of history prior to 1800.
Number 300 and 400 level courses Four
Senior requirement and capstone experience

The History Department offers two routes to the senior capstone experience: a) Senior Seminar (History 490); b) Senior Thesis (History 495-496). Both experiences require students to employ and refine the research, writing and communication skills they have developed over the previous three years at DePauw by producing a piece of original historical research. These writing-intensive projects require sophisticated approaches to sources, analysis, and presentation, as well as imagination and discipline in the selection and refinement of research topics.

Senior Seminar (History 490) is a one-semester class devoted to the design and implementation of historical research in a subfield and historical methodology of each seminar member's choosing. The seminar instructor assumes primary responsibility for guiding the seminar participants, though students are encouraged over the course of the semester to consult other department faculty whose regional, thematic, and chronological specializations correspond to the selected topic. The end result is an original piece of historical research typically totaling between 30 and 40 pages of writing. (For a list of some recent Senior Seminar papers, click here; for a sample History 490 syllabus, click here). In addition to producing a paper, students must contribute actively to the development of their peers' projects through brain-storming, editing, and commentary; each student will make a research presentation to the seminar and invited guests toward the end of the semester.

Senior Thesis (History 495-496) requires two-semesters of intensive research and writing on a topic approved by a member of the department who serves as the student's principal thesis supervisor. During the first semester, the student will undertake reading, research, and drafting. Thesis students may participate in either a section of HIST 490 or a seminar group limited to students enrolled in HIST 495; during the second semester the student will complete the written thesis; give a public presentation based on the research; and defend the thesis before a committee of history department faculty. Students seeking a rigorous challenge of developing a historical project of greater scope and requiring greater independence than Senior Seminar may wish to consider this option. To be eligible for the Senior Thesis a history major must have a GPA in the major of at least 3.3 and permission of the department. Theses typically total between 60 and 80 pages, organized in chapters. (For a selection of Senior Thesis titles in recent years, click here). Students contemplating graduate study in history are encouraged to consider this option.

Writing in the Major The History major fosters a community of writers working together to produce cogent analysis of the past. We embrace writing as a mode of thinking and develop each writer's personal sense of historical voice as she learns to frame historical questions enticing to the reader. Among the core competencies that writing in the major promotes are: the advancement of substantive, nuanced arguments; the ability to position oneself within the existing scholarly literature, the adaptation of relevant theoretical frameworks; and the construction of powerful narratives based on primary documents. The senior seminar paper demonstrates mastery of these elements of the craft and thus is the capstone of the major's development as a writer. In order to produce successful and gratifying outcomes, the department takes a developmental approach as majors learn three types of writing: 1) historiographical analysis; 2) discussion and assessment of theoretical frameworks; 3) analytical narrative based on primary sources.

Our 100-level and 200-level classes provide a solid base in historiographical writing through response papers, book reviews, exams, as well as bibliographic essays. These courses also introduce students to the basics of writing from and about primary sources, learning to account for not only the content of historical documents, but also the contexts in which the documents were produced and the biases the documents express. Our required course for majors HIST 295, History Today: Debates and Practices introduces students in a formal way to writing about theory. This course features assignments such as analyzing the work of a particular historian with an eye toward how that historian defines and engages methodological and theoretical developments in the field. A final paper in History 295 asks students to anticipate the kind of methodologies that they would like to deploy in their advanced work and what theoretical frameworks will guide their selection of further courses and research topics.

Each 300-level class features a major research paper either emphasizing historiography or analytical narrative from primary sources, as a major writing component. Students draft these papers of approximately 12-15 pages in stages through a process that involves both peer-editing and regular professorial consultation. In order to ensure that every student has experience in each of these areas, course descriptions and syllabi will indicate clearly whether the course will emphasize one or the other kind of paper, with the expectation that every student have one of each experience, ideally before senior year.

Requirements for a minor


Total courses required Five
Core courses One course at the 100-level, one at the 200-level and one at the 300-level; HIST 295.
Other required courses At least two geographic areas, one of which must be Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, or the Pacific Islands.
Number 300 and 400 level courses One