History Major

Haverford’s Department of History is a vibrant community of students and faculty committed to illuminating the past—with rigor, innovation, and a deep appreciation of the complex social and cultural forces underlying any single moment in time.

We welcome students with a wide range of interests, including those that span the disciplines. Their diverse perspectives and investigations—which include art, literature, music, and languages, among many other areas—are a vital part of the dynamism of the department.

Curriculum & Courses

Our program puts a strong emphasis on engagement with primary sources and other historical evidence, and equips students with the tools to analyze and interpret them. Our classes stress, and our accomplished faculty model, imaginative analysis rooted in fact.

Breadth and depth characterize our course of study. Majors develop a familiarity with the broad outlines of history, the range of interpretations advanced by historians, and the debates connected to the writing of history, while also cultivating an interest in—and undertaking a focused study of—a particular topic.

Students typically begin the major by completing two semesters of introductory (100-level) coursework. While courses at this level cover a range of regions, periods, and areas of study, all train students to be discerning readers of primary texts and to build persuasive arguments.

Majors then move on to 200- and 300-level courses. We require majors to select courses that span three fields. These three fields are chosen from the six defined fields (U.S., Early European, Modern European, Latin American, East Asian, and History of Science and Medicine) that we offer. Majors can also design a field to reflect their own interests. Our 200-level classes and 300-level seminars typically cover a broad range of sources and analytical approaches and emphasize research skills. As seniors, majors investigate a specific historical question and produce a Senior Thesis.

  • Major Requirements

    To complete the history major, students must  take eleven courses distributed across the history curriculum.

    All students must take one of the 100-level courses, preferably before the senior year.

    Students may take any 100-level course, which introduces both historical materials and the skills we expect in the major.

    Majors in History are encouraged to explore the curriculum with an open mind while thinking about how to prepare for the senior thesis. To those ends, we believe that it is important to ensure breadth and depth. The program of courses selected must include the following requirements. Only 200 or 300 level courses can count toward these requirements.

    • at least one course in the history of Asia, Africa, or Latin America;
    • at least one course in the history of Europe, North America, or Russia;
    • at least one course that focuses on the period before 1850;
    • two out of the three 300-level classes must be taken at Haverford and include a primary-source based research paper. We encourage students to take these classes with different professors and to take one in their sophomore year.

    Credit for Courses outside the Major and Study Abroad: 

    1. Students may count one course outside of the major toward the 11-credit requirement. This class will count toward 200-level credit. It cannot be used to replace one of the 300-level classes. It should not be a 100-level class. Ideally, it should be relevant to the student’s thesis research either topically or methodologically. This course must be reviewed and approved by the student’s advisor. 
    2. Students will receive 200-level credit for History classes taken when studying abroad. Students cannot receive 300-level credit for classes taken abroad. 

    In their senior year, all history majors write a year-long, i.e., two-semester, senior thesis, as described below. During the fall they complete their research in the thesis seminar. In the spring they work one-on-one with their faculty advisors to write and revise their theses. 

    Senior Thesis

    The senior thesis in the Department of History is  a year-long, two-credit research project on a topic  the student chooses to investigate. In completing a  thesis, history students conduct original research  and craft an extended argument. The senior thesis  project occurs in three steps. 

    Preliminary Work

    In the spring semester of their junior year, history majors work with faculty mentors to compose an initial thesis proposal that articulates a specific research question. In light of faculty feedback, students often spend the summer before their senior year doing initial archival research and mastering the relevant historical literature.

    Research and Analysis

    In the fall semester of their senior year, students enroll in HIST H400A, a weekly seminar that gives students an opportunity to identify, survey, and analyze the sources they will use in their thesis and to review the relevant scholarship. In this seminar students complete a series of assignments that help them conceptualize, research, and begin drafting their thesis. Assignments include: a revised thesis proposal, analysis of a primary source related to their thesis, critical review of the scholarly literature relevant to their topic, and a thesis prospectus that defines their thesis topic, describes their evidence, and outlines their argument.


    In the spring semester students enroll in HIST H400B, a supervised research and writing seminar that builds on the work they completed in fall semester. Working under the guidance of faculty advisors, students draft and revise their theses, submitting sections throughout the semester. Once they have drafted the different sections, they revise the entire thesis and submit a polished final draft. A history thesis is typically around 60 pages. After handing in the final version, students present their theses in an oral defense to their faculty advisors.

    Senior Thesis Learning Goals

    As a capstone experience, the senior thesis in history hopes to achieve complementary goals:


    • Conceptualize a research question.
    • Make a historical argument.
    • Identify and master relevant scholarship.
    • Locate and analyze primary source materials.


    • Develop a cogent argument.
    • Use evidence to support the argument
    • Write clearly and compellingly.
    • Adhere to professional standards for style, citations, and formatting.

    Oral Defense

    • Present a concise version of the thesis’s argument.
    • Respond to questions about the thesis’s structure, evidence, or conclusions.
    • Explain the argument’s importance or relevance.
    • Speak fluidly and authoritatively about the thesis.

    Senior Thesis Assessment

    A student’s faculty advisors collectively assess the thesis project (written and oral components) on the following criteria:

    • Conceptualization of Research Question and Historical Argument: students acknowledge and explore the full implications of an innovative thesis question.
    • Familiarity with and Understanding of Primary Texts: students engage primary sources to answer their research question and display a creative approach to existing sources or bring new and illuminating sources to bear on their research question.
    • Engagement with Secondary Literature: students demonstrate mastery of scholarly literature that pertains to their thesis topic by synthesis of and contribution to the scholarly conversation.
    • Methodological and Theoretical Approach: students ground their theses in current knowledge about their historical period, demonstrating a thorough understanding of relevant methodological and theoretical issues.
    • Quality of Argument: students construct a well reasoned, well structured, and clearly expressed argument.
    • Clarity of Writing: writing is consistently engaging, clear, well organized, and enjoyable to read.
    • Oral Presentation: at the end of the semester, students demonstrate comprehensive understanding of their topic in an articulate and engaging presentation and are able to provide innovative and thoughtful answers to questions. Student demonstrates capacity to connect thesis project to prior coursework in history and related disciplines.

    A style guide, along with suggestions for defining a thesis topic, is available on the departmental web page.

    Requirements for Honors

    Honors in history will be granted to those senior majors  who, in the department’s judgment, have combined  excellent performance in history courses with an excellent  overall record. Typically, a grade of 3.7 or higher in a  history course reflects honor-quality work.

Research & Outreach

The history major culminates with each student producing a substantial piece of original research over the course of their senior year. Majors can choose to develop and complete their theses during the fall semester or over the full year. Both paths require them to be part of our Senior Thesis Seminar during the fall semester. Those who elect to spend the year developing their theses continue to take the Seminar in the spring semester.

In Senior Seminar, students choose a topic, identify a set of primary materials (often housed in one of Philadelphia’s many archives), define an argument, and draft their theses. In addition to the Seminar’s group meetings, seniors meet one-on-one with their thesis advisors throughout the year.

After Graduation

Students emerge from our major with skills and perspectives that are vital to a number of professional pursuits. Business, journalism, education, law, and social work are just a handful of the fields our graduates enter. In these professions and more, they are well-served by their ability to construct cogent arguments, to evaluate evidence, and to think critically and question assumptions.


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