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.

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

    They then take five 200-level courses as well as three 300-level seminars. Students should take at least two of their 300-level seminars by the end of their junior year. Students select courses from different fields of concentration, e.g., European history, U.S. history, East Asian history, Latin American history, history of science and medicine. Students can also design a field based on courses offered at Haverford, Bryn Mawr, and Swarthmore. Students who study overseas often take advantage of courses abroad to enrich their major. All majors must complete three geographic, temporal or thematic fields by taking two courses (above the 100 level) within a field to complete that field requirement.

    Over the course of 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 Project

    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 Project 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 Project 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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