The Haverford History Department encourages students to explore the curriculum and master skills in what we might consider three broad areas of pursuit:
- Experience and
Students in history approach the study of the past through an immersion in materials and evidence, analysis and interpretation, creativity and imaginative endeavor. Our classes emphasize creativity and conceptual thinking rooted in fact and historical complexity. Primary sources permeate our curriculum. They are gateways to a three-dimensional world, keys to unlock the study of the past. We also focus on individual student creativity, both in the exploration of the curriculum and in student work. Students in history can pursue their own intellectual questions and concerns, ones they develop with faculty through their time at the College. Because of the roles creativity and the creative arts play the department, history at Haverford is a strong home for students with an interest in interdisciplinary studies. Professors in the department work with literature, art, music, architecture, material objects and languages, analyzing what happens at the intersection between aesthetics and political culture.
Students in history practice history. They engage in the production of historical knowledge. We send students out into the world to work on real projects of their own making. We have internal and external grants to support them in that work. Students learn how to design and execute independent research projects on their own initiative, moving between collective experiences and individual scholarly reflective work. In history, we work seriously with students over the course of the major on writing and revision. Our classes are often writing intensive. We take our craft seriously—the overlap between writing and thinking, form and meaning. That extends through the consistent training students in our major receive in writing and re-vision in its grandest sense.
The curriculum builds cumulatively to train students in skills in writing and analysis from their first year to their last, in concert with their studies abroad and interdisciplinary engagements with other departments. Students in history do rich, complexly imagined and robust work in French, Chinese, Spanish, German, Russian, Greek, and Latin, among others. They learn to critique and confront the culture of which they’re learning the language, to put it in the context of other historical forces, and to illuminate the power relationships inherent in all societies. In history, students do not just think in another language, but across languages. They animate linguistic study through critical scholarly and pragmatic application, emphasizing the foreignness of any culture and the past itself.
History in this department starts from questions. Our classes emphasize deep time, historical debates and the roots of historical problems. History students examine how philosophies, political systems, and social orders are historically contingent. Students gain a sense that there might have been and might still be other outcomes. History is also then a kind of social critique. If every moment in the present is temporary, and what today is modern, tomorrow is “unmodern,” the major encourages students to ask questions about the necessity of the present.
Students in history enter a dialogue between present and past, considering consciously where they stand in the flow of time. Rather than striving for certainty, history is thus often about estrangement. Students study the horizons of opportunity available to people at different times and places, how those horizons shift, and how individuals navigate within those constraints. Through these approaches, the major fundamentally encourages empathy with difference. History teaches humility and the art of listening. It seeks to understand the full dimensions of human actors in the past.
In history courses students:
- master a foundation of knowledge about specific places and societies over time.
- think critically about the nature and production of historical knowledge.
- broaden and master research skills.
- learn disciplinary writing skills using evidence and crafting persuasive arguments.
Haverford’s Institutional Learning Goals are available on the President’s website, at http://hav.to/learninggoals.
History courses foster analysis and interpretation of the past and emphasize the development of cultures and ideas over the accumulation of facts. Courses offer students opportunities to pursue creative studies and develop their critical reading and writing skills.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
Concentrations and Interdisciplinary Minors
History students often combine their study of the past with various complementary subjects, such as East Asian Studies, Latin American Studies, religion, or art history. Students have also found generative links between their study of history and interdisciplinary areas, including Environmental Studies, Museum Studies, and the Growth and Structure of Cities.
History students are encouraged to study abroad. In addition to acquiring fluency in a foreign language, students abroad benefit from exposure to other historical approaches and the proximity to rich archival resources. The history major is designed to facilitate such study abroad.