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Department of History
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Fields of Study & Types of Courses Offered

Fields of Study

American History: The Department offers a broad range of courses in United States political, social, cultural, and economic history, as well as in the history of gender, race relations, and political economy. Faculty expertise makes possible study in all periods and most fields of American history.

European History: The Department sponsors reading and research in the history of Western Europe and Russia. Students may also specialize in Medieval and Renaissance or in modern European history.

World & Comparative History: The Department offers a variety of opportunities for comparative and transnational studies of slavery, commerce, and culture of the transatlantic world, and global patterns of industrialization.

Other Fields of History: The Department offers a growing number of courses in Ancient, African, Asian, and Latin American, Middle Eastern history, and material culture. Although these fields are not now available for major concentration at the Ph.D. level, students can arrange to minor in any of these fields.

Types of Courses Offered

The Department provides graduate instruction in the form of reading seminars, research seminars, and independent study courses.

Reading Seminars constitute one of the two cornerstones of graduate instruction in history. They introduce M.A. students to historical literature and controversies pertaining to particular historical periods or topics, and help prepare students working toward the Ph.D. for qualifying exams. The approach may be historiographical, chronological, topical, or a mixture of these. The Department also offers five basic historiography courses that serve to introduce students to changing historical interpretations. Although historiography courses are run as reading seminars, they are counted as distinct for purposes of degree requirements.

Research Seminars, the other cornerstone of work in the History Department, train students to engage in independent historical research. In some seminars students may choose their topics within a broad chronological period, and in others they are asked to select topics according to a common subject or theme. Regardless of the approach used, the emphasis is upon original research, evaluation of sources, and the ability to write a coherent, sustained paper in clear prose. Group discussion and evaluation of papers constitute important components of the research seminar.

Independent Study courses, numbered 666, consist of reading or research projects undertaken with faculty supervision. There are two types of 666 courses.

  1. Some are attached to advanced undergraduate lecture courses. A student taking such an independent study course attends the lectures and fulfills all the undergraduate assignments, and in addition meets on a regular basis with the professor and often with other graduate students as well to discuss supplementary readings; the student is also expected to perform additional written work. This kind of 666 component of an undergraduate lecture course constitutes a "mini-seminar" at the graduate level.

  2. In 666 courses that are not attached to undergraduate lecture courses, students engage in directed independent reading and/or research. Students seeking to enroll in such courses, which are most appropriate for those working at the Ph.D. level or specializing in areas of study not normally covered by departmental course offerings, must secure permission from the Chair of the Graduate Studies Committee.