History Department Changes Requirements, Makes Thesis Optional


The history department is instituting a number of changes to the requirements for the history major.

The department has transformed the history 600 writing seminar, added a number of 400-level seminars and is working towards offering an optional honors thesis as opposed to the current mandatory one, according to department chair Darién Davis.

Davis said that the changes are the product of several months of deliberation and discussion among the history faculty.

“The department voted last year to make these changes and we spent the summer and the fall semester discussing and debating these changes,” Davis said. “External grants and initiatives will help us offer new seminars, but the changes have also given the faculty an important opportunity to think about and discuss what we do as historians and what it means to be a historian in the 21st century.”

Davis said that the implemented changes were the result of faculty conversations about the evolving role of historians in present day.

“We are restructuring our curriculum to offer more flexibility and variety, thinking more broadly of the evolving role of the historian in the 21st century,” Davis said. “We believe that the craft of the historian, learning about the past and understanding how to craft narratives and arguments based on evidence remains critical to liberal arts education no matter what fields students pursue after graduation.”

According to Davis, the most substantial of the changes to the major requirements will be the transition from the honors thesis being a required component of the major to being optional.

Davis said that the required thesis has been in place in the department since the 1960s. “We have redesigned the thesis requirement so that students do not feel obliged to write a thesis,” he said. “Students with great ideas who find sources that they want to explore over two semesters can still propose to write a thesis after they have taken 600, and have had the experience of writing a paper which is the equivalent of a published historical article.”

The changes made in the history 600 writing seminar will lead to the seminar being open to all juniors and seniors. The seminar will be required by history majors. “In this CW course called Writing History, students learn about the craft of writing history and work on creating a historical narrative under the direction of a faculty member,” Davis said.

The department has also added new 400-level seminars, which are open to all students except classes designated for juniors and seniors. “These topically based seminars all involve reading and analyzing texts, discussions, student presentations and writing or producing a final project,” Davis said. “The history department will typically offers four types of seminars: seminars on a topic within a given country or region; global or transnational seminars, digital humanities seminars and public history seminars. Seminars are open to all students except those designated for seniors and juniors.”

“We hope to continue to question and refine our requirements and our pedagogical practices. We also want to continue to offer digital history courses and courses that deal with public history,” Davis said. “Yet our introductory courses and elective options on the 200 and 300 levels will continue to provide excellent opportunities for students to engage in history. Historians respond well to the present moment by asking questions about origins…. History is by nature multidisciplinary and so we will continue to offer courses on food, colonialism, popular culture [and] genocide as we trace the human experience,” Davis said.