College of Arts & Sciences

Department of History

Why History?

“History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illumines reality,
vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity.”

Cicero, De Oratore II

The Study of Human Ingenuity and Variety

Though we live in a world far different from anything Cicero could have imagined, we nonetheless share common concerns with him. Like modern Americans, Roman Republicans worried about the integrity of their government, debated the duties of the citizen, dealt with problems of social and economic inequity, and considered what it meant to be an alert and active moral agent in the world. Students of history have the opportunity to study assumptions and solutions other societies have devised to address common human concerns, and to evaluate their outcomes with the benefit of hindsight. In doing so, students learn about options our own current civilization may not present, and learn to question and examine their own assumptions as well.


The department helps students develop that awareness of the qualitative differences between historical eras commonly described as a sense of the past, a degree of familiarity with the political, cultural, and institutional developments that have shaped the contemporary world, and an understanding of history as a field of intellectual inquiry. In its general survey courses, the department strives to orient students to the cultural and social milieu in which they find themselves and to acquaint them with important people, movements, and events in the past. The department's more specialized courses emphasize less the amassing of factual knowledge than the investigation, from various points of view, of the ideas and institutions—religious, political, social, and economic—through which people have endeavored to order their world. These courses serve also to acquaint the student with some of the problems of historiography and the basic tools of research. With its emphasis on research, writing, and critical analysis, the history program has proved to be an excellent background for students who take up careers in business, law, communications, public service, and education. Internship opportunities add to such preparation.

Valuable Skills

Students of history have the opportunity to study assumptions and solutions other societies have devised to address common human concerns, and to evaluate their outcomes with the benefit of hindsight, as well as empathy. In doing so, students learn to question and examine their own assumptions in the present day. As they have the opportunity to study the passions, fears, joys, and panics of those who preceded us, students of history also acquire the crucial art of critical thinking. With electronic media and with ever-rising numbers of publications, we have access to more data than ever. (The daily edition of the New York Times contains more pieces of information than a person in the seventeenth century would have seen in his or her entire life!) Yet this wealth of information serves only to confuse, not enlighten us, if we do not have the skills to examine it critically. Who wrote something? Why? What group was the author addressing? Can we corroborate the information presented in this piece of evidence with other evidence? These questions apply as well to modern as to historical sources of information, and must be asked if we are to understand the implications of what we read every day. History students develop their cognitive skills in discerning the significance of primary and secondary sources through practice in writing, argument, and oral communication, all most useful skills in many future career paths. Through the study of history, they also gain greater empathy and sensitivity for others.

The department also offers majors the regular opportunity to interact with fellow students, faculty, and alumni through lecture and film series, social gatherings, and an undergraduate journal, the Hayes History Journal. Students are also offered the chance to apply for internships and summer grants with historical, and government organizations. Admission to Phi Alpha Theta, the International History Honors Society, is available for qualified students.

Graduates in history have much flexibility in their future paths, and pursue careers in such areas as education, the business world, government, and social service. Many also achieve graduate degrees, from J.D.’s to Ph.D.’s, from top universities. With their finely honed critical thinking skills, our majors excel in business and law; their passion for their subject makes them gifted teachers, as well. Eloquent speaking and writing abilities, developed in our rigorous curriculum, equip them to lead government agencies and nonprofit organizations.