History

Professor Lisa McGirr, Director of Undergraduate Studies 
 
What is History, and how do we view the world? 
History is a broad discipline encompassing every dimension of human interaction in the past, including social life, the economy, culture, thought, and politics. Students of history study individuals, groups, communities, and nations from every imaginable perspective—employing all the techniques of the humanities and social sciences to raise questions and probe for answers. Students explore the origins and developments that have shaped our contemporary world; and take courses that span the globe and range in chronological scope from antiquity to today. 
 
What is it like to study History at Harvard? 
The History concentration combines rigorous training with flexibility, facilitates close student engagement with our diverse faculty, and solicits regular student input. The History Department faculty teach courses that seek to unsettle students - encouraging them to confront unfamiliar ideas, cultures, and eras - and to question their own assumptions about the world and their place in it.  Interdisciplinarity is essential to historical practice. Our students familiarize themselves with the methods and theoretical assumptions of other disciplines, even while learning how these methods and theories are just as much products of history as the questions they were developed to address. 
 
What is the value of studying History? 
History students examine issues critically and creatively, grasp details while seeing the big picture, and think boldly but flexibly enough to change their opinions when change is warranted. These are the skills of a sophisticated thinker and a responsible citizen. They are also valued in countless fields. Our graduates move on to careers in consulting, business, law, journalism, government, and non-profit work. Only a small percentage of our concentrators pursue post-graduate work in history. Students wind up in exciting places during college as well, through summer jobs, internships, academic programs, service initiatives, and terms or school years abroad. 
 
What are the goals of the History concentration? 
History students study how societies and people functioned in various contexts in the past and how the past continues to shape the present. Our faculty help students learn how to analyze complex events and craft original arguments from large amounts of disparate evidence. This capacity for research is one of the central goals of the concentration and provides skills fundamental to a wide array of career opportunities, especially those that value the ability to process complicated sets of information, to take multiple perspectives on that information, and to communicate effectively and concisely about it. Students are encouraged to follow their own interests while the department provides structured guidance and rigorous training in research skills, critical reading, oral communication, effective writing, and problem solving. The discipline enables students to engage with the unfamiliar with confidence and creativity. 
 
How can I decide if History is the right concentration for me?  
The best way to explore the History concentration is to take a course with one of our faculty members. All of our courses are open to non-concentrators and none have prerequisites. The department also has a series of foundations courses ( History “101s”) that are especially welcoming to freshmen and to pre-concentrators, (You do not need prior knowledge of the time or place studied to take one of these courses nor are you expected to have done any prior college level history.)  Our “101s” are wonderful gateways into the department.  
 
The department has also developed a series of thematic and career course clusters to provide students additional pathways into the concentration. These clusters can help guide your course selections depending on your intellectual interests or the future career you might be considering. Explore our foundations courses and our thematic and career course clusters on our undergraduate webpage
 
Do I have to write a thesis? 
History has two tracks. They differ only in that the honors track requires a thesis as well as enrollment in History 99, our year-long Thesis Seminar. Our advising programs support students who begin preliminary thesis work as early as junior year, and numerous college fellowships provide funding for summertime research. The thesis program itself is flexible enough that students can decide as late as shopping week senior fall whether to write a thesis. Meanwhile, the requirement to produce a substantial research paper in one of your History seminars ensures that either way, you will produce an original work of historical scholarship that can be the capstone to your undergraduate academic career. 
 
Are there other options instead of a full concentration? 
Our robust secondary field requires five courses, including one seminar.  See also below for information on joint concentrations with History.  Our faculty are well represented in the Gen Ed course offerings and in interdisciplinary courses with a variety of disciplines. Hundreds of non-concentrators every semester take classes from History faculty, gaining an introduction to the critical and creative skills historians emphasize. No matter what interests you, History has something to offer—everything has a history, and our Department teaches you how to recover, recreate, and interpret it. 
 
REQUIREMENTS 
Basic Program: 10 courses (40 credits) 
Thesis Program: 12 courses (48 credits) 
  1. Required courses: 
    1. One course that focuses significantly on U.S. or European history. 
    2. One course that focuses significantly on history beyond the U.S. and Europe. 
    3. One course that focuses significantly on historical societies before 1750. 
    4. Four additional courses in history, to be chosen in consultation with the student’s House adviser, who signs the Crimson Cart. Each concentrator may petition the DUS to receive History credit for one non-departmental course. This “related field” might be a course of an historical nature taught by other faculty in the College, or a course providing auxiliary knowledge or skills related to the concentrator’s historical interests. 
  2. Tutorials
    1. History 97 (offered in spring): taken during the first term in the concentration (required and letter-graded). 
    2. Two Seminars: Ordinarily taken by the end of the second term of the junior year (required and letter-graded). In at least one of these students must write a substantial research paper. For students wishing to write a senior thesis, that research paper must be at least 20 pages long and involve primary source research. 
    3. Basic Program: No thesis. 
    4. Thesis Program: History 99 (year-long 8-credit course, required, and graded SAT/UNS). 
  3. General Examination: Oral Examination for highest (departmental) honors candidates. 
  4. Other information: 
    1. History courses: The courses listed under “History” in my.harvard.edu (including cross-listed courses) as well as other courses taught outside the Department by members of the Department of History are available for History credit without petition. Courses of an historical nature taught by other faculty in the College in related fields may be taken for History credit by petition to the DUS. 
    2. SAT/UNS: Courses, aside from History 99, taken on a SAT/UNS (Pass/Fail) basis may not be counted for concentration credit. 
    3. Advanced Placement: The History Concentration does not grant credit for AP scores. 
    4. Study Abroad: The History Department encourages study out of residence and urges interested students to consult the DUS about their programs at their earliest convenience. Additional information is available at our website
    5. Freshman Seminars: Freshman Seminars taught by members of the History Department count toward concentration credit; as a general rule other Freshman Seminars do not. In case of uncertainty please contact the Undergraduate Office. 
Joint Concentrations 
History offers pre-approved Joint Concentrations in African and African American Studies, Anthropology, East Asian, Near Eastern, and Ancient (Greek and Roman) History.  Joint concentrations with other fields are also possible and are designed in consultation with both departments on a case by case basis. Concentrators are currently pursuing joints with Romance Languages and Literature, History of Art and Architecture, Folklore and Mythology, and Math (as the allied field). If you wish to discuss an individualized joint, please consult Lisa McGirr, DUS or Carla Heelan, ADUS.  
 
Students whose interest in African and African American Studies, Anthropology, East Asian, Near Eastern, or Ancient (Greek and Roman) civilizations is primarily historical in character should consider the relevant joint concentration which has been pre-approved in each of these areas. The goal of each program is to introduce students to the craft of historical study - the ways historians make sense of the past, and the skills of historical analysis, writing, and research - as well as to promote a critical understanding of the historical experience of African/African American/East Asian/Near Eastern/Greek and Roman societies, or to join together the fields of historical and anthropological study (archeological or social). 
 
Students pursuing one of the pre-approved joint concentrations will complete one-half of their tutorial work in the History Department (History 97) and the other half in African and African American Studies, Anthropology, East Asian Studies, Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, or Classics. Students take a History seminar, typically in junior year, in which they write a 20-page research paper based on primary sources; in addition, they take a seminar or junior tutorial in the joint field as specified in each case. In the senior year, joint concentrators write an honors thesis, an original work of research which is advised and evaluated in both concentrations and which typically focuses on some aspect of African, African American, East Asian, Near Eastern, or Ancient Greek and Roman history, or is located at the intersection of history and anthropology (archaeological or social). 
 
All joint concentrators are required to take 14 courses, including the senior thesis tutorial in History or the joint field if History is the allied field. For further information on our joint requirements, please see our website
 
ADVISING 
Students are encouraged to come to the History Undergraduate Office in Robinson 101 for information and advice about the History concentration. It is particularly important for anyone considering a concentration in History to make an appointment with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies - the sooner the better and in any case in advance of the concentration deadline (mid-November of sophomore year). The Director of Undergraduate Studies is Professor Lisa McGirr. She and the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies both hold weekly office hours and see students throughout the year. Each House has a History Adviser on staff (resident or non-resident), and each History concentrator who requests one will be assigned a Faculty Adviser. 
 
First-years interested in exploring History as a concentration are encouraged to take two or more of the following in the pre-concentration period: a History “101,” (these include General Education courses taught by history faculty), a freshman seminar led by a member of the department, any lecture course designated as a broad survey in the department, and/or a seminar in the fall of the sophomore year. 
 
For lists of History Department Student Advisory Board Members and House Advisers in History and other useful links, please see the History Department's website for undergraduates
 
RESOURCES 
In addition to the advising resources listed above, the History Dept.’s Widener Library liaisons Fred Burchsted (burchst@fas.harvard.edu) and Anna Assogba (assogba@fas.harvard.edu), have been working with the History Department for several years. They welcome and invite you to email them whenever you have questions about any library matter. They are happy to answer questions via email, help you with finding sources for your papers, and are happy to meet with you in person to talk about your work. 
 
HOW TO FIND OUT MORE 
Please visit the department’s website for more information about the History concentration. The office is open Monday–Friday 9:00am–5:00pm and may be reached by telephone at 617-495-2157. Students may sign up for an appointment with the Director of Undergraduate Studies or Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies at the History Department's website for undergraduates
 
ENROLLMENT STATISTICS
Number of Concentrators as of December
Concentrators
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
2018
2019
History
231
216
184
170
156
174
156
150
146
136
128
118
*History + another field
10
1
6
9
8
5
11
6
7
9
10
10
*Another field + History
1
0
2
1
2
5
9
10
10
5
9
6
*Ordinarily, History does not participate in joint concentrations other than East Asian History, a joint concentration with East Asian Studies; Near Eastern History, a joint concentration with Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations; and Ancient History (Greek and Roman), a joint concentration with the Classics.