Two students sitting in on a history major lecture
Students listening to Dr. Clifford Ando’s lecture in Ancient Mediterranean World II: Rome.
The History Major

“The past is a foreign country,” the novelist L.P. Hartley wrote in 1953. “They do things differently there.” Our courses introduce students to the ways in which people, ideas, cultures, and societies have changed over time. History majors and minors learn to engage with issues affecting both past and present from a variety of perspectives, as well as research, writing, and rhetorical skills that will serve them far beyond their history coursework.

History offers undergraduate courses that touch every corner of the globe and range in time from the ancient world to the twenty-first century. Our faculty teach courses that focus on issues that remain critical in our current world—race, gender, sexuality, religion, economics, globalization, law, and war—as well as courses on topics that continue to shape identity, politics, and culture, like sports, fashion, food, literature, and art. We believe part of the joy of history is that of discovery. To that end, History students are given significant freedom to explore the Department’s diverse offerings as they fulfill the requirements of their degree.

Studying history at the University of Chicago enables you to become not just a consumer of academic knowledge, but a scholar in your own right. History Majors will approach the study of the past through different perspectives and methodologies, while developing specialized expertise in their chosen geographic or thematic major field. Students will also consider the nature of historical evidence, hone their writing skills, and become comfortable making historical arguments based on primary sources and on the work of other scholars.

History majors have the option of pursuing the Thesis Track, the Capstone Track, or the Colloquium Track. Thesis Track students undertake a year-long independent research project and produce a piece of original historical scholarship. Capstone Track students also perform rigorous independent research, but produce historical scholarship that takes an alternate form, such as a documentary, a podcast, an art installation, or a website. Colloquium Track students have no final project requirement and instead take additional electives, a course of study that works well for students with multiple majors or other time constraints, pre-med students, or students with broad historical interests.

Requirements of the History Major

The Major Field

All History majors select a geographic or thematic field on which to focus their historical study.

Geographic Fields: Africa, Ancient Mediterranean, Atlantic and Caribbean, East Asia, Europe, Latin America, Middle East, North America, Russia, South Asia

Thematic Fields: Economic, Empire, Environment, Gender/Sexuality, Intellectual, Legal, Race, Religion, Science/Technology/Medicine, Urban

Students take 6 courses, or half their major, in their field of choice. (And if you want to pursue a major field not on our list, you can petition to do so!)

Methods Courses

All History majors complete two methods courses:

Historiography (HIST 29803) – Historiography is an introduction to the nuts and bolts of historical practice: what is it that historians do when they do history? How do they make arguments, evaluate evidence, and write narratives that tell us something true about the past? Students will walk away with a sense of the debates that animate historians, the range of approaches to historical argumentation and narrative, and an understanding of how interpretation of evidence relates to historical methodologies.

Research Colloquium (HIST 296xx) – Research Colloquia are offered every quarter on a variety of topics. With the guidance of their professor, students will craft a research paper of approximately 15-20 pages based on primary sources. For Thesis Track students, it’s a warmup round; for students in other tracks, the course provides a taste of original historical research and scholarship.

Seminars and Electives

In addition to their Major Field courses and Methods requirements, students

…in the Thesis track take BA Seminar I, II, and III (2 credits total, spanning Spring of 3rd year to Winter of 4th year), along with 2 History electives.

…in the Capstone track take BA Seminar I and Capstone Seminar I and II (2 credits total, spanning Spring of 3rd year to Winter of 4th year), along with 2 History electives.

…in the Colloquium track take 4 History electives.

Other Requirements

History majors in all tracks must take courses in at least two geographic regions, and at least one course that treats history before 1800, and at least one course that treats history after 1800.

History Majors’ courses

—can be double counted with another major if they are cross listed (for example, a History and NELC major may count a course that has both HIST and NEHC course numbers toward both majors).

—must be taken for quality grades.

For further details about the major requirements, please explore the history program pages in the College Catalog.