History is more than a catalog of events and actors; it is an ongoing process of discovery and interpretation. All facets of human experience have a historical dimension — the power struggles of monarchs and presidents; the working lives of farmers, sailors and seamstresses; the spiritual lives of slaves; the cultural assumptions of colonizers; the intimate relationships of families, to name only a few. Even the telling of history has a historical dimension, since historians often disagree about exactly how things happened and why.
The variety of sources through which we understand history can encompass the full range of human expression as well—written documents, clothing, household items, artwork, advertisements, songs, buildings and public monuments, among others. By studying primary materials and divergent interpretations of history, students acquire and develop analytical and expository skills: they learn to critique and interpret sources, sift through and organize information, formulate persuasive arguments, and express themselves with clarity and elegance. In addition to graduate study, these skills are indispensable for work in law, journalism, education, government, non-governmental organizations and business.
The study of history affords many additional benefits. It expands and enriches our understanding of the diversity of human lives over time across such boundaries as gender, culture, class, race, region, and religion. It helps us think about how and why the world we know came to be and about our own places in it.
Learning Goals for History Students
- Know historical facts, narratives, and methods
- Be able to evaluate and interpret both primary and secondary sources and construct historical arguments
- Communicate effectively orally and in writing
- Learn how to conduct historical research
- Be able to see the historical roots of contemporary issues
The American Historical Association's Tuning Project provides an even more in-depth listing of the core competencies and learning outcomes students can expect from a history major.