In other words, we risk profoundly misunderstanding the contemporary world without access to the collective and individual memories of our predecessors. The study of history offers the analytical tools to interrogate these memories, so that we may gain a critical understanding of our own historical moment. Older views of history emphasized its didactic function: To provide valuable moral and practical lessons, exemplified by the deeds and ideas of exceptional individuals. This approach yielded important insights, but it focused principally on the activities and concerns of political and cultural elites. Newer scholarly approaches have emphasized that history is about all of us, expanding its field of vision to encompass the experiences of wide ranges of people engaged in a variety of endeavors once thought insignificant (the daily lives of merchants’ families), unrecoverable (the attitudes and world views of illiterate peasants), or comprehensible only as part of the natural realm, and so not subject to historical change (sexual orientations and practices). Theories of historical progress that posited developments in Europe or “the West” as the telos toward which all human history is oriented are being challenged by pluralist conceptualizations of a historical process (or processes) attentive to the particular values and accomplishments of cultures around the globe. Informed by fruitful encounters with fields such as literary analysis, psychology, anthropology, environmental studies, and economics, contemporary historians have devised new methodologies to interpret these experiences, and so put history at the service of us all.
Students in this concentration will build an interdisciplinary program with history at its center, which provides the opportunity to explore particular areas of the world; particular time-periods; historical methodology; and/or the theoretical and substantive interactions of history with related disciplines. Students interested in historical studies would do well to take History 101 The Tricks We Play on the Dead within their first two years as an introduction to the field of academic history. A minimum of 20 credits is required for the concentration. Students should take at least one core course in each of the following fields: European and Russian history; and American history. Two additional core courses at the 300-level are also required. These may be chosen from courses in history or social studies that focus on current trends in historical methodology in an interdisciplinary context. In addition, students must take at least three credits from outside of history proper. The Moderation Committee will help outline a series of courses that strengthen a student’s grasp of recent theoretical developments in other disciplines important for historical studies; and/or deepen his or her knowledge of the history of a particular culture. Finally, students contemplating graduate study in history should view their larger program of study for the BA as an opportunity to develop their competence to read historical sources and studies in their original languages, and/or to expand their facility with historical and social science research methods. Prospective students will work with their Moderation Committee to construct a historical studies “core” complemented by a coherent supporting field and a larger complement oriented toward their postgraduate plans.
By examining works of history and historical thought and methods, we learn how historians “make” history. This course introduces history as a mode of inquiry by exploring questions such as: What can we really know about an ultimately irretrievable past? Is history a humanistic enterprise meant to be narrated as stories or a scientific way to test ideas according to temporal variables? We will weigh interpretations of King Phillip’s War, the Salem Witch Trials, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, World War II, and Cold War era revolutionary violence.