Why study History at Northwestern?
As a history major, you can learn to think critically, read effectively, write beautifully, and argue convincingly. You will have the chance to study virtually every region of the world, to understand how time and culture shape human experience, and to examine the ways in which our own era is shaped by what has come before. You will study with some of Northwestern’s most dedicated professors, in settings that range from small, intensive research seminars to sweeping, dynamic lecture courses. You will be exposed to a broad range of analytical techniques, everything from close textual reading to logical deduction to spatial and quantitative analysis. History students leave Northwestern with the best of what a liberal arts education has to offer: the solid skills necessary for most liberal professions, the engaged and critical mindset that fosters meaningful citizenship, and the spirit of curiosity necessary for lifelong learning.
What do History Majors do After College?
History majors prosper in any and every profession that requires research, analysis, argumentation, and communication. Some history majors follow career paths clearly related to their studies; they attend law school, they become teachers, they work in archives and museums, or they begin graduate studies in order to become professional historians. Many enter professions that require strong research and analytical skills, such as consulting or investment banking. Others become journalists, or use the knowledge of the world they have gained from history to work with NGOs or enter the Foreign Service or the State Department. Some go into politics; others become doctors, architects, urban planners, engineers, or professionals in the arts. History is not a vocational major: unless you plan to become a history teacher, it doesn’t give you a specialized skill set that automatically qualifies you for a specific job. But History teaches you to absorb and creatively process large amounts of information, and to think, research, write and analyze. These skills allow our majors to excel in a wide variety of occupations. For more thoughts on career paths for history majors and the value of a history education, see: “What can I do with a history major?”
How can I find out if History is right for me?
The best way is to take history classes! College-level history is different than what you might have had in high school. Northwestern’s professors don’t just teach history, they also create it through their own research and writing. And the courses they teach are not just about memorizing facts or storylines: they are about understanding where those facts come from and how and why they are used to create the stories historians tell. History has more award-winning teachers than any other department at Northwestern, and our courses will sharpen your skills, expand your mind and teach you about the world even if you do not eventually become a history major.
Most first-year students begin with a freshman seminar taught by history faculty (History 101, 102, or 103), or a 200-level introductory course such as Chinese Civilization (History 281), European Civilization (201), the History of Science and Medicine (275), African-American History (212) or US History (210). Students with strong high school preparation will be ready to enter 300 level courses, which are usually smaller and more challenging. Favorite 300-level classes for students early in their history careers include the Legal and Constitutional History of the United States (318), The Vietnam Wars (321), The Development of the Modern American City (322), The History of the Modern Middle East (370), Revolutions in Modern Latin America (368-2), the History of the Holocaust (349), The Age of the Renaissance (333), the History of Modern France (342), the History of Modern India (385), the History of Modern Japan (384), Modern British History (362) or Sex and Scandal in Early Modern England (361).
The history department also offers many other opportunities for undergraduate involvement outside of the classroom. All majors and minors are invited to monthly faculty-student lunches. History also sponsors numerous public events where historians from Northwestern and elsewhere talk about their own research, or about the historical dimensions of contemporary events. Students who want to develop their research skills can be paid to work closely with faculty members as Leopold Fellows at the Chabraja Center for Historical Studies. Students who need extra help with writing can use the History Writing Center. And history professors are on duty to advise potential majors every afternoon.
What should first-year students know about the requirements and procedures for History majors?
The requirements for history majors will change in the fall of 2012. These changes should make for a stronger education and sense of community among our majors, but they will also require a period of transition, in which students who entered before 2012 can choose between the old requirements and the new, and first years in the class of 2016 and beyond will be held to the new requirements.
You can find details about our requirements for the class of 2016 and beyond here. History majors must complete 12 history courses, at least two of which must be small seminars, and six of which must be in an area of special geographical or thematic concentration. One of the twelve courses can be a freshman seminar taught by history faculty, though this cannot count as one of the two required history seminars. We also require majors to take four courses from other departments that have some relationship with your study of history.
The two required history seminars (393 and 395) are especially important in developing students’ skills in critical reading, research, writing, and oral presentations. The 393 seminars are small classes meant to teach new majors about historical thinking through the intensive study of an especially fascinating event or theme. The 395 seminars foster research, analytical, and writing skills by helping students to produce an original work of history. The 395 seminar is especially good preparation for History 398, a selective and optional thesis course that allows students to spend an entire academic year producing their own piece of history.
When you are ready to declare a history major, you will fill out the major declaration form and the history major worksheet, and then meet with administrator Susan Hall or with one of our afternoon advisers, who will assign you to a permanent advisor who will give you advice throughout your years in the history department.
Do AP exams and Study Abroad Courses Count for History Credit at Northwestern?
We do not accept AP credits in order to fulfill history department requirements. But strong performance in AP history courses may prepare you to take more advanced courses at an earlier stage of your history career. You might, for example, move straight to 300-level history courses rather than taking the 200-level American or European surveys, and you might even be prepared to take a 393 seminar as a freshman rather than a sophomore.
Most history courses taken abroad will fulfill history department requirements, though each must be discussed and approved with a student’s departmental advisor.
Who do I contact if I have questions?
If you want advice about the history major before declaring, you should either see one of our afternoon advisors or contact Professor Carl Petry, Director of Undergraduate Studies (c-petrynorthwestern.edu). If you are ready to declare a major, or have any technical questions about declaring the major or fulfilling our requirements, you can contact Susan Hall, our undergraduate administrator (susan-hallnorthwestern.edu).