Why Study History at Northwestern?
As a history major, you learn to think critically, read effectively, research creatively but carefully, write cogently, and argue convincingly. You can study any region of the world in any era, to understand how time and culture shape human experience, and to examine how our own lives are shaped by what has come before. You work with some of Northwestern’s most dedicated professors in settings that range from small seminars to sweeping, dynamic lecture courses. And you are 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 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 pursue 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 in the history major to work with NGOs or government agencies. Some go into politics; others become doctors, architects, urban planners, engineers, or professionals in the arts. History is not a vocational major, but history teaches you to absorb and make sense of large amounts of information, and to communicate that sense clearly and effectively. These skills allow our majors to excel in a wide variety of occupations. For more on career paths for history majors and the value of a history education, see: “What can I do with a history major?”
How Do I Know if History is Right For Me?
The best way is to take history classes! College-level history is different than what you 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. The history department 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 become a history major.
What Courses Should First-Year Students Take?
Most first-year students begin with a first-year 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), Global History (250) or U.S. History (210). Students with strong high school preparation may prefer to take 300-level courses, which offer more intensive and in-depth explorations of a given subject.
What Do First-Year Students Need to Know About History Major Requirements?
The History major is designed to allow students to pursue their interests while also giving them a broad historical perspective and a firm grounding in the discipline's theory, methods, and practices. History majors must complete 12 history courses, including one History 393 seminar on "Approaches to History" and one History 395 "Research Seminar." One of the twelve courses can be a first-year seminar taught by history faculty, though this cannot count as one of the two required history seminars. Beyond that, students with a geographic concentration take six courses focused on that region and four courses outside it while global history concentrators take four global history courses and six courses outside global history, either two each in three distinct geographic regions or three each in two distinct geographic regions. For all majors, at least two of the 12 required courses must be outside modern U.S. and/or European 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 vital preparation for History 398, a selective and optional senior thesis course that allows students to spend an entire academic year producing their own piece of history.
When you declare a history major, you will meet with our Undergraduate Coordinator and with one of our afternoon advisers to fill out the Major Declaration Form and the history major worksheet, and then you will be assigned 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 does prepare you to take more advanced courses at an earlier stage of your history career. If you excelled on your AP exams, you are likely ready to move straight to 300-level history courses, and you might even be prepared to take a 393 seminar as a first-year student.
Most history courses taken abroad will fulfill history department requirements, though each must be discussed and approved with a student’s departmental advisor.
How Do I Make the Most Out of My History Major?
The history department offers many opportunities for undergraduate education and involvement outside of the classroom and encourages its students to take an active role in the department. All majors and minors are invited to regular 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. The department also invites NU alumni who were history majors back to campus each fall to discuss how to make the most of a history degree beyond Northwestern. 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 (see our home page for more information). And history professors are on duty to advise potential majors every afternoon.
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 Susan J. Pearson, Director of Undergraduate Studies (sjpnorthwestern.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 Liz Murray, our undergraduate administrator (elizabeth.murraynorthwestern.edu).