Publication Date

October 1, 2012

Perspectives Section

AHA Activities

An updated version of the History Discipline Core document is available here.


The document below represents the ‘s effort to describe the skills, knowledge, and habits of mind that students develop in history courses and degree programs. We articulate the ways history supports an educated workforce and citizenry and demonstrate that its value goes far beyond narrow professional training. Because we believe that any discussion of teaching and learning history must be faculty driven, we’ve used the expertise of history faculty from nearly 70 different institutions to draft, debate, and revise our ideas. Grounded in the excellent work already done by the AHA and scholars of teaching and learning, we developed this set of core competencies and examples of specific ways students might demonstrate their competence.

We offer this document as a reference point to stimulate conversations within history departments and other relevant units of colleges and universities. We assume it will be revised, taken apart, added to or winnowed down to reflect the distinct character of each institution and its students. We hope to initiate a process in which history faculties lay out their own distinctive goals and outcomes for courses, majors, and degrees, and then "tune" such descriptions by asking their own students, alumni, local employers and civic leaders to join in a conversation about what history degrees provide. Our aim is to begin a collaboration with a wide set of stakeholders about the essential nature of history in higher education and the breadth of skills and knowledge that history studentsbringto the table.

—Anne Hyde (Colorado Coll.), member of the AHA Teaching Division

Part 1

History is a set of evolving rules and tools that allows us to interpret the past with clarity and rigor. It requires evidence, sophisticated use of information, and a deliberative stance to explain change and continuity over time. As a profoundly public pursuit, it is essential to active and empathetic citizenship and requires effective communication to make the past accessible for multiple audiences. It is a craft with a set of professional ethics and standards that demand peer review, citation, and toleration for the provisional nature of knowledge.

Part 2

History students can (a.k.a. core competencies)

  1. Value the study of the past for its contribution to life-long learning and effective habits of mind that lead to civic engagement.
    a. Understand the dynamics of change over time.
    b. Explore the complexity of the human experience across time and space.
    c. Recognize the value of conflicting narratives and evidence.
    d. Recognize where they are in history.
  2. Develop a disciplined, skeptical stance and outlook on the world that demands evidence and sophisticated use of information.
    a. Defend a position publicly and revise this position effectively when new evidence requires it.
    b. Engage a diversity of viewpoints in a civil and constructive fashion
    c. Work cooperatively with others to develop positions that reflect deliberation and differing perspectives.
  3. Read a range of materials from the past with care and precision and develop historical context for these materials.
    a. Contextualize materials with appropriate detail and historical scale.
    b. Evaluate these materials for their credibility, position, and perspective.
    c. Distinguish between primary and secondary materials and decide when it is important to use each.
  4. Demonstrate expertise in historical argument.
    a. Identify and summarize historical argument.
    b. Explain and apply a historical argument.
    c. Generate a historical argument that is reasoned and based on suitable evidence.
  5. Generate significant, open-ended questions about the past.
    a. Devise a research strategy to find suitable evidence to answer these questions.
  6. Seek a variety of sources that provide evidence to support an argument about the past and understand the complex nature of the historical record.
    a. Understand where materials are located, how to get access to them, and how to read and gather them.
    b. Choose among multiple tools, methods, and perspectives to investigate and interpret materials from the past.
  7. Develop a methodological practice of gathering, sifting, analyzing, ordering, synthesizing, and interpreting evidence.
  8. Explore multiple historical and theoretical viewpoints that provide perspective on the past.
    a. Recognize the ongoing provisional nature of knowledge.
  9. Understand that the ethics and practice of history means recognizing and building on other scholars' work, peer review, and citation.
  10. Write an effective narrative that describes and analyzes the past for its use in the present.
    a. Choose among rhetorical strategies appropriate to historical analysis: describe, contextualize, analyze
    b. Consider a range of media best suited to communicating a particular argument, narrative, or set of ideas

History students demonstrate historical skills and perspectives when they (a.k.a. learning outcomes)

  • Complete a substantial historical project autonomously.
  • Describe their own position in history in written, oral, or other forms.
  • Explain in written or oral presentation the difference between primary and secondary sources.
  • Explain in written or oral presentation the different influences on perspective (such as author, audience, and agenda) between two or more primary sources.
  • Explain in written or oral presentation the different influences on perspectives (such as author, audience, and agenda) between two or more secondary sources.
  • Demonstrate the relationship between primary and secondary materials by assessing a historian's work and recognizing the evidence used to construct that historical argument.
  • Contextualize a source: demonstrate in written or oral presentation what historical details a source needs to be understood.
  • Narrate, in written or oral presentation, an event from the past.
  • Present and analyze, in written or oral presentation, different perspectives on an event from the past.
  • Have an academic transcript that shows courses with content that ranges over time, space, culture, and method.
  • Use specific primary and secondary sources in examinations, discussions, and oral presentations.
  • Select appropriate primary source(s) as evidence.
  • Select appropriate secondary source(s) as evidence or in support of a position or argument.
  • Find appropriate materials online, in a library, or in the community and know how to cite them.
  • Generate class discussion questions from primary and secondary sources.
  • Engage the ideas of others constructively in oral or written conversation/dialogue/discussion.
  • Identify existing and compelling questions about the subject.
  • Pose appropriate research questions and assess the range of materials necessary to answer them.
  • Write a proposal for the development of a work of history in any medium.
  • Identify and cite sources and points of evidence appropriate in quantity and type for exercises such as: a) an annotated bibliography, b) paper proposals, c) a semester paper, d) a capstone exercise.
  • Write a successful capstone research paper with appropriate citations.

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