Published Date

May 2, 2013

Resource Type

AHA Resource, For Departments, Program of Study

AHA Topics

Academic Departmental Affairs, AHA Initiatives & Projects, Teaching & Learning, The History Major, Undergraduate Education

Note: This document was created in 2013 and revised since the original 2012 version. In November 2016, we published a new version of the History Discipline Core.

This document represents the AHA Tuning Project’s effort to describe the skills, knowledge, and habits of mind that students develop in history courses and degree programs. We have revised it since the first version was offered last fall. 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 have 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 catalyze 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 establish an ongoing 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 students bring to the table.

—Anne Hyde (Colorado Coll.), member of the AHA Teaching Division
September 2013


AHA History Tuning Project: 2013 History Discipline Core

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

Core Competencies (Numbers) and Learning Outcomes (Bullets)


  1. Engage in historical inquiry, research, and analysis.
  • Develop a disciplined, skeptical stance and outlook on the world that demands evidence and sophisticated use of information.
  • Understand the dynamics of change over time.
  • Explore the complexity of the human experience, across time and space.
  • Evaluate a variety of historical sources for their credibility, position, and perspective.
  • Read and contextualize materials from the past with appropriate precision and detail.
  1. Practice historical empathy.
  • Value the study of the past for its contribution to lifelong learning and critical habits of mind that are essential for effective and engaged citizenship.
  • Develop a body of historical knowledge with range and depth.
  • Recognize the ongoing provisional nature of knowledge.
  • Interpret the past in context; contextualize the past on its own terms.
  • Explore multiple historical and theoretical viewpoints that provide perspective on the past.
  • Recognize where they are in history.
  1. Understand the complex nature of the historical record.
  • Distinguish between primary and secondary materials and decide when to use each.
  • Choose among multiple tools, methods, and perspectives to investigate and interpret materials from the past.
  • Recognize the value of conflicting narratives and evidence.
  1. Generate significant, open-ended questions about the past and devise research strategies to answer them.
  • Seek a variety of sources that provide evidence to support an argument about the past.
  • Develop a methodological practice of gathering, sifting, analyzing, ordering, synthesizing, and interpreting evidence.
  • Identify and summarize other scholars’ historical arguments.
  1. Craft historical narrative and argument.
  • Generate a historical argument that is reasoned and based on historical evidence selected, arranged, and analyzed.
  • Write effective narrative that describes and analyzes the past for its use in the present.
  • Understand that the ethics and practice of history mean recognizing and building on other scholars’ work, peer review, and citation.
  • Defend a position publicly and revise this position when new evidence requires it.
  1. Practice historical thinking as central to engaged citizenship.
  • Engage a diversity of viewpoints in a civil and constructive fashion.
  • Work cooperatively with others to develop positions that reflect deliberation and differing perspectives.
  • Apply historical knowledge and analysis to contribute to contemporary social dialogue.

SAMPLE TASKS FOR DEMONSTRATING COMPETENCIES: This broad list is intended to give instructors, programs, and departments a wide range of items through which to the competencies above might be demonstrated.

  • Describe your own position in history in written, oral, or other forms.
  • Generate class discussion questions from primary and secondary sources.
  • Engage the ideas of others constructively in oral or written conversation/dialogue/discussion.
  • Explain in written or oral presentation the difference between primary and secondary sources.
  • Explain in written or oral presentation the different perspectives (such as author, audience, and agenda) between two or more primary sources.
  • Explain in written or oral presentation the different perspectives (such as author, audience, and agenda) between two or more secondary sources.
  • Demonstrate how various sources may be synthesized.
  • Find appropriate materials online, in a library, or in the community and know how to cite them.
  • Demonstrate the relationship between primary and secondary materials by assessing a historian’s work and recognizing the tools used to construct that historical argument.
  • Contextualize a source; demonstrate in written or oral presentation what historical detail 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 a transcript that shows courses whose content ranges over time, space, culture, and methods.
  • 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.
  • 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 number and type for exercises such as an annotated bibliography, paper proposals, a semester paper, or a capstone exercise.
  • Write a successful capstone research paper with appropriate citations.
  • Participate in internship and/or field experience, and also the creation of an e-portfolio/blog/website that demonstrates the creation of historical narrative and argument for public use.
  • Complete a substantial historical project autonomously.