Published Date

December 2, 2016

Resource Type

AHA Resource, For Departments, For the Classroom, Program of Study

AHA Topics

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


The following 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. Because it is a living, breathing document, we revised it again to reflect how historians have used it and changed it over the past three years. Because we believe that any discussion of teaching and learning history must be faculty-driven, we have used the expertise of history faculty from 100 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 offer this document as a reference point to stimulate conversations within history departments and other relevant units of colleges and universities.

We assume this document 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 (Univ. of Oklahoma), Faculty Director, AHA Tuning Project

Note: The 2013 version of the History Discipline Core is available online.

Discipline Profile and Core Concepts

History is the study of the human past as it is constructed and interpreted with human artifacts, written evidence, and oral traditions. It requires empathy for historical actors, respect for interpretive debate, and the skillful use of an evolving set of practices and tools.

As an inquiry into human experience, history demands that we consider the diversity of human experience across time and place.

As a public pursuit, history requires effective communication to make the past accessible; it informs and preserves collective memory; it is essential to active citizenship.

As a discipline, history requires a deliberative stance towards the past; the sophisticated use of information, evidence, and argumentation; and the ability to identify and explain continuity and change over time. Its professional ethics and standards demand peer review, citation, and acceptance of the provisional nature of knowledge.

Core Competencies and Learning Outcomes

History students can:

  • Build historical knowledge.Gather and contextualize information in order to convey both the particularity of past lives and the scale of human experience.
    • Recognize how humans in the past shaped their own unique historical moments and were shaped by those moments.
      Develop a body of historical knowledge with breadth of time and place—as well as depth of detail—in order to discern context.
    • Distinguish the past from our very different present.
  • Develop historical methods.
    • Recognize history as an interpretive account of the human past—one that historians create in the present from surviving evidence.
    • Collect, sift, organize, question, synthesize, and interpret complex material.
    • Practice ethical historical inquiry that makes use of and acknowledges sources from the past as well as the scholars who have interpreted that past.
    • Develop empathy toward people in the context of their distinctive historical moments.
  • Recognize the provisional nature of knowledge, the disciplinary preference for complexity, and the comfort with ambiguity that history requires.
    • Welcome contradictory perspectives and data, which enable us to provide more accurate accounts and construct stronger arguments.
    • Describe past events from multiple perspectives.
    • Explain and justify multiple causes of complex events and phenomena using conflicting sources.
    • Identify, summarize, appraise, and synthesize other scholars’ historical arguments.
  • Apply the range of skills it takes to decode the historical record because of its incomplete, complex, and contradictory nature.
    • Consider a variety of historical sources for credibility, position, perspective, and relevance.
    • Evaluate historical arguments, explaining how they were constructed and might be improved.
    • Revise analyses and narratives when new evidence requires it.
  • Create historical arguments and narratives.
    • Generate substantive, open-ended questions about the past and develop research strategies to answer them.
    • Craft well-supported historical narratives, arguments, and reports of research findings in a variety of media for a variety of audiences.
  • Use historical perspective as central to active citizenship.
    • Apply historical knowledge and historical thinking to contemporary issues.
    • Develop positions that reflect deliberation, cooperation, and diverse perspectives.

A Challenge

Now that our disciplinary society has reflected on the broad learning goals and expectations in our field of study, we invite members to consider two additional matters that have assumed growing importance in our academic work:

How might we thoughtfully integrate our specific disciplinary goals with the statements of learning outcomes frequently encountered in general education programs, institutional missions, and state mandates? What language might we develop to build arguments about the broad, transferable skills that history students acquire while explaining to our students, their families, fellow citizens, and future employers the far-reaching and practical applications of such skills?

How do we know our students are learning the outcomes laid out here? What are the meaningful ways we can demonstrate that students have in fact achieved the expectations we set for them?

For more resources, see Learning Outcomes in History: Further Reading.