Published Date

January 1, 2014

Resource Type

For Departments, Program of Study

AHA Topics

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

This resource was developed as part of the AHA’s Tuning project.

Institution: Willamette University
Degree Name: Bachelor of Arts in History
Location: Salem, OR
Year: 2014


Purpose of the Degree

Historians have perspective.

Through a close examination of the global past, historians gain knowledge of the “big picture” of human history: they understand the complex factors affecting long term patterns of historical change and appreciate the diversity of human experience across time and space. At the same time, historians learn empathy: close consideration of different expressions of human interactions over time allows us to achieve perspective on our own time and place in history. Historical empathy inspires creative thinking and promotes intercultural literacy.

Characteristics of the Program

Distinctive features of the Willamette University History program:

Faculty are dedicated teacher-scholars with proven qualifications and multiple commendations.

Faculty teach a wide range of subjects and field areas including African, Ancient, Asian, Environmental, European, Latin American, Legal, Medieval, U.S., and Women and Gender History, with particular strengths in social and cultural history.

Department faculty participate in a number of interdisciplinary programs in the College of Liberal Arts; many history majors choose second majors or minors in complementary fields such as American Ethnic Studies, Archeology, Asian Studies, Classical Studies, Environmental Science, International Studies, and Women and Gender Studies.

Students pursue independent research outside of the classroom through summer programs that pair students and faculty together to work on common projects as well as through multiple grant-funded research opportunities on campus such as the Carson Grant program.

Students participate in internships at the Willamette Heritage Center, the Oregon State Capitol, and the City of Salem as well as in local museums and historical societies.

Students engage in experiential learning inside and outside of the classroom via overseas study, service learning projects, research in area archives, and place-based learning at Willamette’s Zena Forest and elsewhere.

Career Pathways for the Graduate

History students are:

History students know where to find sources, how to evaluate evidence, and how to get the information necessary to contextualize their sources. History students learn how to apply a variety of methods in order to suitably investigate and interpret evidence.

History students are trained to ask good questions as well as to do the work necessary to find meaningful answers to those questions. History students know how to sift through competing explanations and how to engage a diversity of perspectives in approaching a problem. History students understand that there are multiple solutions to problems and recognize the need to continually engage new information and solicit others’ input.

Effective communicators
History students learn to write effective arguments that clearly communicate a reasoned and defensible position backed by substantive evidence. History students can synthesize information from diverse sources and analyze this information from multiple perspectives. History students are trained to utilize a variety of communication strategies in order to best reach their target audience.

These skills prepare history majors for a variety of professions, including but not limited to: education, law, politics, public history, and social service. Recent Willamette History graduates teach in public schools and in universities, work as lawyers and paralegals, serve as political consultants in state and federal government, and promote a variety of social concerns through advocacy work and administration in non-profit organizations.

Educational Style

The Willamette History program is designed to encourage students to explore history in breadth while simultaneously developing a depth of expertise in congruent subject areas and mastering historical skills. Through small classes (average 20 students) that focus on close reading, analysis, and historical writing, History faculty work to engage students in their own intellectual progress through the major.

Students beginning in History (in the first and sophomore years) are encouraged to enroll in one of the History 131 “Historical Inquiry” colloquium classes, explicitly designed to introduce students to the discipline through focused examinations of discrete topics such as World War I or The Abolition of Slavery.

Current and potential majors (in their sophomore or junior year) are encouraged to enroll in one of the History 221 “History Workshop” courses, explicitly designed to train students in historical methodology with an emphasis on primary source research and analysis, culminating in a research paper.

Students refine their interests and skills in the discipline through completion of several courses at the upper division (300/400) level. All of these classes train students in historical analysis, historiographical inquiry, and historical writing at the intermediate and advanced level across a broad range of subjects.

Students complete the major with the Senior Tutorial, History 499, an independent research project executed with close faculty mentoring that culminates in a 30-50 page historical essay. As a form of advance preparation, many students choose to enroll in History 444, Historiography, or History 453, History in the Archives, the semester prior to completing the capstone course. Both classes deliver advanced training in historical research and writing.

Program Competencies and Outcomes

  • A working knowledge of several different historical eras and locales
  • The ability to make interpretive sense out of a large body of historical data
  • The ability to articulate a clear and original historical interpretation in both written and oral form
  • The ability to identify multiple positions within a historiographical debate and assess the strengths and weaknesses of those positions
  • The ability to usefully apply their historical understanding to themselves and the time in which they live
Cecily McCaffrey

Willamette University