Published Date

January 1, 2013

Resource Type

For Departments, Program of Study

AHA Topics

Academic Departmental Affairs, Teaching & Learning, Undergraduate Education

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

By Juliana Barr
Univ. of Florida
Gainesville, FL


Degree Name: B.A. Degree in History


Purpose of the Degree

The History Department provides important skills to its students in analytical reading, critical thinking and writing, and reconstructing the past through the use of primary source evidence and established scholarship.

As active scholars themselves, the History Department’s faculty shares their intellectual mission with students by constructing a battery of challenging courses that offer a wide variety of geographical, chronological, and methodological approaches. Over time, history students develop the ability to analyze complex problems and provide solutions through a combination of research and writing; this expertise goes far beyond the particular content of their field of study to inform the student’s interaction with historical, contemporary, and future problems. By introducing students to the world of historical scholarship in the History Practicum, requiring writing assignments that help develop and polish persuasive writing in a diverse range of classes, and providing students the opportunity to analyze, synthesize, and reconstruct the past themselves in the capstone Senior Seminar, the History Department allows students from all backgrounds to acquire this critical set of skills in a rigorous, but supportive, academic environment.

Characteristics of the Program
  • Small(er) classes. History courses come in different sizes. 2000-level courses tend to be larger, ranging in size from 50 to 250 students, while the senior-year seminar, which every history major takes, is limited to twenty. The average number of students enrolled in an upper-division history course is in the thirties.
  • Analytical reading. In the typical upper-division course, students will read an average of 50 to 100 pages each week. In some weeks, the reading may consist of a few essays; at other times, students will read entire books. In light of the demanding reading load, faculty assume that a good portion of a student’s education will take place outside of class.
  • Lively debate. History faculty work hard to promote classroom discussion of ideas that emerge in reading and lectures. Rather than merely recounting historical facts, students are encouraged to develop and defend unique interpretations of historical events and ideas.
  • Writing assignments. Writing assignments vary by course, though upper-division classes typically require students to complete essays and/or essay exams in which historical evidence supports a student’s own interpretive position.
Career Pathways for the Graduate

In the short term, right out of college, some history majors land jobs in areas that relate closely to the study of history. They teach history in schools, they supervise documents in historical archives, they work in historical preservation, and, increasingly, they serve as historical consultants to a variety of private and public organizations. Most history majors, however, work in areas that employ all kinds of ambitious college graduates. They join business fields, such as banking, real estate, marketing, advertising, and public relations. They land positions in public affairs, or in state and federal government, such as those that support the U.S. Congress, the Environmental Protection Agency, or the Department of Defense. Others go into the fields of journalism, mass media, and the arts, working for newspapers, museums, publishing houses, and production companies. In fact, graduates with history degrees work in almost every kind of for-profit and non-profit organization you can think of. Studying history obviously cannot confer direct advantages for success in highly technical fields, such as engineering or computer programming. But the more general sorts of skills learned in a history course are very attractive to an array of employers, most of whom are looking for bright, creative, and intellectually polished graduates. Similarly, over the longer term, many history majors follow the same paths taken by other top-notch college graduates. Opting for more schooling, they join advanced degree programs and prepare for specialized and often highly lucrative careers. Thus, history majors end up working as lawyers, doctors, teachers, investment bankers, accountants, and architects, – in short, in the nation’s most elite professions.

A small number of history majors opt to pursue an advanced degree in history itself. They do so for a variety of reasons. Students who seek a master’s degree (MA) are typically looking to gain a more specialized knowledge of an historical field that will serve them in a separate career, such as teaching, journalism, or in a museum curatorship. Those who continue on to the doctoral level (PhD) generally aspire to careers as professional historians, often in college or university settings. Their aim is to learn the specialized craft of researching and writing about the past.

Educational Style

The history department tries to foster a learning experience that stands apart from many of the newer modes of instruction at large universities. Amid the shift to huge classes, televised lectures, and machine-gradable exams, history faculty have deliberately followed a more traditional path. The department’s emphasis on small courses, analytical reading, lively debate, and interpretative writing offers committed students unique rewards. It also comes with high expectations.


  • Attendance and participation. Students are expected to attend classes and participate in discussions. Many faculty take attendance, chart students’ willingness to participate, and factor both into final grades.
  • Commitment to polished and persuasive writing. Students are expected to develop strong arguments in thoughtful and highly polished essays. Grammatical lapses and awkward phrasing will always undercut an essay’s persuasive power.
  • Analysis and synthesis. Students are expected both to analyze historical information (parse it, make fine distinctions, break it down to component parts) and to synthesize it (combine pieces into a larger whole to reach broader conclusions).

Successful history students are those who excel at a range of skills. They read and write carefully, they push themselves to speak out in class, they grasp historical detail while keeping an eye on broader conclusions. Above all, they take responsibility for their own educations, knowing that no amount of skill on the part of an instructor can replace their own commitment to learning.

Program Competencies and Outcomes

Student Learning Outcomes:
Research Skills (Critical Thinking)

  1. Acquire and apply basic research skills learned through use of print and electronic resources of the library and web

Critical Analysis (Critical Thinking, Communication)

  1. Critically assess and interpret primary and secondary sources
  2. Create and develop historical arguments using evidence effectively with clear prose

Critical Expression (Critical Thinking, Communication)

  1. Produce an effectively written analytical research paper based in research of primary sources, framed within the secondary literature, and offering a coherent historical argument supported by the evidence
Courses/SLOsHIS 3942: History PracticumAMH 3-4000, 6 creditsEUH 3-4000, 6 creditsAFH, ASH, LAH 3-4000, 6 creditsAMH, AFH, ASH, EUH, HIS, LAH, WOH 3-4000, 15 creditsAMH, AFH, ASH, HIS, LAH 4930: Senior Seminar
Research (Critical Thinking)
#1I, A - skills set examRRRRA - final project, course completion rates
Critical Analysis (Critical Thinking, Communication)
#1I, A - skills set examRRRRA - final project, course completion rates
#2I, A - skills set examRRRRA - final project, course completion rates
Critical Expression (Critical Thinking, Communication)
#1I, A - skills set examRRRRA - final project, course completion rates
Student Learning OutcomeAssessment Method
Acquire and apply basic historical research tools learned through use of library finding aids and web resourcesSkills Set Exam
Capstone Statement
Critically assess and interpret primary and secondary sourcesSkills Set Exam
Capstone Statement
Create and develop historical argumentsSkills Set Exam
Capstone Statement
Produce an effectively written paper based in research of primary sources, framed within secondary literature, and offering a coherent historical argument supported by the evidenceCapstone Statement

I. Skills-Set Exam for HIS 3942 History Practicum
Beginning in the fall of 2012, the history department will begin administering a skills-set exam at the conclusion of each semester’s HIS 3942 Practicum courses that will be reviewed by the Assessment Committee.
Each student enrolled in the introductory Practicum course will take a Skills-Set Exam in which they are examined on skills including: distinguishing between and analyzing primary and secondary sources, recognizing historiographical trends, developing historical arguments, reading critically, and evaluating research resources available in the library and online. The exam will not be part of the student’s grade and should not include the student’s name or any identification. The instructor will administer this exam before the final week of class and deliver them directly to the Assessment Committee.

II. AFH/AMH/ASH/EUH/HIS/ LAH 4930 Senior Seminar Assessment for Capstone Statement:
Each student enrolled in the Senior Seminar will provide a 250-word Capstone Statement in which they describe their major research project, including research method (SLO 1), sources used (SLO 2), the major argument of paper (SLO 3), and a summary of the paper findings (SLO 4). This document will not be a part of the student’s grade and should not include the student’s name or any identification. The instructor will collect these Capstone Statements before the final week of class and deliver them directly to the Assessment Committee. Each document must include the following components:

  1. A clear description of the research project, which includes both a brief account of the historiographical context of the project as well as the student’s historical argument (SLO 1, 2, 3).
  2. A narrative account of the project that includes its chronological, geographical, and thematic contours (SLO 2, 4).
  3. A summary of both the primary and secondary sources that the student will/did employ in order to provide evidence for the narrative and argument components of the project. (SLO 2, 4)
SkillExcellent MasterySatisfactory MasteryNo Mastery
Student frames research questions in a thoughtful, critical mannerIdentified topic of manageable scope for research, based on a question or problem for analysisIdentified a topic of research, but one that too ambitious or too narrow for the argumentDid not develop an appropriate topic for research
Student creates and develops a coherent historical argumentPaper addresses a clearly-stated & logically formulated historical question that focuses on critical analysis rather than mere descriptionPaper address a historical question that can be identified, but focus shifts between analysis and mere description; may have vague, un-supported assertionsNo identifiable historical question; paper offers broad, unsupported generalizations or descriptions
Student substantiates historical arguments with well chosen and persuasive evidence and appropriate framing within key historical events or time period related to topicPaper displays clear chronological understanding of events & complex grasp of causation; situates questions within larger contexts; reflects on larger themes that inform specific events or processesSound chronological framework; good causal analysis but focuses on factors that shaped events, without discussion of broader themes or significancePaper explores its subject in a historical vacuum with little commentary on causation, context, and larger themes
Student critically assesses and interprets primary and secondary sourcesSituated the research topic in appropriate primary & secondary sources; demonstrates awareness of authors, historical context of sources; thorough and fair-minded assessment of secondary literatureCites and assesses at least two different interpretations from secondary literature; makes an effort to place his/her own work in reference to those interpretationsMinimal engagement with primary sources; little or no awareness of interpretive differences within secondary literature