History Department

About the Major

Department/Program Description

Why history? History is a way of understanding the whole of the human condition as it has unfolded in time. Without history, nothing makes sense, from the meaning of words to the formation of identities, to institutions, states, and societies. History straddles the boundary between the social sciences and humanities. Like the other social sciences, it has established methods of investigation and proof, but it differs from them in that it encompasses, potentially, every area of human culture from the beginning of recorded time. Like the other humanities, it uses ordinary language and established modes of telling its stories, but it is constrained by evidence left us from the past.

Majoring in history will help you develop valuable skills transferable beyond the classroom: critical thinking and interpretation and persuasive writing, as well as analytical and research skills for tackling complex questions. History is inherently complex and requires the ability to acquire knowledge from large amounts of information and assess evidence and conflicting interpretations of the past. As a history major you will learn to make sense of complexity and tell a good story.

Admission to the Major

How do I join? Find a faculty member whom you would like to have serve as your advisor. Any history faculty member may serve as an advisor by agreement with the student, but if you are not certain, you may ask the Department of History chair, Gary Shaw, by e-mail at gshaw@wesleyan.edu. Then go to your portfolio and declare the history major. After you do that, fill out a form that can be obtained from the history website at wesleyan.edu/history/, under “For History Majors.”

Major Requirements

Please note: The following requirements apply to the classes of 2018 and 2019. For information about the requirements starting with the class of 2020, see the departmental website or consult the department chair.

What next? Take history courses! The breadth of topics covered by the Department of History allows students to create geographic, thematic, or chronological unity in their own unique course of study. A history major will develop two concentrations by choosing four courses from each of two thematic modules. The full list of modules is provided below.

To be a history major, you need 11 credits; at least eight must be history credits in two modules. There are no prerequisites to declare a history major.

There is only one required course for all history majors: HIST362. The course is offered only in the fall, and should be taken in your junior year.

What counts?

  • At least eight of the eleven courses must be history courses, and at least two of those should be history seminars.
  • You may also count one first-year seminar and one senior research tutorial toward the major.
  • Two courses taken outside of Wesleyan, for example during the semester abroad, may be included among the history courses.
  • Up to three courses in other departments, programs, or colleges may be counted towards the total of 11 required courses with the approval of the student’s advisor.  

Is there a senior research project? See honors section.

What are the modules? Modules are fields of concentration that provide a thematic, geographic, or chronological unity for the courses you take for the history major. Any one course may belong to several modules, but for the major it may be counted only toward one module; any non-history course counted toward the 11 courses required for the major must be within a module. HIST362 cannot be included in any module, but the two additional seminars required for the major must be.

Students consult with their advisors to identify the modules and the courses needed to complete the major. With advisor approval, students may occasionally create their own coherent module.

The modules reveal the richness and depth of the history curriculum. The department offers modules in the following subjects:

  • Religion
  • Race
  • Asia
  • War and Violence
  • Empires and Encounters
  • Jewish History, Society, and Culture
  • North America
  • Africa
  • Migration
  • The City
  • History and Theory/Historiography
  • Contemporary History (1945–Present)
  • African American History
  • Visual and Material Culture
  • Latin America
  • Nation and Ethnicity
  • Thought and Ideas
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Europe
  • Revolution and Social Movements
  • Science, Technology, and Medicine
  • Before Modernity: The Pre-Industrial Era
  • Geographies: Space and Mapping
  • Environment and Food
  • Economy and Society
  • Middle East
  • Britain and the British Empire
  • Early Modern Globe (1500–1800)

More information at wesleyan.edu/history/For History Majors/modules.html.


Is there a senior research project? All history majors try out their skills in a senior research project. It can be a senior thesis or a senior essay written in a tutorial or in a 300-level seminar. The senior research project gives all history majors an opportunity to explore a topic they are passionate about.

Language Requirement

Is there a foreign language requirement? There is no foreign language requirement for history majors, but the department strongly advises all history majors to learn at least one foreign language.

Transfer Credit

Transfer credit must be preapproved by the appropriate department before the course is taken. All preapproved credits will be posted to the student’s transcript for graduation credit. However, history majors wishing to count transfer credit toward the history major must consult with their history advisor in advance, and upon their return to Wesleyan provide their advisor with syllabi and other materials, such as exams and papers, from the course(s) that they wish to apply toward the history major. Once approved by the advisor, it may count for major credit.