The History major is for students who understand that shaping the future requires knowing the past. History courses explore centuries of human experimentation and ingenuity, from the individual to the global scale. History majors learn to be effective storytellers and analysts, and to craft arguments that speak to broad audiences. They make extensive use of Yale’s vast library resources to create pioneering original research projects. Students of history learn to think about politics and government, sexuality, the economy, cultural and intellectual life, war and society, and other themes in broadly humanistic—rather than narrowly technocratic—ways.
History is one of Yale College’s most popular and intellectually diverse majors, encompassing nearly every region and time period of the global past. The study of history is excellent preparation for careers in many fields, including law, journalism, business and finance, education, politics and public policy, social activism, and the arts.
Introduction to the Major
Majors have a choice of two tracks: the Global Track or the Specialist Track.
The Global Track: The Global Track encourages students to take a wide range of courses from different geographical regions and time periods. This track is designed for students seeking a broad understanding of major trends and approaches in the history of human societies. Students in the Global Track are required to take 1 course in each of 5 regions: U.S., Europe, Latin America, Asia, Africa/Middle East. This represents 5 out of their 10 history courses (not including the senior essay). In addition to this requirement, students are required to take 2 pre-industrial courses and 2 departmental seminars and must write a senior essay.
The Specialist Track: The Specialist Track offers students the ability to “specialize” in a particular region or pathway within history, and comes with a different set of distributional requirements. This allows students to focus in particular areas of interest in the History major, to connect with faculty advisers in their areas of interest at an earlier stage, and to allow their focus to build over time into genuine expertise. Students who opt for the Specialist Track will take at least 5 (and up to 8) courses within their chosen region or pathway, as well as at least 2 courses outside of that region or pathway. Their overall coursework must include courses from at least 3 geographic regions. The pre-industrial, departmental seminar, and senior essay requirements are the same as the Global Track
The Senior Essay
All majors must write either a 1-semester or 2-semester senior essay. The 2-semester senior essay is a requirement for receiving distinction in the History major. The 1-semester option is for students who do not intend to receive distinction in the major. Students who choose this second option will be required to take 11 rather than 12 credits to complete the history major. This option is particularly appealing to double majors.
Prerequisite The prerequisite for the major is two term courses in History. Courses completed in fulfillment of the prerequisite may be applied toward the requirements of the major.
Requirements of the major Ten term courses in History are required, plus the senior essay (see below). There are no specific required courses in the History major and there are no specific prerequisites that must be fulfilled. Upon declaration, all History majors select either the Global or Specialist track, which are governed by slightly different distributional requirements. Majors may switch tracks as late as the end of the course selection period in the fall of their senior year.
In both tracks, students may count the same courses toward geographical, preindustrial, and seminar requirements. For instance, a departmental seminar on premodern Japan would simultaneously fulfill the preindustrial, seminar, and Asia geographical requirements. Within these requirements, students are free to choose their own classes.
In both the Global and Specialists Tracks, majors must take a total of 10 courses and write a 2-semester or 1-semester senior essay. Both tracks require 2 pre-industrial courses, covering material before the year 1800, and 2 departmental seminars, identified by the “J” suffix in the course number (i.e., HIST 136J)
Students in the Global Track are required to take 1 course in each of the 5 different geographic regions for a total of 5 out of 10 required History courses.
Students in the Specialist Track are required to take at least 5 courses within their chosen region or pathway—half of their 10 required courses. In addition, they must take at least 2 courses outside of their area of specialization. Their overall coursework must include at least 3 geographic regions. Listings of courses designated in each region and pathway are available here on the history department web site. Students may also design an individual area of specialization in consultation with a faculty adviser and with the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
The history department designates the following regions and pathways:
Departmental seminars and preregistration All students who declare the History major are entitled to preregister for two departmental seminars (designated by a course number ending in J, such as HIST 136J). Many seminars are popular and fill up quickly. Students may use their preregistration privileges at any time after declaring the major, in their sophomore, junior, or senior years. Sophomores contemplating study abroad are urged to consider taking at least one seminar in the sophomore year. Residential college seminars, study-abroad courses, and courses in other departments that count toward the History major do not fulfill the departmental seminar or senior essay requirements.
Senior essay Students in the History major are not passive consumers of historical knowledge: they create original works of history themselves. As seniors, all History majors are required to complete a work of original research in close consultation with a faculty adviser in the History Department. The range of acceptable topics is wide, but you should be guided by the accessible primary sources.
Most students are expected to write a 2-semester senior essay, for a total of 12 course credits within the History major. This 2-semester essay is required for all students seeking to earn distinction in the History major. A smaller number of students may choose to write a 1-semester essay, for a total of 11 course credits within the History major. In order to write the one semester essay, the student still must work with a faculty advisor.
The 2-semester senior essay: All History majors seeking to earn distinction in the major must complete a 2-semester independent senior essay under the guidance of a faculty advisor. The typical senior essay is 40-50 pages (no more than 12,500 words), plus a bibliography and bibliographical essay. Students writing a 2-semester essay are eligible for research travel money from the History Department, after you have applied to your residential college Mellon Funds. Seniors receive course credit for satisfactory completion of their departmental essays by enrolling in HIST 495 (Fall) and HIST 496 (Spring) during the senior year. You must meet the benchmark assignments, as indicated in the Senior Essay Handbook, in order to receive a SAT (satisfactory) for the Fall semester. The grade for the final essay, determined by an outside reader in consultation with the faculty advisor, is applied retroactively to both semesters. For more detail about the senior essay, see the Senior Essay Handbook available on the History department web site.
The 1-semester senior essay: History majors may choose instead to write a 1-semester senior essay—in the Fall semester. Students who choose this option will enroll in HIST 497a and must consult with a faculty advisor. The 1-semester essay has a different calendar of assignments, owing to the shorter time for completion. Please be sure to check the correct calendar for this option in the Senior Essay Handbook. Students who choose the 1-semester option are not eligible for distinction in the History major.
Some students who embark on the 2-semester essay may discover that their choice is not a good fit. Thus, students who enroll in HIST 495 in the Fall semester but choose not to continue in the Spring may “opt out.” This must be done by the date of the Yale College withdrawal date for full-year courses. However, a senior essay is still a requirement for the completion of the History major and graduation. Therefore, such students will have to re-enroll in January to do a one-semester senior essay in the Spring (HIST 497b). To make this transition as smooth as possible, it is highly recommended that the student find an advisor prior to the beginning of the Spring semester.
Advising All students who declare the History major are assigned an adviser from among the departmental faculty. The adviser is available throughout the year for consultation about courses and the major. Students in the Global Track will be assigned an adviser from the general History faculty. Students in the Specialist Track will be assigned an adviser in their area of specialization. At the beginning of each term, students majoring in History must have their schedule signed and approved by their departmental adviser or by the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
Course substitution History majors are permitted to include up to 2 courses taught outside the department toward the fulfillment of the major, with the approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies. Courses taught outside of the History department may fulfill geographic, region/pathway and pre-industrial distribution requirements. They may not be used to fulfill the departmental seminar or senior essay requirements.
Cr/D/F History majors may include up to two lecture courses taken Cr/D/F toward the requirements of the major. Departmental seminars may not be taken Cr/D/F.
Combined B.A./M.A. degree program Exceptionally able and well-prepared students may complete a course of study leading to the simultaneous award of the B.A. and M.A. degrees after eight terms of enrollment. See “Simultaneous Award of the Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees” under Special Arrangements, section K, in the Academic Regulations. Interested students should consult the director of undergraduate studies prior to the sixth term of enrollment for specific requirements in History.
Summary of Requirements
Prerequisites 2 term courses in History
Number of courses 10 term courses (including prerequisites) plus the senior essay
Distribution of courses
Global Track: 1 course in each of 5 geographic regions (U.S., Europe, Asia, Latin America, Africa/Middle East); 2 pre-industrial courses; 2 departmental seminars
Specialist Track: 5 courses in region or pathway and at least 2 courses outside of region or pathway; 2 pre-industrial courses; 2 departmental seminars. Overall coursework must cover at least 3 geographic regions.
In both tracks, students may count the same courses toward geographical, preindustrial, and seminar requirements. For instance, a departmental seminar on premodern Japan would simultaneously fulfill the preindustrial, seminar, and Asia geographical requirements.
Substitution permitted Up to 2 non-departmental courses, with approval of the DUS
Senior requirement 2-semester senior essay (required for distinction) or 1-semester senior essay