The Senior Essay

History is more than past events; it is also the discipline of historical inquiry. As a discipline, it uses many techniques, but its basic method is the collection and careful evaluation of evidence and the written presentation of reasonable conclusions derived from that evidence. To experience history as a discipline, a student must grapple at first hand with the problems and rigors involved in this kind of systematic investigation and exposition. The Department of History therefore requires each student majoring in History to present a historical essay on a subject of the student’s choice to the department in the senior year. The range of acceptable topics is wide, but most essays fall into two categories. The first involves the study of a limited problem through research in accessible source materials. The second is a critical assessment of a significant historical controversy or historiographical issue. Whatever topic the student elects, the essay must be interpretive and analytical, not only narrative and descriptive.

In choosing the subject of the senior essay, students should be aware that lack of foreign language expertise is not necessarily a bar to researching a topic in the history of a non-English-speaking area. Many translated materials exist, and for some areas of the world (chiefly Africa, Asia, and Latin America) diaries, letters, and newspapers composed by missionaries, businessmen, and diplomats writing in English are available. Many of these sources are held in Yale’s extensive archival collections; others are available on microfilm.

Seniors receive course credit for satisfactory completion of their departmental essays by enrolling in HIST 495 and 496. They must also complete a library research workshop for the senior essay. Students should register for the workshop on the Yale Library website.

Some graduate and professional school courses are open to qualified undergraduates with permission of the instructor and the director of graduate studies. Course descriptions may be obtained from the office of the director of graduate studies. See “Courses in the Yale Graduate and Professional Schools” in the Academic Regulations for the number of such courses that students may offer toward the bachelor’s degree.