Introduction to the History Major B.A. Program


Historians study the way in which human communities and their members have behaved, how they have constituted themselves, how they have conducted and sustained their lives, and how they have thought about their condition and the traditions to which they have given their allegiance. While the Lower-Level Program can only begin to suggest the vast temporal, geographical, and intellectual sweep of contemporary historical inquiry, each course examines the principal kinds of questions and techniques historians bring to bear upon evidence about the past. History is not just past politics. It is also concerned with the world of ideas and institutions — sacred and profane, commoners as well as rulers, science, technology, social movements and economic forces, cities and frontiers, Latin America, Asia, and Africa as well as Europe and North America.

History is concerned with the study of the past. It draws on the social sciences and humanities for much of its data and conceptual techniques, but remains essentially a study in the dimension of time, with methods of enquiry appropriate to such a study. The study of history provides a broad education about the society in which we live and its past development. Since it involves examination of people in an almost unlimited variety of situations, the study of history also deepens the understanding of people’s capacities and failings. Properly pursued, it trains the mind to generalize on the basis of evidence to develop interpretations of the significance of events and ideas and to distinguish propaganda from fact.

History stands at the core of a liberal arts education and, as a discipline, occupies a central role in defining and fostering critical thinking. As historians, our responsibility extends well beyond that of invoking the often cited, yet rarely defined, category to probe its nature. Our History program and courses seek to nurture in students the sense that their first obligation is to try to figure out why they think the way that they do. Education, if it is to be meaningful, should push us to recognize and extend our understanding of how we think – and therefore, of ourselves. History affords unique opportunities to demonstrate that the very categories of analyses that we use to apprehend the present are themselves the outcomes of the historical processes that we seek to understand.

Course Overview

First-Year Courses (100s) are introductions to the study of history in courses focusing on particular eras and themes through a global lens.   They expose you to a range of approaches, problems, and sources prevalent in the field of history.  These courses combine lectures in large classes with instruction and discussion in small group tutorials.  Students improve their ability to analyse historical sources, express arguments using historical evidence, work those arguments into essays, and present arguments and information orally.

Second-Year Courses (200s) are deeper introductions to the practice of history through courses with a regional and/or thematic focus.  These courses include particular attention to primary-source analysis, historical writing, library and media skills, and public history.  Their goal is not only to expose students to a body of historical material on a given subject, but also to develop their capacity as historians.  Second-year courses provide a solid grounding in historical thinking and writing that prepares you for upper level courses in history through courses that usually consist of lectures with tutorials.

Third-Year Courses (300s) are on specialized topics and/or chronological periods.  These courses combine breadth of coverage and depth of analysis, while also incorporating historical writing and other historical skills introduced at the lower level, and form the heart of the history major.  Students are encouraged to develop a regional and/or thematic focus (Canada, China, History of Science, or the Middle Ages, for example), while also taking a range of courses outside their specialty.  These courses tend to be smaller than lower level courses and include ample opportunity for discussion.

Fourth-year Courses (400s) come in two forms: advanced, thematically focused lecture and discussion classes and small seminars.  All history majors must take a capstone research seminar at the 400 level (HIST 403, 466, 468, or 490).  In capstone seminars students do common readings around a particular theme, while also developing their own research agenda.  Capstone seminars culminate in the production of a 15 to 20-page paper synthesizing original research.  This course fulfils the Faculty of Arts Research requirement. History majors are practicing historians.


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