The Department of History, one of the largest in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, offers undergraduates diverse courses that range from large, introductory classes to smaller, focused seminars. The kind of history taught in these classes depends on the interests of individual professors, but in general it has very little to do with the kind of narrative history taught in secondary school with its emphasis on names and dates and asking students to remember "what happened" at a given place or time. In comparison, history at Hopkins, while it generally has a narrative thread, is primarily issue- and topic-oriented. Students are introduced to the complexities of historical causation as well to areas of the past that rarely find their way into high school history courses. In general, the idea is to allow students to appreciate the variety of history, how history comes to be written and understood, and its relevance to both the present and future.
History at Hopkins is both a social scientific and humanistic discipline, and for this reason history courses are coded both "H" ( for humanities credit) and "S" (for credit in the social sciences). This double coding reflects the complexity of a subject which, depending on the professor and the topic examined, can be regarded as a process that seemingly obeys certain, still poorly-understood laws, but also a discipline that regards each individual moment in history as individual and unique. In practice, students will find that the "hard" side of history (demographic and economic history, and certain aspects of social history as well) mixes quite well with the "soft" side, with its emphasis on cultural and intellectual history. Nevertheless, whatever the particular brand of history purveyed in an individual course, the overarching idea is to allow students to deepen their understanding of (and appreciation for) the historical process itself.
History courses generally require substantial reading in both primary and secondary sources, and a considerable amount of writing; for these reasons, most are coded as "writing intensive." They also emphasize independent research, which teaches students to master self-motivation, to assimilate and synthesize data, and to present their findings clearly and legibly. The department offers three unique opportunities in this regard. One is the undergraduate seminar, a required year-long research seminar that is often taken in the sophomore year. The second is an optional two-semester seminar in the senior year that concludes in the submission of a BA honors' thesis. Lastly, there is a BA-MA program in which exceptional students can spend their senior year pursuing coursework with graduate students. Under this program students write a graduate seminar paper which, if approved by faculty in a departmental seminar, allows them to graduate in four years with both a BA and an MA. Each of these programs requires intensive study of primary sources on topics chosen by the individual student.
The history major is designed to address lifelong learning skills rather than instruction for any specific profession. The department offers strong preparation for students who seek to specialize in a particular cultural or geographic area, and encourages language learning and study abroad. It also provides an excellent education in writing, reading, and the critical analysis of sometimes inconsistent information. These skills have proven useful to students who pursue history as a double major in conjunction with other fields including international relations, public health, and pre-med. History graduates have gone on to excel in many graduate programs and professions including business, law, education, and public service. A few (only a very few) elect to become historians.
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