History

students in class

A history course will always display six dimensions. These will vary in focus depending on the level of the course, the themes the course is designed to emphasize, and the expertise of the instructor. Legitimate differences of focus or emphasis notwithstanding, these six dimensions will always be present and explicit. Students in history courses will rigorously pursue these six dimensions.

History has a temporal dimension. History is about past time. It may be the remotest knowable human experiences or the very recent past, but a history course will deal with past time in a direct, explicit way. More particularly, students in history courses learn to appreciate and understand the processes of continuity and change over time.

History has a contextual dimension. Historians do not as a rule study people, events, or long-term processes in an intellectual vacuum. The particular objects of the historian's focus, the themes of a course, will always be set into multiple contexts. These may be human (demographic, ethnic or racial, for example), or material, or social, or political, or institutional, or cultural, or intellectual. Historians always study themes or topics within contexts provided by other complementary themes or topics. Therefore, in history courses students explore relationships between specific events or processes and an array of related, contingent, causative phenomena.

History has an analytical dimension. In general, historians work with either primary sources or the discoveries and interpretations of other historians and social scientists. Historical analysis is guided by elementary rules of logic, as well as competing and conflicting bodies of evidence and interpretation. Thinking critically about the information provided by their sources or by scholars, students in history courses look for causes and effects, relationships, and relevance.

History has a rhetorical dimension. Historians are attentive to the language of their sources and to the modes of argument employed by other historians. Historians take nothing for granted in the language of the materials they study. Historians use words to build narratives, to tell stories, as their primary mode of analysis, description and communication. Therefore, students in history courses, in considering sources, ask questions about authors and audiences, and they begin to understand that language itself – words – can create primary or secondary historical realities.

History has a geographical dimension. Historians understand that, through time, individuals and communities have lived in or between particular places. Therefore attention must be paid to place. Such attention may focus on the social or political dimensions of place: the city, for example, or the state. Such attention may focus on climate or terrain. Students in history courses develop an understanding of how people shaped, altered, or succumbed to their environment or how, in turn, environment channeled historical experience.

History has a human dimension. History has long been one of the humane disciplines, a liberal art. Historians do not assume that there exists an unchanging "human nature" which, if it did exist, would make all humans everywhere and all the time accessible to us today. But students in history courses explore human beings as individuals, groups, nations, or even civilizations in an attempt to comprehend the human experience.

These six dimensions are the necessary but not the sufficient definers of what constitutes a history course that will satisfy the University requirement for history. To satisfy the requirement, a course must also meet departmental standards and expectations for rigor in the areas of reading and writing assignments.

Approved April 20, 2005, by Academic Council