History is a way of knowing that develops students’ ability to understand and explain continuity and change over time. Students are taught to study specific primary evidence in context in order to investigate and make intelligible particular topics from the human past. Courses in history should exhibit the following five characteristics: they should be temporal, contextual, analytical, literate, and respectful.
Through their encounter with all five of these features of historical inquiry, students will come to appreciate the temporal extent and evolution of historical activities, the importance of contexts to all historical interpretation, the complexities of analyzing primary sources, the necessity of appreciating the evolution of language and rhetoric in historical narrative, and the role vastly different human beings throughout time played in determining the course of history. Through their study of history, students should become proficient in describing an event, process, or issue while considering all of the different forces, causes, and contexts that guided or influenced its unfolding. An understanding of history should lead to a deeper understanding of the nature of contemporary societies and the problems facing contemporary society.
Courses in the history category may be taught in departments outside History: Classics, the Program of Liberal Studies, and American Studies are some of the homes for such courses. A history course is more than a list of attributes or ingredients. It is a balancing act. Historians, for example, practice weighing their own concerns, questions, and perspectives against the fact that past actors had their own concerns, questions, and ways of seeing the world. Historians worry about presentism, antiquarianism, and teleology even as they see value in the proper application of hindsight, fine detail, and theoretical modeling. An excellent history course finds the right balance between opposing philosophical and methodological commitments.
Courses that fall into the history category should be:
Temporal: History courses must deal with past time; and may consider issues of continuity and change over time.
Contextual: The objects of a history course will be put into multiple contexts, and not considered in a vacuum or from a single perspective. Ideally, history courses should explore topics through several diverse aspects such as the human (demographic, ethnic or racial, for example), or material, or social, or geographical, or environmental, or political, or institutional, or cultural, or intellectual.
Analytical: History courses work with sources (primary and secondary), and engage the students in critical thinking to assess those sources, which often conflict. History is not just concerned with a sequence of events, but tests evidence in order to infer causation.
Literate: Historians build systematic accounts as their primary mode of analysis, description and communication. Historians are also self-conscious about the narratives they construct out of often imperfect or conflicting sources. History courses educate students in the critical reading and composition of their own historical narratives, much as they educate students to read other historical narratives critically.
Respectful: Historians are guided by the idea that the human experience in all its complexity is a worthy object of contemplation, and informed by a spirit of empathy with the objects of their study. History courses may thereby foster the ability to address difference and conflict in the present.
- be able to recognize, articulate, and use historical methods.
- develop a body of historical knowledge with breadth of time and place (Temporal).
- learn to understand the world contextually, that is, to interpret human experiences and the meanings people have given them in relationship to the place and time in which they occurred (Contextual).
- learn to offer multi-causal explanations of major historical developments based on an analysis of interrelated political, social, economic, cultural and intellectual processes (Analytical).
- learn to gather and critically evaluate information, from primary and secondary sources, and to express themselves historically, in writing and orally (Literate).
- appreciate the similarities and differences of past lives in comparison with our own, and gain insight into the breadth of human experience (Respectful).