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College of Letters & Science


Goals of the Major
Skills Developed in the Major
Requirements for the Major
Distinction in the Major
Honors in the Major
Joint Major in History and History of Science, Medicine, and Technology
Honors in the Joint Major in History and History of Science, Medicine, and Technology
Breadth Requirement Categories

3211 Mosse Humanities Building, 455 North Park Street, Madison, WI 53706; 608-263-1800; history.wisc.edu

Professors Archdeacon, Bernault, Boswell, Chamberlain, Cohen, Cronon, Desan, Dunlavy, Enstad, Guérin-Gonzales, S. Johnson, Kantrowitz, Kleijwegt, Koshar, Mallon, McCoy, McDonald, Plummer, Reese, Roberts, Scarano, Sharpless, Sommerville, Stern, Sweet, Wandel, Winichakul, Wink, Young; Associate Professors Cheng, Enke, Hirsch, Jones, Kodesh, Michels, Neville, Ratner-Rosenhagen, Shoemaker, Thal; Assistant Professors Aiyar, Callaci, Chan, Dennis, Hall, Ipsen, Kim, Kinzley, Murthy, Ussishkin

Undergraduate advisor in the major: Scott Burkhardt, stburkhardt@wisc.edu, 3211 Mosse Humanities Building, 608-263-2800

Undergraduate assistant: Melissa Sharafinski, sharafinski@wisc.edu, 3211 Mosse Humanities Building, 608-263-1800

Faculty diversity liaison: Nan Enstad, nenstad@wisc.edu

History is the study and interpretation of human society as it changes over time. It addresses questions of human identity and transformations of civilizations and societies. Historians study all past human experience, bringing to the task a broad range of methodological and analytical tools. In the process, historians do many things. They compile, analyze, and compare statistics on everything from literacy to poverty. They scrutinize a variety of primary and secondary sources to construct what life was like for people in other times and places. They weave individual lives and collective action into narratives and descriptions of change and continuity in human societies.

The study of history helps us to understand and grapple with complex questions and pressing dilemmas by forcing us to consider how the past continues to shape relationships between people and between societies in the present.

Goals of the Major

The goal of the history major is to offer students both deep and broad knowledge of the past.  In studying history, students can develop skills and habits that enable them to define important historical questions, analyze the relevant evidence with rigor and creativity, and present convincing conclusions based on original research in a manner that contributes to academic and public discussions.

To insure that students gain exposure to some of the great diversity of topics, methodologies, and philosophical concerns that inform the study of history, the department requires a combination of courses that offers depth, breadth, and variety of exposition. Through those courses, students should develop:

  • An understanding in depth of one of the main geographic regions of the world or areas of thematic coverage studied in the department.
  • Broad acquaintance with the other geographic areas of the world and with both the pre-modern and modern eras.
  • Familiarity with the range of sources and modes through which historical information can be found and expressed. Sources may include textual, oral, physical, and visual materials. The data within them may be qualitative or quantitative, and they may be available in printed, digital, or other formats. Modes of expression may include textbooks, monographs, scholarly articles, essays, literary works, or digital presentations.
  • Habits of persistent effort, resourceful inquiry, careful reading, repeated revision, and critical engagement.

Skills Developed in the Major

Define Important Historical Questions

  • Pose a historical question and explain its academic and public implications.
  • Using appropriate research procedures and aids, find the secondary resources in history and other disciplines available to answer a historical question.
  • Evaluate the evidentiary and theoretical bases of pertinent historical conversations in order to highlight opportunities for further investigation.

Collect and Analyze Evidence

  • Identify the range and limitations of sources available to engage the historical problem under investigation. 
  • Examine the context in which sources were created, search for chronological and other relationships among them, and assess the sources in light of that knowledge.
  • Employ and, if necessary, modify appropriate theoretical frameworks to examine sources and develop arguments.

Present Original Conclusions

  • Present original and coherent findings through clearly written, persuasive arguments and narratives.
  • Orally convey persuasive arguments, whether in formal presentations or informal discussions.
  • Be aware of, and able to use, appropriate venues and formats of presentation for sharing information with academic and public audiences.

Contribute to Ongoing Discussions

  • Extend insights from research to analysis of other historical problems.
  • Demonstrate the relevance of a historical perspective to contemporary issues.
  • Recognize, challenge, and avoid false analogies, overgeneralizations, anachronisms, and other logical pitfalls.

Students interested in declaring a history major should meet with an advisor in the history department. Information about advising and declaring the major is available on the undergraduate section of the department website.

Requirements for the Major

A minimum of 30 credits in history is required to complete the major, to include:

Geographic Breadth: at least one course from 4 of the following categories:

  • U.S. history
  • European history
  • African history
  • Central or East Asian history
  • South or Southeast Asian history
  • Latin American history
  • Middle Eastern history
  • Transnational history

Chronological Breadth: At least one course must deal with the history of Europe and/or the Mediterranean before A.D. 1500 or with the history of Africa or Asia before these areas fell heavily under European influence.

The Historian's Craft: one course, History 201

  • After the successful completion of History 201, at least one Advanced Research Seminar: History 600. Students who are eligible to take graduate-level courses (i.e., senior standing or junior standing in the L&S Honors Program, a minimum 3.5 grade point average, and instructor's consent) may use a graduate seminar in History (700–999) to satisfy this requirement.

Though some courses may qualify in more than one Geographic Breadth area, a course may only satisfy one category for purposes of meeting the requirement.

Courses in Geographic Breadth may also count in the Chronological Breadth requirement.

Some topics courses in history may qualify for Geographical or Chronological Breadth.

The following courses may not be used for breadth in the major: History 199, 600, 699, 681–682, 691–692)

Students should consult the undergraduate advisor in history regarding current requirements for the major.

Global History Track

Any undergraduate history major may choose to pursue the Global Track by completing all requirements for the history major above, and these additional requirements:

  • Geographic Breadth: one additional course, in a fifth breadth area; at least one of the five breadth courses must be from the Transnational category
  • Foreign Language or Experience Requirement: one of the following options:
    • Completion of the 5th unit of a single Foreign Language, defined as the 5th semester of College instruction or the 5th year of High School instruction
    • English 118, English as a Second Language
    • 3 credits of course work from a UW Study Abroad Program

Note: The Global History Track is unofficial and will not be recorded on a student's final transcript. For purposes of graduation auditing, DARS will display the track as an informational section only.

All students must fulfill the L&S requirements for Quality and Residence in the major:

  • 2.000 GPA in history and required courses in the major
  • 2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level major credits in residence (I/A level History). Students may fulfill this requirement with any of the history courses designated as intermediate or advanced.
  • 15 credits History taken on campus

Courses are grouped below according to the major requirements that they fulfill. No list can be either complete or definitive; questions about "topics" courses and seminars should be directed to the undergraduate advisor.

Distinction in the Major

To be awarded Distinction in the Major, students must:

  • Achieve a GPA of at least 3.7 out of 4.0 in History courses
  • Complete a minimum of 21 upper-level credits in major course work
  • Complete all requirements of the major

Honors in the Major

The Honors in the Major track in history is intended for students who are eager to experience the excitement of original historical research and who wish to graduate with the best possible undergraduate training in this discipline. Honors in the Major is especially appropriate for students who are considering graduate work in history or who want an especially rigorous training in research, reasoning, and writing skills useful to a wide range of career choices.

To earn the B.A. or B.S. with Honors in the Major in History, students must satisfy both the normal major requirements and the following additional requirements:

  • GPA requirements: Achieve a GPA of 3.5 in all history courses and an overall GPA of at least 3.3 in all courses taken at UW–Madison at the time of graduation.
  • Course work requirements: Complete at least 36 credits within the major including 15 credits of honors course work in residence and 21 upper-level credits in residence.
  • Senior honors thesis requirement: Complete a senior honors thesis, a piece of original work of approximately forty pages, in History 681–682, taken in conjunction with the thesis colloquium (History 680) both semesters. The thesis must be approved by advisors in both History 680 and History 681–682.

Joint Major in History and History of Science, Medicine, and Technology

A minimum of 30 credits in history and in history of science, distributed as follows:

  • At least four courses in history. Students are urged to take History 201 The Historian's Craft as one of these courses.
    • At least one of these courses must be in U.S. history.
    • At least one must be in European history.
    • At least one must be from one of the following Breadth categories: Africa, Central or East Asia, South or Southeast Asia, Latin America, Middle East, Transnational.
  • At least four courses in history of science. Students are urged to take one or more of these from the 300–599 series.
  • At least 15 credits of upper-level course work (as defined by each department) of which at least 6 credits must be in history and at least 6 credits must be in history of science.
  • At least one seminar course chosen from History 600 or History of Science 555.
  • Knowledge of a science is recommended but not required for the joint major.

Honors in the Joint Major in History and History of Science, Medicine, and Technology

To be awarded honors in the joint major in history and history of science, medicine, and technology, students must:

  • Achieve a GPA of 3.5 out of 4.0 in all history and history of science courses and an overall GPA of at least 3.3 in all courses taken at UW–Madison at the time of graduation.
  • Complete a minimum of 36 credits, to include five courses in history (with the same breadth requirements and recommendation for History 201 as the standard joint major above) and five courses in history of science, of which three must be from the 300–599 series (substitutions may be accepted at the discretion of the history of science, medicine, and technology honors advisor).
  • Complete at least 21 credits of upper-division and/or graduate-level work (300–999) in the major while in residence at UW–Madison.
  • Complete History 600 and one of the following history of science courses: 180, 280, 284 (in conjunction with 212), or one 900-level seminar.
  • Complete 6–8 credits of Senior Honors Thesis in History 681–682 or History of Science Senior Honors Thesis 681–682. Students choosing History 681–682 must take History 680 both semesters in conjunction with the thesis. Students choosing History of Science 681–682 must take History of Science 555 before embarking on the thesis; in exceptional cases, it may be taken in conjunction with 681.

Breadth Requirement Categories

  • United States: 101, 102, 140, 150, 160, 161, 219, 221, 222, 247, 258, 272, 290, 301, 302, 322, 330, 331, 343, 344, 353, 354, 355, 390, 391, 393, 394, 395, 396, 397, 398, 401, 402, 403, 404, 405, 406, 407, 408, 411, 412, 416, 433, 434, 451, 460, 461, 462, 465, 466, 468, 490, 504, 560, 569, 607, 625, 626, 628, 635, 636, 644, 672
  • Europe: 110, 115, 119, 120, 121, 123, 124, 208, 215, 223, 224, 251, 253, 254, 271, 303, 306, 307, 309, 310, 311, 312, 313, 314, 316, 317, 318, 320, 321, 323, 324, 325, 326, 333, 334, 339, 340, 348, 349, 351, 352, 356, 357, 358, 359, 360, 361, 362, 363, 364, 365, 366, 367, 368, 369, 370, 372, 373, 374, 409, 410, 415, 417, 418, 419, 420, 421, 423, 424, 425, 426, 429, 430, 431, 432, 437, 447, 467, 469, 470, 473, 474, 475, 477, 478, 479, 507, 508, 511, 512, 513, 514, 515, 517, 518, 529, 531, 532, 539, 540, 541, 554, 561, 568, 570, 577, 578
  • Africa: 105, 277, 278, 279, 297, 330, 376, 377, 378, 440, 443, 444, 445, 446
  • Central or East Asia:103, 104, 106, 108, 265, 332, 335, 336, 337, 338, 341, 342, 453, 454, 455, 456
  • South or Southeast Asia:142, 244, 252, 319, 438, 442, 448, 449, 450, 457, 458, 463, 548, 621, 661, 663
  • Latin America: 241, 242, 243, 260, 278, 279, 347, 436, 441, 533, 555, 556, 557
  • Middle East: 138, 139, 205, 371, 375, 379, 439, 440, 472, 539, 540, 541, 660
  • Transnational: 135, 228, 229, 243, 246, 275, 276, 278, 279, 330, 347, 357, 374, 424, 434, 452, 503, 525, 607
  • Chronological Breadth: 107, 110, 115, 121, 123, 205, 208, 215, 251, 303, 306, 307, 309, 310, 311, 312, 313, 314, 316, 317, 318, 321, 325, 326, 333, 336, 339, 360, 366, 368, 369, 376, 426, 439, 442, 448, 453, 454, 457, 459, 477, 507, 511, 517, 539, 550, 561, 562, 567, 569, 597, 663