What is History?
History, most simply, means “story.” As a discipline, history can mean the chronological record of significant events and their causes; the study of states, societies, and civilizations; the examination of processes that affect human behaviors over time; or the analysis of groups, individuals, and the ways in which their thoughts, actions, or creations craft the ways in which people live. The historian Marc Bloch has suggested that history is the story of “the cry of the empty stomach.” For some scholars, history begins when humans start to craft words and images of themselves; for others, history “begins” with the big-bang, and counts man as only the most influential and destructive of the many species which inhabit the world.
You may want to major in history if you like to puzzle over the questions “Why?” and “So what?” or if you like to explore the dynamic relationships among what people believe in, what they say, and what they do. History also explores the nature of memory: How do people choose to imagine or memorialize themselves? How can a single event be “told” in many different ways? How does a historian sift and evaluate the available evidence in order to interpret these various tellings of history? Historians use a wide variety of sources to craft visions of the past: the diary of a 10th century Japanese “lady-in-waiting;” the letters of a soldier in the trenches of World War I; newspaper cartoons satirizing women’s fashions; the contents of a Viking burial ship; tax records on the medieval brewing of beer; inscriptions on Mayan temples; or travel accounts of pilgrimages to Mecca, Jerusalem, and Varanasi.
History is a rewarding subject for students seeking a general education. History courses develop skills such as critical thinking, analytical writing, perceptive reading, and eloquent speaking. They assist in the search for personal identity and in the lifelong effort to understand change, continuity, and the links between past, present, and future. The study of history develops many of the basic skills important in everyday life. Among these are the ability to make sense out of large amounts of data, to perceive flaws in arguments, and to express ideas so that others can understand them.
Career Opportunities in History
The analytical skills you acquire as a history major translate well into many fields that require problem solving, imagination, and the ability to express yourself clearly. History majors go on to specialized training in graduate or professional schools (in history or law for example), or move directly into private business (banking, public relations, general business, communications), or government service (State Department, National Parks Service, Congress). They pursue courses of study that will lead to high school teaching; research, teaching, and management in higher education; or historical editing. Others have entered the growing field of public history, serving as historians for government agencies, private corporations, museums, and other organizations devoted to historical preservation and restoration.
Salary Trends in History
An Arts and Sciences degree can propel you in limitless directions. Majors are not always the deciding factor as to what career path you follow. As with any degree, your pre-professional experiences (volunteerism, work experience, internships, etc) enhance your chances at obtaining desired employment and further guide where you fall on the salary continuum.
High School Preparation
In order to prepare for a history major, the best things you can do are read and write. That may sound simple, but the average high school student does not read or write enough. Hence, college can be something of a shock. Reading a variety of types of literature helps you to build your vocabulary and to understand complex ideas and how to communicate them. You can read biographies, science fiction, poetry, non-fiction, natural histories, or historical novels; the type of material is less critical than the ability of the material to push you to think in ways that you are not used to thinking. Choose classes in which you have to write essays and research papers. No one is born with the ability to write well; it takes practice. If you have some choice when you are given a writing assignment, choose one that makes you shape and defend an argument. When selecting research topics, look for a topic in which there are different types of evidence and more than one version of “the facts.” Visit museums and historical sites, look at old photo albums, read newspapers, and carefully examine your history textbooks. Ask yourself the questions: “How are these different sources telling the story of the past.” “What is left out?” “What are the biases, points of view, or agendas of those who are ‘remembering’ history?” Nations, groups, and individuals are inventing their own histories as we speak. In order to understand that process of creating and remembering you need to hone your analytical skills. Take advanced history and science classes; join the debate team; play chess or other games that emphasize concentration and attention to detail. Learn languages. Volunteer to work on an archaeological dig.
How to Major in History
Work on completing most of your distribution requirements in your first two years at UT. Once you have completed two semesters of history survey work (History 221-222, 227-228, 241-242, 247-248, 261-262, 267-268) with a grade of C or better (or received an AP score of 4 or 5 for American, Western, or World History) you can declare a history major. Stop by the Department on the sixth floor of Dunford Hall with a DARS audit or an academic history report to declare a major and sign up with a history advisor. Ordinarily you will register as a history major at the end of your sophomore year. Your advisor will help you plan your program of study and discuss with you various internship, career, and special program options. Departmental faculty will also be happy to discuss your particular interests in history and historical issues.
Requirements for History
Ordinarily you will begin taking the two required historical survey courses in your sophomore year, although students who have already received AP credit for history courses may begin earlier. History surveys give you an introduction to big historical issues, cross-cultural exchange, and the puzzles of historiography (the critical analysis of historical sources — in other words, how and why history is written). You will learn how to write historical essays, critique primary source materials, and explore the ways that peoples in very different times and places imagined themselves, their land, their gods, their dead, their gender relations, and the peoples beyond their “boundaries.”
In your junior and senior years you will take upper level classes that explore some aspect of the historical experience in depth. These classes are designed to hone your analytical skills and your abilities to communicate effectively. In these classes you may assess, for example, the ideals of the “60s” in America, the ways in which revolutions occur in comparative context, the cross-cultural encounters generated by the Crusades, or the social history of the Civil War. Some of these classes are seminar-style, 400 level classes; they aim at provoking energetic discussion and allowing you to practice the historian’s craft. In order to ensure that you experience the historical perspectives of a diverse range of peoples, the Department requires that six of the eight upper division courses for the major include: 1 course on the period before 1750, 1 course in European history, 1 in American history, 2 in the histories of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and 1 senior research seminar (HIST 499). You may find yourself writing a research paper on the diary of a samurai warrior, interviewing veterans of WWII, or comparing the participation of women in the nationalist movements of India and Egypt. You will choose the remaining two upper division history courses to suit your own particular interests.
Special Programs, Co-ops, and Internships
Majors in history may apply for a variety of summer internships nationwide in venues such as museums, archaeological digs, and historical societies. They are also eligible to apply for study abroad programs such as those offered by the Fulbright Foundation. Within the UT system, history majors who have completed their junior year may apply for McClure scholarships for study abroad. Students have used these scholarships for formal language and culture programs, independent research, and humanitarian projects. Internships are also available at the Department’s Center for the Study of War and Society. These internships provide course credit and hands-on research experience in an archive which documents modern U.S. military history and the experiences of those who served in the U.S. military. Students engage in a variety of special projects including interviewing veterans of World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam.
Highlights of History
Eligible students may enroll in designated honors courses offered by the Department. These allow students to develop research skills and to participate in the intensive discussions provided by the seminar.
A student can earn an Honors Major in history by completing the history honors sequence in the junior and senior year. Honors majors take a special seminar course (History 307) on historical methods in their junior year. In their senior year they take History 407-408, a year-long honors seminar in which each student selects a research topic and, working intensively with a faculty member, produces an honors paper. Participants in this seminar share their research experiences in weekly discussions and help critique each other’s projects. At the end of the year they present the results of their research to the honors seminar. Each year the History Department selects one of these research papers for a special award. Recent honors students have researched papers on such topics as women’s role in the civil rights movement, American response to the rise of European fascism, and race relations in East Tennessee during the Civil War. Students planning to pursue graduate or professional school may use these honors theses as writing samples for their graduate applications.
“Ready for the World” is part of a long-range plan to transform the UTK campus into a culture of diversity that best prepares students for working and competing in the 21st century. Thus students are encouraged to actively participate in the diverse cultural programs offered on campus. Some of these events include the guest lecture series, cultural nights at the International House, and international film screenings. Visit the Center for International Education web site (http://web.utk.edu/~globe/about.shtml) or the Ready for the World web site (http://www.utk.edu/readyfortheworld/) for more information on upcoming cultural programs and activities. Learn more about UT’s Ready for the World initiative to help students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today’s world.
Students are also encouraged to develop a global perspective within their academic program through study abroad. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, offers study abroad programs in Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia, South America, and North America. Program lengths vary from mini-term trips to the entire academic year, and students may choose to fulfill general education requirements, study a foreign language, or take courses within their majors. In addition, UTK offers students opportunities for international internships.
Students are highly encouraged to begin planning early in their academic career and to consult with an academic advisor about the best time to study abroad as well as what courses to take abroad. For more information about program options, the application process, and how to finance study abroad, please visit the Programs Abroad Office website.
Academic Plan and Milestones
Following an academic plan will help students stay on track to graduate in four years. Beginning with first-time, first-year, full-time, degree-seeking students entering in the Fall 2013 semester, UT has implemented Universal Tracking (uTrack), an academic monitoring system designed to help students stay on track for timely graduation. In order to remain on track, students must complete the minimum requirements for each tracking semester, known as milestones. Milestones may include successful completion of specified courses and/or attainment of a minimum GPA.
To see a sample academic plan and milestones for this major, please visit the undergraduate catalog.
For More Information
Department of History
915 Volunteer Boulevard
Knoxville, TN 37996
The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT catalog or contact the department and/or college directly.