THE HISTORY SEMINAR
The History Seminar (01:506: 401, 402) is a three-credit course designed to help students learn how to do historical research using primary source materials and how to write a formal research paper. Enrollment in the course is reserved for History majors who are in their junior or senior year. Though one of the department’s most demanding courses, students usually find the Seminar to be one of the most rewarding parts of their major because it allows them to explore subjects in greater depth than is possible in other courses.
Each semester the History department offers dozens of different seminars covering a wide array of chronological periods and geographical areas. Some seminars focus on a particular war, cultural movement, or social group, while others focus on an entire century, nation, or broad transnational themes such as biography or global health. Faculty select their seminar topics based on their expertise as research historians. Students should select a seminar that corresponds with their own area of historical interest. Many seminar topics are broad enough to allow students to find an engaging research project that fits within the seminar topic.
Each seminar has a maximum enrollment of 15 students so professors and students have an opportunity to work together closely. Seminars have different topics but share common goals. Seminars are designed to introduce students to primary sources that are related to the theme of the course. These primary sources might include newspapers, collections of printed documents, diaries or autobiographies, government documents, and treatises or literary works. Learning about databases and electronic resources is an increasingly important part of the History Seminar. Professors provide clear guidelines about how students select a topic for their research. In some seminars, professors provide students with a list of feasible topics, while in other seminars professors prefer to let students develop their own topic through a process of consultation and discussion.
Although the formal requirements for each seminar may differ, the main focus of every seminar is the production of a substantial 18- to 25-page research paper. Professors frequently include a number of shorter assignments earlier in the semester. They may, for example, ask students to review a book that furnishes background information needed for the work of the seminar or to analyze a primary source. Students are expected to write a formal proposal for their research topic, possibly including an annotated bibliography. Students are also required to write at least one rough draft of their paper before the final paper; some professors require two rough drafts. The rough draft is typically due well before the end of the semester to allow time for students to receive comments from their professor and peers that can be incorporated into the final paper. Students often find that the feedback provided by other students in the section, who have been working on similar projects, helps them revise and improve their paper. Many professors ask students to give oral presentations of their work at the end of the semester.
Although much of the work in the seminar is done independently, students are also expected to participate actively in the weekly group discussions. Most professors count participation as a significant part of the final grade. During the first eight weeks of the semester the class meets regularly to discuss books, articles, and sources on the topic of the seminar. Professors may decide that for two weeks during the semester the class will not meet as a group. When the class does not meet students are expected to conduct their research and meet individually with their professor to discuss their proposal and/or rough draft.
Seminars differ from many other History courses because most of the work related to the History seminar is done outside the classroom and requires students to organize and conduct their research. Early in the semester they will need to familiarize themselves with primary source material and relevant secondary works on their topic. In the middle part of the semester they will research and analyze their sources. In the second half of the semester students should expect to spend at least six to eight hours each week doing research and writing. During the final four weeks of the semester students will devote their time to writing and revising their essay.
Faculty members in the History Department consider the History Seminar one of the most important parts of the major. The skills that students develop in the seminar are essential to the major and have value in the world outside the university. The seminar teaches students how interpret documents and texts, how to develop creative and persuasive arguments, and how to express their ideas in polished essay form. All of these skills will be useful to students in a wide array of careers after graduation.
The History department uses the Seminar to assess History majors’ attainment of the key learning goals associated with the History major.
1. The ability to read and understand a variety of literary forms, including primary sources such as diplomatic correspondence, journalistic reports, and private papers, as well as secondary sources written in academic prose;
2. The ability to analyze information effectively and to construct cause-and-effect relationships from disparate data sources;
3. The ability to write persuasively and communicate effectively;
4. The ability to work independently and to conduct independent research.