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Why History? Founded in 1894, the History Department has long offered one of the most popular majors and broadest course selections in the undergraduate College. It is impossible to understand today's world without studying how people lived in the past. Historical forces have made every aspect of our contemporary existence, from political divisions to patterns of migration, technological innovation, and ecological devastation. Through history, we grasp that there is nothing "natural" or "inevitable" about our lives; they are the product of past generations' choices, contingencies, and challenges. But while the past fundamentally shapes our present, we can also use this knowledge to effect change; only by studying and understanding how we came to be can we create new possibilities for the present and the future.
Through studying history, you will also develop excellent writing, analytical, and above all, critical reading and thinking skills. In particular, history teaches you how to carefully read and assess different sources of information. History therefore offers an outstanding foundation for a wide array of careers: our majors work in every field from law, entertainment, and finance to education and social justice.
History traditionally has stood at the heart of Dartmouth's emphasis on the liberal arts. Our curriculum—broadly international in its reach and deep in its chronological perspective—serves to prepare society's future citizens and leaders to understand the world in which they live, its historical development and inter-relatedness. History helps students appreciate their place within that world, and hence something about who they are and what makes them tick. Not surprisingly, History achieves special relevance during periods of global crisis and uncertainty, as young people grapple with the confusing and troubling events of the day.
Some of our graduates go on to enrich our profession. The Department currently has former majors pursuing advanced degrees at Berkeley, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Michigan, Stanford, Virginia and Wisconsin—among other graduate schools—and former students teach in some of the most prestigious universities here and abroad. Yet most of the students drawn to our courses have no interest in becoming historians. Instead, they go on into careers in business and the professions, embracing any number of interesting experiences and occupations along the way. Wherever they end up, our graduates find continuing value in what they learned in our courses—we know this because they stay in touch and tell us so.
The breadth of our discipline's appeal is understandable. The perspective of History has practical use as a mode of thinking and inquiring with everyday applications. The things historians do—in exploring the complex relationships between causes and consequences, in adducing explanations that best fit the evidence, in constructing and articulating nuanced arguments—not only can have enormous importance in one's daily life, but also in whatever world of practical affairs one happens to inhabit. Students necessarily develop skills of critical thinking and analysis that include awareness of sources, contexts, interrelations and interactions, comparisons and contingency. Students in our more advanced courses also come to appreciate History as an empirically based discipline that operates within historiographical traditions—appreciating, indeed, that History itself has a history. All our students are required to develop bibliographic research skills in varying degrees, and quite a few apply them to independent projects of impressive scope and sophistication. Finally, History at Dartmouth is writing-intensive. The skills honed in writing many papers that are thoroughly critiqued by faculty who care about style as well as substance can be applied in any walk of life where persuasiveness and clarity of expression are valued.