History Course Descriptions

Descriptions for all of the History Department's courses can be found by clicking on the links on the left-hand side of your screen. To see which courses are offered in which terms, please check our course schedule.

Frequently Asked Questions about History Courses

  1.  Why should I take history classes?

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.

  1. What are Dartmouth history classes like?

Dartmouth history courses emphasize the study of the past as an active and ongoing process.  History is not lying out there waiting to be "discovered"; to write history, historians ask new and exciting questions, bring historical sources together in new ways, and engage with and respond to each other. This process of puzzling out and making sense of peoples, times, events, and places different from our own requires creativity, determination, and ingenuity. 

In order to encourage students to think historically, our courses focus on asking and answering historical questions, drawing from a wide array of historical materials that stretch across time and place. In a history class, you will not only learn about historical events but also read different explanations about how and why history happened the way it did, and think carefully—orally and in writing—about whether you find these explanations convincing. You will read and think about diverse historical sources, from speeches and government memos to novels, songs, and movies. Finally, you will dramatically improve your thinking and writing skills through discussion, written assignments, and digital projects. All Dartmouth history courses focus on encouraging students to express themselves with clarity, conviction, and careful attention to argument and the use of evidence. This emphasis on precise analysis, reading and assessing diverse sources of information, and communication means that the study of history forms an excellent basis for a wide array of careers.

  1. How are history classes organized?  Does a high course number mean the class is more advanced?

History classes are divided into three basic groups. HIST 1 – 8 are introductory level classes organized around a geographic area and/or a broad theme (with the exception of HIST 7, which are first year seminars).  HIST 9 – 94 are upper level courses but the number does not correlate with difficulty. To give an example, HIST 90.04 is not a harder class than HIST 11, it simply has a higher number for organizational purposes.  Finally, HIST 96 are advanced seminars designed for history majors.  These courses do not admit first year students and can be taken only after you declare a history major or minor.

  1. Do history classes have prerequisites?

History classes do not have prerequisites. First year students may take any class that is being offered this fall with the exception of HIST 96, 97, and 98. However, if you know that you want to take upper level classes in a specific geographic area or theme, we recommend that you take the introductory level class first.

  1. I took AP history classes, does that mean that introductory classes will be too easy for me?

The study of history at the college level is very different from high school history courses, even AP level courses. Our entry level history classes seek to help students learn how to think like a historian. They emphasize critically assessing and analyzing historical documents and sources, placing those sources in conversation with different historical contexts, reading and discussing arguments made by other historians, and creating your own historical arguments based on course materials. These courses provide an excellent foundation for advanced historical work.