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It is impossible to understand today's world without understanding the past. Historical forces have shaped every aspect of our world, from political divisions to patterns of migration, technological innovation, and climate change. History shows us that there is nothing "natural" or "inevitable" about our lives; the modern world is the product of past generations' choices, contingencies, and challenges. Since the past fundamentally shapes our present, we can use this knowledge to effect change; only by understanding the past can we create new possibilities for the future.
The study of history also develops core critical thinking skills: reading, writing, analytical thinking, argumentation, and presentation. In particular, history teaches how to carefully read and assess different sources of information. With these skills, history majors build diverse and exciting careers: our majors work in every field from law, entertainment, and finance to education and social justice.
Dartmouth history courses emphasize the study of the past as an active and ongoing process, often in a way that is very different from high school history courses. Far more than simply memorizing facts and dates, studying history is a process of puzzling out and making sense of peoples, times, events, and places different from our own. It requires creativity, determination, and ingenuity. In a history class, you will read and discuss different explanations about how and why historical events unfolded and think carefully about whether you find these explanations convincing. You will examine diverse historical materials, from speeches and government memos to novels, songs, and movies. Finally, you will develop your own historical arguments through a broad array of assignments including oral presentations, research papers, and creative digital projects such as interactive maps, illustrated timelines, and podcasts.
History classes are divided into three basic groups. HIST 1 – 9 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 10 – 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 are taken only after you declare a history major or minor.
History classes do not have prerequisites. First year students may take any class that is being offered except for 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.
No. If it is an area of history you love, you can and should take this class. 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 emphasize 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.