History

Option Representative: Warren Brown

Students who choose the history option will learn how to do history—how to think critically about past societies and their development, how to read evidence closely, and how to express arguments in writing. With the guidance of a faculty adviser in history, students taking the option will explore the range of human experience in the realms of politics, culture, religion, and economics, as well as science and technology. They will learn both to challenge and revise existing historical narratives and question their own ideas and assumptions about the past. Students will develop the writing skills that will enable them to use historical sources to make effective arguments, and they will receive extensive feedback on their writing from their adviser and from other faculty members.

The history option thus provides science and engineering students with an important supplement to the scientific training and technical skills they acquire in other courses and options. It will help them to understand the world of human beings and human behavior outside of science with which they will interact and which their scientific work will affect; to set themselves and their work as scientists and engineers in this wider context; and to communicate what they are doing to a wider public as well as to their colleagues. In addition, it offers excellent preparation for careers in business, administration, law, journalism, or public affairs, as well as a solid foundation for graduate work in history.

History majors must take at least 99 units of history courses (including freshman humanities) during their four years as undergraduates. Of these, 27 must be in the senior tutorial (H 99 abc). All courses to be counted toward the history option must be taken for grades except for a freshman humanities course in history when taken in the first two quarters of the freshman year.

Each history major will choose an area of concentration in consultation with his or her adviser and the history option representative. These areas might include, but are not restricted to, fields such as ancient history, medieval Europe, early-modern Europe, modern Europe, Russian history, American history pre- 1865, American history post-1865, early-modern history of science, modern history of science, or economic history. He or she must take 63 units of courses in this area; 27 of these units must be in the senior tutorial H 99 abc.

In the senior tutorial, students will have the opportunity over the course of three terms to explore in depth an historical subject of particular interest to them, while working one-on-one with a member of the history faculty. They will learn how to carry out historical research, in libraries as well as on-line, and engage critically both primary and secondary historical sources. Finally, they will learn, under the direct supervision of their faculty mentor, to organize and to write an extensive research paper, of at least 30 pages, that makes an original, clear and persuasive scholarly argument. In H 99a, students will carry out general research in their area of interest, and identify the specific topic on which they wish to write. In H 99b they will learn to frame a research question, carry out independently the necessary research to answer it, and generate an outline of their paper. In H 99c they will write and revise their paper in response to feedback from their faculty mentor.

Each student must take the remaining 36 units of history required by the option in areas other than the area of concentration, again defined in consultation with his or her adviser and the history option representative. These areas may include not only fields within the discipline of history proper, but also useful cognate fields such as economics, political science, anthropology, law, English, or a foreign language.

A student considering the history option when he or she comes to Caltech will be well advised to take one Hum/H course numbered 50 or below. In the sophomore year, the student should take upper-level history courses, but this is also a good time to pursue the study of English or philosophy, to begin or continue a foreign language, and to do introductory work in the social sciences. A student will normally make a commitment to an area of concentration early in the junior year. At the beginning of the senior year, a history major will enroll in H 99 abc with a faculty member in his or her area of concentration.

NOTE: The official source on requirements for graduation is the Caltech catalog from the year in which a student began studies at Caltech. Please see the catalog online, from this and previous years, for more information regarding the applicable option and minor requirements. Please click here for additional information regarding the history option.