Faculty in the history department are experts in their unique areas of study as well as talented teacher-mentors. We guide our students in their quest for research and writing skills as well as the development of critical thought. These critical thinking skills subsequently prepare you for any field.
Why study history? Because the study of the past sheds light on the present.
History presents facts while allowing students to develop their own interpretations. Together, UVM history students and faculty discover and interpret the past by asking questions and conducting research.
Learning to say more with less was one key lesson for Jamison Dunne and 15 of his fellow first-year students enrolled in “Constructing Race and Citizenship in the Gilded Age.” UVM professor Nicole Phelps challenged students to create an exhibit interpreting this turbulent period in American history using political cartoons of the era as anchors to the explanatory text. Student teams made an exhaustive search of cartoons in the Bailey Howe collections and online archives, picking out images that could serve to best illustrate the experience of different ethnic groups. “Professor Phelps really challenged us to capture what being 'an American’ meant to people during the Gilded Age. We were constantly editing and rewriting during the semester, trying to be more concise with the text.”
Guiding Principles in the Study of History
The Department of History strives:
- To expose our students to the diversity of the past and the diversity of methodological perspectives by offering courses that cover a wide range of topics and approaches.
- To encourage our students to understand history in a global context and to understand the interconnectedness of the world.
- To immerse our students in the close reading of secondary and primary sources (textual, visual, or material) and to help them acquire an understanding of how to use historical evidence.
- To encourage our students to acquire high-level and sophisticated historical-thinking skills that include, among others, periodization, contextualization, and causality.
- To teach our students how to conduct in-depth research and produce well-crafted and well-organized prose and well-articulated oral arguments. When appropriate, we also encourage students to think about how historical knowledge might be disseminated digitally or through other means.
In addition to the guiding principles outlined above, the Department of History, in offering graduate education at the M.A. level, strives:
- To assist our M.A. students in acquiring sophisticated methodological and historical knowledge.
- To encourage our M.A. students to master fields of knowledge and grasp the intricacies of historiographical traditions and intellectual debates within the discipline.
- To enable our M.A. students to produce essays and theses that display their ability to conduct innovative and original research.
Learning Goals for Majors
Students who complete the BA in history should:
- Have acquired an understanding of the key themes and processes of history as they unfold in specific contexts in a way that displays an appreciation for the roles that diverse factors (including political, economic, envrionment, cultural, religious and race-, ethnicity- and gender-based ones) play in shaping them.
- Be able to analyze and evaluate primary and secondary historical sources in ways that reflect knowledge of the complexities of the past and the nature of historical interpretation.
- Be able to frame and pursue research on historical questions using appropriate research techniques.
- Be able to evaluate the quality and reliability of historical arguments, whether encountered in the classroom or in other arenas.
- Be able to write persuasive historical prose in proper academic form.
Students who complete the MA in history should:
- Possess detailed historical knowledge of key events and periods in their areas of expertise and be able to explain their significance.
- Be able to discuss and critique historiographical trends and developments and assess the nature of scholarly debates and disputes in their fields of study.
- Be able to display skills of critical analysis. In the field of history, these include the ability to develop persuasive arguments, to evaluate the use of evidence, and to assess the effectiveness of arguments in the work of other historians.
- Be able to conduct original research that contributes to knowledge. In completing research of this nature (which might appear in the form of written essays, websites and other digital media, or historically-oriented exhibits) students showcase their ability to situate their work in scholarly conversations and debates, identify and utilize a substantial base of primary source material, and write high-quality historical prose in proper academic form.
- Be able to discuss and present their work orally in ways that reflect both their grasp of the material and an ability to speak about it in an accessible manner.
Our students acquire mastery not only of content but also of historical methodology. Students are expected to research and write well in our program and, to achieve this goal, faculty routinely assign a range of innovative assignments that are thoroughly assessed. Faculty members provide substantive comments on papers and routinely work with students on research methodologies and rough drafts. Faculty explicitly outline course objectives in their syllabi so that students are aware of what will be expected of them and what they may hope to achieve in any given class.
To ensure that students are making substantial progress and meeting departmental learning objectives at the undergraduate level, they are also assessed in several other ways:
- The department conducts a survey of students as they complete HST 101 (History Methods).
- Faculty members assess students as they complete their 200-level seminar by filling out a survey on the student’s use of primary and secondary evidence, analytical and argumentation skills, citation methods, and writing effectiveness.
- An electronic survey of graduating majors is sent out every year asking students to assess what they have learned, their grasp of historical thinking skills, their ability to do sophisticated work in the discipline, and their career goals and how the history major has prepared them for the future.
- In 2019, the department will inaugurate an alumni survey (to be conducted every five years) asking about graduate training, employment history, and those aspects of their undergraduate education that have been most and least valuable in their education or employment after graduation.
Graduate students in the M.A. program in history, in addition to being assessed in some of the ways highlighted above, are also expected to achieve a level of proficiency in the discipline that is tested in the following ways:
- Students are expected to take methodological/historiographical courses that enable them to understand the discipline at a level consistent with expectations for individuals working toward a master’s degree.
- Students are required to take comprehensive examinations that test both their mastery of specific content as well as historiography and historical methodologies.
- Students pursuing a thesis are required to submit a proposal that gets fully vetted.
- All graduate students (whether pursuing the thesis, extended research essay, or portfolio option) are required to undergo a formal defense.
- In 2019, the department will inaugurate an alumni survey (to be conducted every five years) asking about further graduate training, employment history, and those aspects of their graduate education that have been most and least valuable in their education or employment after graduation.