Who? What? Where? When? are the questions most commonly associated with the study of history. But these are only bits of information, bubbles on a multiple-choice test. They are not history. They are the building blocks of history, parts that when put together in the right way become history.
History does not just record a sequence of events in the past. The practice of history examines change overtime and tries to understand the forces that contributed to those changes. Historians are most interested in questions that begin by asking ‘why’ or ‘how.’ These questions demand complex answers about who we are, how we have come to where we are, and what forces have shaped humanity through time.
How did Spanish conquistadors manage to defeat the Aztec Empire? Why did Napoleon try to conquer Europe? How did the Industrial Revolution contribute to global warming? Why did Taiwan break off from mainland China? These questions demand complex answers. In trying to come up with those answers historians turn to the building blocks of who, what, where, and when to assemble the historical evidence in a way that answers the big question.
In a culture that places primary value only on living in the present, studying history can offer a rare foundation for critiquing or at least comprehending the current state of the world. Studying history helps you cut through the myths that cloud our understanding of ourselves and others, and offers a depth of comprehension that few other disciplines can promise. The following are some key characteristics of the history department and major:
- Useful: The study of history at the collegiate level emphasizes vital lifelong skills. These include critical thinking, analysis of qualitative and quantitative sources, research methods and practices, persuasive writing, and articulate speaking. The skills acquired through historical study can be transferred easily to any number of future careers and occupations. Graduates with KU History degrees have go on to become lawyers, business professionals, teachers, consultants, journalists, social workers, archivists, civil servants, and even medical doctors.
- Welcoming: Few limits exist to what you may study. Politics, sexual relations, art, labor, literature, rebellion, war - the Department of History draws no boundaries between what you may and may not examine. To that end it also shares students and faculty with other programs such as African and African American Studies, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Environmental Studies, Global and International Studies, Indigenous Studies, and all of the geographical area studies programs.
- Flexible: Students must take only two required courses - a course on historical methods (HIST 301) and a senior research seminar (HIST 696) or honors thesis (HIST 498 & 490). Because few courses have sequential prerequisites, History is easy to take as a minor or as a second major.
- Worldly: History is excellent preparation for travel and work abroad, and around thirty majors yearly participate in KU’s Study Abroad program. The Department of History itself offers overseas opportunities, such as a pre-law institute at Cambridge University.
- Intimate: Courses in the department are usually small, and the larger courses always include trained Graduate Teaching Assistants to give individual attention and feedback. All students take at least two seminars of no more than fifteen students, and honors students work one-on-one with a faculty member. Further, students in the Department have organized movie nights, lectures, and informal get-togethers, so you are never lost in the crowd.
- Prominent: Faculty in the department are nationally and internationally recognized leaders in their field, and they bring this advanced knowledge to bear on their teaching.
- Resourceful: Resources for history research at KU are rich. Watson and Anschutz libraries help make up a major research library collection, and the Spencer Research Library offers such resources as the Wilcox Collection on extremist politics, the University Archives, and major collections in British and Irish history, among others.