History Department Mission Statement and Learning Goals
The History Department’s programs include general education courses for students in both Georgetown College and the School of Foreign Service; undergraduate majors in both schools (HIST and IHIS); minors in the College, the MSB, and the NHS; two Master’s programs; and a Ph.D. program.
At all levels of our undergraduate programs, the Department’s mission is twofold: to introduce students to the breadth and depth of the human experience by a comparative study of past and contemporary societies and cultures, and to develop their ability to conduct research, analyze and assess evidence, and articulate sound conclusions both orally and in writing. All our students thus acquire knowledge and skills that help them develop as informed, engaged, and thoughtful citizens. The study of history plays therefore a distinctive and central role in any strong liberal arts curriculum. History majors in particular will be prepared to pursue successful careers as teachers, academics, lawyers, civil servants, journalists, and of course historians in private or public agencies.
In order to fulfill this mission, at all levels of our curriculum we emphasize discussion and engagement with both primary sources and the interpretations of varied scholars. From our general education courses through advanced seminars, regular opportunities for small-group discussion are a prominent feature of almost all our courses.
Students who engage with history during their undergraduate years are equipped to become more involved with the complex world they live in, and to maintain throughout their lives a spirit of inquiry and curiosity that can not only make them more active in their communities, but also provide them with personal enrichment and enjoyment.
The mission of all our graduate programs is to prepare students to engage in the most rigorous historical inquiry and debate. All our students learn how to design and conduct archival research and hone their skills in responding to historiographical debate in both academic and public contexts.
The specific overarching goal of the Masters in Global, International and Comparative History is to provide an educational foundation for professional participation in the world of global affairs. Students who complete the program will be equipped to analyze and integrate historical evidence relating to politics and states, production and work, environment and society, culture and religion, gender and family. Through the program’s training in global and comparative historical methods, students will acquire a strong foundation in historical knowledge and an ability to balance global and local perspectives. They will also emerge with foreign language, writing and communication skills enabling them to participate productively in fields such as government service, journalism, international agencies, and global business. The MAGIC course of study will also prepare students for doctoral study in History and related fields such as Government, International Relations and Sociology.
The overarching goal of the doctoral program in History is to train a new generation of historians to the highest professional standards in the field. A Georgetown Ph.D. in History certifies mastery of research skills, including the ability to contextualize and interpret source material, knowledge of the languages relevant to one’s research, familiarity with the relevant archives, and ability to develop an original historical argument that makes a significant contribution to the historiography of one’s field. It certifies mastery of the skills needed to communicate complex historical arguments both in writing and orally. It also certifies readiness to teach history at the level of the university classroom, including the ability to teach survey courses that reach chronologically and geographically far beyond the topic of one’s dissertation, to teach and advice undergraduates in specialized subjects, and to supervise graduate students.
Note: for more information on our pedagogical aims and methods, please see also the document linked to our programs website.
I. For General Education Courses:
1. Students will gain a better appreciation of the nature and practice of history as a discipline, and as the study, based on evidence, of human experiences, interactions, and relationships as they change over time. They will learn to appreciate that history does not consist of a simple succession of self-evident facts, and that evidence-based interpretation and analysis are central to all historical work.
2. Students will learn to identify, analyze, and contextualize different types of primary sources, and to distinguish between primary and secondary sources, thus developing their overall ability to evaluate and use evidence; in particular, students will learn to differentiate between biased assertions and informed interpretations.
3. Students will hone their reading, writing, and oral communication skills; they will develop their ability to think historically, that is to situate events and developments in their historical context for the purpose of critical analysis; and they will expand their ability to engage with complex causal analysis, and to articulate arguments that integrate supporting evidence and analytical commentary.
4. Students will better appreciate the differentness of the past and the distinctiveness and richness of diverse societies and cultures, and learn to view the world from perspectives other than their own.
5. Students will gain an appreciation for the long-term and nuanced mechanisms of historical change and causality, and for the past and present accomplishments and challenges of various societies and cultures.
6. Students will be introduced to the rudiments of historical research, including the use of library and on-line resources, basic notions of historiography, and the purpose and practice of proper citation methods.
II. For Majors (and Minors), beyond the goals listed above:
1. Students will develop the ability to explain and contextualize change over time on the basis of evidence.
2. Students will further develop their ability to assemble and use evidence, especially primary sources, not only to gain information about the past, but also to formulate analytical questions, to construct and support original arguments, to sustain oral arguments, and to infer something from a source that is not explicitly stated therein.
3. Students will gain an introduction to global experience and moral awareness of global themes and issues.
4. Students will be able to identify, evaluate, and compare historians’ different interpretations of the past, i.e. to engage in basic historiographical discussions, thus understanding the discipline of history as an ongoing conversation between sources, scholars, and students.
5. Students will be able to identify and trace major themes, issues, and developments in the history of at least two world regions, and gain the ability to formulate comparative questions and arguments about different societies and cultures.
6. In particular, students in our Honors program will develop these abilities, and their research and writing skills, to a level comparable to that of entering Master’s and doctoral students.
III. For Graduate Seminars (combined MA and PhD courses):
1. Students will develop the ability to absorb vast quantities of materials relating to specific historiographical debates, and learn how to evaluate scholarly arguments by analyzing responses to previous contributions, investigating use of primary evidence, weighing logical construction and development, and assessing rhetorical style.
2. Students will hone their skills in conducting secondary research, familiarizing themselves with major global library holdings, digital databases, and tools for identifying and acquiring access to published material. Students will be able to assess the extent of available published materials on any specific historical topic in their field.
3. Students will learn how to identify archival sources, evaluate their applicability to specific historical questions, design and conduct archival field research, and integrate primary archival evidence into an argument that responds to existing historiography, creating an original work of historical research.
IV. Other Forms of Specialized Graduate Training:
1. Doctoral students (except for students specializing in the history of the United States) will demonstrate competence in two foreign languages. Master’s students will demonstrate competence in one foreign language.
2. Doctoral students will prepare four fields for their comprehensive examinations. These four fields include a major field, a research field, and two minor fields. For each field, students will demonstrate a mastery over the historiography. Students will pass two written examinations and one two-hour oral examination in order to pass their comprehensive exams and move forward in the program. Students will be prepared to offer undergraduate classes in these fields on successful completion of their comprehensive exams.
3. Doctoral students will attend workshops that prepare them for important professional activities, including presenting papers at conferences, submitting articles for publication, teaching, preparing for the academic job market, applying for external grants and fellowships, revising one’s dissertation for publication, and getting one’s dissertation published.
4. Doctoral students will write a dissertation that makes an original contribution to scholarship. The dissertation is a book-length work of original, primary-source-based research that will serve as the basis for the eventual publication of a scholarly monograph and that is of a sufficiently high quality to withstand the challenge of a formal dissertation defense.
5. Doctoral students will acquire teaching experience in a variety of classroom settings. They will work as teaching assistants in undergraduate classes. They will learn how to evaluate papers and exams; they will learn how to lead discussions; they will have the opportunity to deliver lectures; and they will work closely with faculty. Some students will teach their own undergraduate seminars or lecture classes. Students may pursue certification through the Apprenticeship in Teaching Program run by the Center for New Designs in Teaching and Learning.
6. Students will participate in conferences and seminars and will learn how to interact with colleagues as their peers.
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