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.
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.
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 online, and engage critically with 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.
Each student must take the remaining units required by the History 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 a freshman humanities course in history (courses cross-listed Hum/H 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.
The history minor is designed for students who want to pursue concentrated study in history without the extensive course work and the senior thesis required by the history option.
History minors must take 72 units of history courses. These units may include one freshman humanities course; they may also include one directed reading course (H 98). All courses to be counted toward the history minor must be taken for grades except for a freshman humanities course in history when taken in the first two quarters of the freshman year. Students wishing to do a minor in history must declare a minor with the history option representative. Students completing the history minor requirements will have the phrase "minor in history" added to their transcripts.
Students cannot use history minor requirements to satisfy a different option or minor.