Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Why History?

Why History?

Our goal in History is to foster both critical and imaginative thinking in our students, a combination that will serve them far beyond their college years while making their academic experience at Harvard as rewarding as possible. To achieve this the History concentration combines rigor with flexibility, facilitates student access to a large and diverse faculty, and solicits constant student input to refine lessons learned from a long record of training exceptional scholars.

What can I do with a History Degree?

What Can I Do With a History Degree?

Just as history is everything, so too you can do anything with history. Our alumni have gone on to a wide range of careers from magic to medicine, from brewing beer to business, from the military to the media. The profiles on this page provide a sense of the myriad professional paths that our alumni successfully pursue after leaving Harvard.

History students' varied careers include:

  • Business (approx. 25% go on to business school or careers in finance and consulting)
  • Education (approx. 10% go on to PhD programs in history and other disciplines)
  • Law (approx. 25% go on to law school)
  • Public policy and politics (approx. 10% work for government organizations or in the public sector)
  • Countless other fields such as medicine, technology, marketing, journalism, and work with NGOs.

In 2007, the History Department also created a booklet of alumni reponses about their careers. You can download the booklet here.

 But the best way to learn about the range and flexibility of college and career experiences open to History concentrators is, appropriately enough, to go to the sources: check out the alumni voices section.

Who can I talk to about History?

Who can I talk to about History?

A: Lots of people. Both the Director of Undergraduate Studies and the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies hold regular office hours-- sign up online and make their day!  Office hours sign ups: DUS | ADUS. In addition, each House has a History Adviser eager to talk to you about joining the concentration or simply taking History courses.  Finally, our Peer Concentration Counselors in each House can offer a student perspective on the concentration and have volunteered to share it with any fellow student that's interested.

What are the goals of the History Concentration?

What are the Goals of the History Concentration?

- To study how societies and people actually functioned in the past, and in turn, how that context affects the present.

- To teach students how to analyze complex events in the past and craft original arguments from large amounts of disparate evidence.

- To prepare students for a wide range of postgraduate opportunities, especially those that value the ability to process vast and complicated amounts of information, to take multiple perspectives on that information, and to communicate effectively and concisely about it.

- To encourage students to follow their own interests while providing structured guidance and rigorous training in research skills, critical reading, oral communication, and effective writing.

- To enable students to encounter the unfamiliar and to approach it with empathy and analytical understanding.

What about my other interests?

What About My Other Interests?

The wonderful thing about History is that when studying history,  you are always studying something else! Historians study politics and government; diplomacy and international relations; science and technology; finance and economics; religion and philosophy; literature and arts; cultural and social changes and exchanges; even archeology, anthropology, evolutionary psychology, and genetics. Moreover, historians often study many different disciplines and explore numerous fields of inquiry all at once. Good historians familiarize themselves with the methods and theoretical assumptions of other disciplines, but are distinguished by their insistence that these are just as much products of history as the questions they were developed to address. In short, history makes your other interests more interesting!

What are the requirements for a degree in History?

What are the requirements for a degree in History? 

A: The basic (non-honors) program requires 10 half courses in History; the honors program requires a senior thesis and enrollment in the Department's year-long Thesis Writers' Seminar, for a total of 12 half courses in History. (Typically, 40-50% of seniors in History write theses.) For specific requirements, including tutorial and distribution requirements, see Concentration Requirements.

If I haven't taken History courses, can I catch up?

Is it possible to catch up if I haven't yet taken any History courses but feel it's the right choice for me?

A: Yes, we always have a number of students each year who join us without having taken any History courses, usually because they realize late in the game that other concentrations can be constraining thematically and methodologically. Sophomores usually have no difficulty completing the requirements. For juniors transferring from other departments, we can work with you to include a few extra petitions for non-History courses.

How do I enroll or switch from another concentration?

How do I enroll in History or switch into History from another concentration?

A: To join the History Concentration, email your House History Adviser to discuss a preliminary plan of study, then set up a meeting with the Director or Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS / ADUS). After familiarizing yourself with History's requirements use the Registrar's Plan of Study Tool to draw up a preliminary plan that the DUS or ADUS will review with you and sign if approved.

What courses should I take?

What Courses Should I Take to Learn More about--or Get Started in--History?

In any given semester there are multiple courses, from lectures to seminars, that offer an introduction to the way historians think about and practice history, while also involving students in an expert historian's unique investigations of the past. 1000-level lecture courses are familiar formats (typically two lectures a week plus a section) that introduce students to general historical subjects (e.g. modern Japanese history) while focusing on the instructor's own topical or methodological interests. In addition, History faculty teach Gen Ed courses in several categories, and any of these will provide a good introduction to the study of History at the University level. You should visit our Course Offerings page (see link to the left) to browse courses that interest you, and feel free to contact the instructor to ask if the workload and subject matter is appropriate for a student with your background. And you should always feel free to contact either the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the Assistant DUS. Both hold regular office hours, and you can sign up online: DUS office hours | ADUS office hours.

Credit for non-History courses?

Does History grant credit for non-history courses?

A: Yes, History grants credit for cross-listed courses and non-Departmental courses taught by History faculty. History will also consider one petition to receive credit for  a course in the "Related Fields" category.  Credit is granted if the student can demonstrate one or more of the following:

  1. the course is historical in nature and the Department offers no equivalent;
  2. the course provides knowledge in another discipline that, from the Department's perspective, complements the student's historical interests in specific ways; or 
  3. the course teaches an auxiliary skill (foreign language beyond the College requirement, statistical methods, etc.) crucial to the pursuit of the student's historical interests.

Fields Petition for Non-History courses taken before joining

Can I submit a related-fields petition for non-history courses taken before joining the concentration?

A: We discourage retroactive petitions, chiefly because we want our students to use a related-field petition to explore a subject related to their plans of study or thesis projects. In some cases, e.g. where students are studying abroad and would otherwise have difficulty completing the requirements, we do grant retroactive petitions. Feel free to contact the DUS or ADUS before declaring your concentration if you have questions about whether a given petition might succeed.

Credit for Harvard Summer School History courses?

Does History grant credit for Harvard Summer School History courses?

A: Yes, History grants credit for Harvard summer school courses of a demonstrably historical nature, provided that the courses taken for credit are approved ahead of time and satisfactorily completed. Courses will not be approved for credit retroactively. Credit will not be granted for summer courses taken at other institutions. 

NB: Courses taken at Harvard summer school will not fulfill any of the department's tutorial requirements and normally will not fulfill the department's Western, Non-Western, or Pre-Modern distribution requirements.

Credit for History courses take abroad?

Does History Grant Credit for History courses take abroad?

A: Yes, History grants credit for courses taken abroad, provided that the plan of study is approved ahead of time and the courses are satisfactorily completed. Consult the Office of International Education to begin the planning process, then schedule an appointment with the History ADUS, during office hours.  Normally, no more than one half-course credit per semester is granted unless the instruction is in a foregin language, in which case two half-course credits may be granted for one semester abroad, or three (total) for two semesters abroad. For details see here.

 NB: Courses taken abroad will not fulfill any of the department's tutorial requirements.

Departmental outings in the Boston area

Departmental outings in the Boston area

The History Department welcomes you to join us for a series of outings in the fall and spring. Together with graduate students and faculty from the department, we explore different historical sites (like the Royall House in Medford or the Peabody-Essex Museum) and walking routes, highlighting themes like slavery, global trade, and labor history. We will post the information here as soon as we have the exact times and locations. These outings are a great opportunity to learn more about the department and to benefit from the expertise of our diverse faculty and students. They are laid back, informal, and a fun way to get to experience history's concrete effects on our community.