The discipline of history seeks to investigate events and cultures of the past by focusing on specific historical eras, particular geographic areas, and compelling thematic issues. It uses a wide range of written visual, oral, and material evidence as the basis for constructing contemporary accounts about the past. Historical accounts suggest not only how the past has shaped the present but how any contemporary arrangement represents only one possible result of previous struggles and contingencies. In this sense, history highlights discontinuity as well as pattern, difference as well as similarity, conflict as well as consensus, trauma as well as triumph.

Macalester’s History Department does not cover every time period or geographic area, nor does it try to construct a rigid hierarchical set of required classes. Rather, the Department seeks to examine the interpretive problems that historians encounter while practicing their own discipline and when interacting with other fields of academic study.

The History Department seeks to serve an array of educational goals for both majors and non-majors. Members of the Department strive to encourage a broad interdisciplinary approach and to develop students’ analysis, writing, and speaking. As a result, students with any academic major who wish to explore discrete eras in time, the history of different parts of the world, or specific historical issues should find departmental offerings appropriate for their undergraduate education.

History Majors

  • Become acquainted with the many, often competing, ways in which historians construct accounts of the past;
  • Become conversant with different approaches to textual analysis, with diverse forms of historical representation, with a wide range of conceptual frameworks, and with competing ways of assessing and interpreting evidence from the past;
  • Become more proficient in a) using a variety of research and informational tools, b) analyzing and evaluating historical arguments, and c) writing and speaking clearly and concisely;
  • Come to appreciate the diversity in human experience through comparisons across time (different historical eras) and space (different geographic regions).

Although an undergraduate major at Macalester can lead to specialized graduate-level study in history, most graduates will likely pursue non-academic careers. Skills and perspectives developed through a history major, augmented by internship opportunities, prepare students for positions in professions such as teaching, law, business, international relations, and library and archival work; they may also contribute broadly to building successful careers in government, business, and the nonprofit sector. Work in history also prepares Macalester students to be better informed, active citizens in their community, nation, and world.