Academic Catalog and Handbooks

2023-2024 Edition


Department Chair: Shannon Smith

Faculty: Brian Larkin, Derek Larson, Brittany Merritt, Jonathan Nash, Elisheva Perelman, Gregory Schroeder, Shannon Smith, Elisabeth Wengler

Mission Statement

The past matters! The discipline of history works to understand the past on its own terms and reveals its relevance for the present.

History analyzes human experience in context as it changes over time. It examines the complex intersections between human actions and the social, cultural, economic, environmental, and political forces at work in particular times and places. History uncovers the relationship between past developments and current conditions and it highlights the contingent, constructed nature of contemporary social structures and power relations. Historians construct interpretations of the past that illuminate the commonality and the diversity of individual and group experiences within and across societies. They also explore how societies remember and represent the past and analyze how historical interpretations change over time. Thus, the study of history reveals how people have used the past to create meaning for their lives.

The CSB/SJU History program supports the liberal arts mission by providing students with insight into the human condition while also building skills in critical analysis and effective communication. We lead students into an empathetic encounter with the past and engage them in the practice of historical interpretation. Together we imagine and reconstruct people's lives across place and time and within diverse circumstances. In these ways, the History program supports the colleges' commitment to global education and cultural literacy. We cultivate an understanding of how the past molds but does not determine the present, and we examine how current realities are historically constructed rather than naturally given. By encouraging students to recognize complexity and question the status quo, we prepare them to become effective citizens and contribute to the common good. Ultimately, the History program nurtures the curiosity and careful thinking that prepare students for a thoughtful and aware life.

Why Study History?

Students of history develop intellectual skills and habits of mind that prepare them to find meaningful work and become successful in a wide variety of careers. They do so by learning how to interpret the past through the process of historical analysis. The study of history also encourages a lifelong effort to understand the human experience and prepares students to engage with the concerns of contemporary societies.

Intellectual Skills

History students learn to:

  • Analyze data by breaking complex entities into component parts, comparing and contrasting them, and constructing cause and effect relationships among them;
  • Synthesize information by selecting and marshaling relevant evidence into an explanatory narrative;
  • Evaluate arguments by weighing the validity of their premises, methodology, and conclusions;
  • Argue a position by carefully weighing divergent interpretations and grounding conclusions in evidence;
  • Write clearly by employing logical organization and precise language; and
  • Discuss effectively by respectfully listening to and participating in intellectual conversations to deepen understanding.

Principles of Historical Analysis

History students discover that:

  • Societies and cultures change over time and that no single human experience is universal;
  • People are shaped by their historical context;
  • Primary sources are influenced by their historical circumstances; and
  • Historians construct disparate interpretations of the past and these interpretations change over time.

Historical Habits of Mind

History students develop:

  • A curiosity about the past and its relationship to the present,
  • An appreciation of the complexity of the past,
  • A practice of analyzing things in context rather than in isolation,
  • A practice of grounding interpretations in evidence, and
  • An intellectual imagination that allows for a sympathetic understanding of others.

Life-long Pursuits

History students are prepared to:

  • Understand how the past has shaped contemporary societies;
  • Participate actively and knowledgeably as democratic citizens;
  • Interact respectfully with others in a global society; and
  • Seek meaning and pursue positive change in the world.

The History Department offers a broad range of courses in Asian, Latin American, European, and United States history. The course offerings meet a variety of student needs. Introductory classes (numbered in the 100s and 200s) are broad in scope and designed to introduce lower-division students to the discipline of history. Upper-division courses (numbered in the 300s) focus on particular themes, regions, or periods.  They are intended for all upper-division students (sophomores through seniors), even those who have not previously taken a history class.  These courses are generally offered on a rotating basis every third or fourth semester. All history courses carry Integrations Curriculum designations and thus contribute to the general education of all students. Last, three courses are specifically designed for History majors and minors: History Colloquium (HIST 295), Historiography (HIST 395), and Senior Thesis (HIST 399). The History Colloquium, focusing on primary sources, is intended for beginning majors and minors and is typically taken in the sophomore year. Historiography emphasizes the debates among historians and varying historical interpretations to help students understand that historians often disagree among themselves.   In Senior Thesis, which serves as the capstone course for the History major, students develop and execute a research plan, collaborate with faculty mentors, and write a significant paper based on primary and secondary research.  Students present their findings formally to other students, faculty, family, and friends in an end-of-semester conference. Internships are also available for interested students.

Assessment of Student Learning

The History Department conducts annual assessment of student learning for History majors. The Department uses appropriate written assignments and student surveys to evaluate its curriculum and pedagogy. In all these efforts, student confidentiality is protected.