Processes of historical change have become increasingly global during recent centuries. The major in International History (IHIS) combines a broad introduction to the analysis of historical changes that transcend national boundaries with the opportunity to explore a particular theme or question in the context of a self-designed major concentration.
The major goes beyond the study of the formal relations between states – the traditional subject matter of diplomatic history – to address themes in social, cultural, and intellectual history. Historical scholarship today draws on ideas and data from subjects as varied as anthropology, philosophy, sociology, political science, religious studies, and literature, and this mix is reflected in the coursework for the International History major. In addition, the major exposes students to a range of theoretical tools and methodological approaches to historical analysis and places special emphasis on the development of critical thinking, argumentation, and writing skills.
International History Major Will Enable Students To:
Develop the ability to explain and contextualize change overtime on the basis of evidence.
Distinguish between types and genres of sources and between evidence-based conclusions and unfounded statements.
Use sources to formulate questions and construct original arguments, and develop their ability to support their conclusions orally and in writing with evidence and appropriate documentation.
Identify, evaluate, and compare historians’ different interpretations of the past, thus understanding the discipline of history as an ongoing conversation between sources, scholars, and students.
Identify and trace major themes, issues, and developments in comparative, international, and global history, and gain the ability to formulate comparative questions and arguments about different societies and cultures.
Integrated Writing Requirements
The major in International History (IHIS) in the School of Foreign Service is rooted in the history of diplomacy and international relations but it goes beyond the study of the formal relationships between states—the traditional subject matter of diplomatic history—to address themes in comparative, trans-regional and global history. Interdisciplinary in focus, the major draws on ideas and methodologies from subjects as varied as anthropology, philosophy, sociology, political science, religious studies, and literature. It is grounded in history, a discipline that places special emphasis on the development of critical thinking, textual analysis, argumentation, and writing skills.
A. Writing in the Discipline of History
The study of history and writing are inseparable. As a form of knowledge based on the interpretation of fragmentary records that survive from the past, all historians use the written word to posit an argument and defend it with evidence. Because historical sources reveal only part of the whole story, no single historical work can ever be fully comprehensive or definitive. As a result, historians continually debate the varying interpretations that emerge between different schools of thought. Ultimately, the quality of historical writing is determined by the successful collection, organization, and presentation of evidence in support of a coherent and convincing thesis.
At its core, historical writing depends on judgment: the thoughtful selection of good research questions and the identification and interpretation of historical sources. Historians use two types of evidence: primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are documents or other records created at the time of the events under analysis; they come directly from the participants themselves. Secondary sources are the findings of writers who were not direct participants in a historical episode but those who have subsequently investigated primary evidence of it. Works of scholarship are the most common secondary sources students of history will encounter. In certain situations, a secondary source can become a primary one.
Sources, whether primary or secondary, do not answer historical questions themselves. Students of history must sift with a critical eye through the information provided in their sources and then rely on their own judgment to construct a historical argument grounded in evidence. In order to determine the reliability of their sources, historians read documents closely and place them in a historical context. They ask critical questions to determine who wrote the document, when and where it was created, and for what purpose. The capacity to determine what matters—to think critically about what evidence to include and what to exclude and how to frame one’s analysis—is one of the core skills students of history acquire through writing.
Writing in history takes many forms. Some history papers are organized as narratives that tell stories of people and events in the past; others are more analytical and organized as an essay. Most historical writing incorporates both narrative and analysis. Some papers deal with historiography, that is, how different historians or schools of thought have approached the history of a particular subject. Other papers deal directly with history, analyzing not simply what happened but why and how it happened. Whatever the format, history students must begin with a thesis statement and the evidence bolstering their argument must always be divulged using a responsible and consistent citation style.
B. Integrated Writing in the IHIS Major
As they move through the SFS Core Curriculum and meet the requirements towards their major, IHIS students repeatedly encounter and practice various forms of historical writing. Students of history are typically asked to write many kinds of papers, including document analyses, book reviews, response papers, bibliographic surveys, historiographical essays, research or exhibit proposals, or research papers. They might also be asked to develop a digital history project, which would involve writing text to accompany any digital maps or images.
All SFS students, including IHIS majors, take history courses as part of the Core Curriculum. These courses (which are numbered within the HIST 007-199 range) introduce students to writing in the discipline of history through the careful reading and discussion of primary sources and writing assignments that require engagement with the past based on evidence-based analysis and interpretation. In HIST courses in the 100-299 range, students continue to work on primary sources, but they will more frequently encounter differing interpretations of modern scholars. They will become more fully cognizant of the wide variety of sources available for historical analysis, and they will experiment with different types of written assignments that further hone their ability to select and interpret reliable evidence, to contextualize that evidence, and to build and support analytical arguments in written form.
IHIS majors complete a total of ten courses, the majority of which are taught by historians. All IHIS majors are required to take HIST 305, Global Perspectives on International History, which is a reading and writing-intensive gateway colloquium. In addition, they take four courses selected from an approved IHIS list, including at least one of which must be a seminar (numbered from HIST 300-499). They also select five courses, including at least one non-History course, as part of a thematic, regional, or periodic concentration within the major. At least 2 but no more than 3 of the courses applied to the major must come from outside the History Department.
All IHIS majors take at least two courses numbered HIST 300+ but most take more than that. These discussion-based seminars require more substantial reading (in both primary and secondary sources) and more complex and substantial writing assignments, including those that require historical research and extensive use of the library. Many IHIS majors go on to complete the year-long Senior Honors Seminar, in which they research and write a significant and original historical thesis under the mentorship of the Seminar director and individual faculty members. In the Honors Seminar, students routinely review and comment on each other’s drafts. This feedback, combined with that provided by faculty, allows students to continually develop and revise their writing across the academic year.
How to Declare
During the first semester of their sophomore year, students meet with their academic advisor to declare their major. When declaring a major, sophomores prepare a declaration proposal outlining the reasons why they are pursuing one of the majors offered at GU-Q, including how the intended major coincides with their academic interests and possible career goals. Furthermore, students declaring the IHIS major will be expected to articulate their self-designated concentration and explain why they have chosen it.