To the aimless, the confused, and the curious — here’s *almost* everything you need to know about being a history major as a part of Bwog’s ongoing plot to demystify every department in this University. 

So, you’re thinking about being a history major? (Or you’re not, and just fulfilling your New Year’s resolution to read for pleasure like you used to —good for you.) Here are some things that might help you figure things out.

(Note: major requirements have added stipulations and details included in these websites from Barnard and Columbia. They have been simplified for the purposes of this article.)

Requirements: Barnard Edition 

The history major requires a minimum of 11 courses. Six of the 11 must be in the student’s concentration and the other five can be outside or in. Six of the 11 must also be taken at Barnard or Columbia.

Within these 11 courses, students must take: 

  • Three introductory lecture courses (1000-2000 level)
  • Two seminars (3000- or 4000-level), one of which must be taken at BC or CU
  • At least one course demonstrating “temporal breadth” which typically means something that covers pre-modern (at least pre-19th century) topics
  • At least one course demonstrating geographic range (unless one’s area of concentration already does so)
  • The two-semester senior research seminar (HIST BC3391 Senior Research Seminar and HIST BC3392 Senior Research Seminar), normally taken in sequence, beginning in the fall and continuing into spring of the senior year (this is where one develops and writes the required thesis) 
  • With advisor approval, the 11 courses can include two non-history courses if the subjects are closely related to one’s concentration

Requirements: CC And GS Edition

(general requirements for GS and CC students are the same)

The history major requires a minimum of nine courses in the department. Four or more of these nine must be in one’s concentration and approved by a member of UNDED (the Undergraduate Education Committee). Students also need to take three courses outside of their specialization. 

  • Two seminars (one must be within your specialization)
  • At least one course displaying temporal breadth (students studying the modern period must take at least one course in the pre-modern period and vice versa) 
  • At least two courses displaying geographic range (for example, someone studying European history must take at least two courses studying African history, East-Asian history, so on and so forth)
  • Majors can write a thesis but it is not a graduation requirement. The two-semester HIST UN3838-HIST UN3839 Senior Thesis Seminar carries eight points, four of which can count as a seminar in one’s specialization 

For both Barnard and Columbia history majors, the specialization/concentration is highly flexible to the interests of the student. While both department websites (linked above) suggest possible options, these lists are not all-inclusive or finite. Both departments also recommend that students declare the major in the second semester of their sophomore year.

Overview Of Classes: 

A nice thing about the history major, whether you’re BC, CC, or GS, is that the colleges are very flexible about where you take your classes within the University. Unlike some majors, it doesn’t matter which side of the street you take the majority of your classes on, barring the senior research seminars. Additionally, history classes rarely come with prerequisites, so majors are not tied to any strict course sequence. 

As far as class structures go, the history major generally consists of two categories: lectures and seminars. Lectures are 3-4 credit classes that usually meet twice a week and often include a discussion section (this is typically a 50-minute meeting with a TA and a small group of your classmates where you turn in assignments, discuss readings, and gain clarification on any questions you might have). Lectures are usually for broader subjects within the department while seminars are more specialized, which is why you will usually start college with more lectures in your schedule and end it with more seminars. Seminars are usually four-credit classes that meet once a week for 110 minutes. These courses usually have more demanding reading loads and final projects as they are geared towards upperclassmen. 

Some Humble Recommendations: 

Here are some classes I have taken and really enjoyed during my time at Barnard College of Columbia University in the City of New York…

  • U.S. Lesbian and Gay History with Professor George Chauncey
  • American Civilization to the Civil War with Professor Andrew Lipman
  • Representing the Past with Professor Mark Carnes

Where To Get Better Information Than I Can Give You, Plus Updates:

Last Minute Tips and Takes:

  • If you’re thinking about taking a history class, just do it! Fulfill a Global Core or a Foundations requirement in the process and see if it strikes your fancy.
  • Don’t sign up for Friday discussion sections, you will regret it. This is in no way specific to the history major, but I’ve been burned too many times not to mention it.
  • I am of the opinion that history is 1) a severely underrated major at Barnumbia and 2) what a lot of political science majors would be happier doing (please don’t attack me, this is all in good fun).

Greek dude from history via Bwog Archives