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History majors at Lake Forest College work with professors who are both exceptional teachers and active scholars. Our faculty members help students develop their skills and find success both in the classroom and after graduation, as our alumni can attest. Our students take courses in a wide range of fields as well as doing independent research on topics they are passionate about. Students can also access all the resources of Chicago; these include visiting museums and libraries for research and coursework, attending lectures and cultural events, or doing internships.
The History major consists of nine courses—listed on our Requirements page—that lead students from foundational skills to advanced work. While there is a basic structure to the major that all students follow, students can tailor their major through their choice of a geographical and chronological focus and through their selection of electives. Through their courses, students build a set of skills that can lead to a variety of careers. This page offers more detail on the steps and the logic of our curriculum.
History 110: Introduction to Historical Study—World Civilizations
As the name suggests, History 110 introduces college-level study of history. It takes a seemingly simple question—how do we learn about the past?—and explores the challenges of answering it. Students in this course are taught rigorous assessment of primary sources and are introduced to the analysis of historical arguments. The kind of close and careful reading required to do well in this course will carry over into any field in which students must analyze evidence or judge the quality of reports written by others (law, consulting, and so many more). Students also write extensively, beginning to develop one of the key skills of the History major: clear, correct, and persuasive writing. Professors teaching 110 offer extensive feedback to students in order to help them improve.
Two-course survey sequence
The first goal of the two-course sequence is to provide students with an overview of key events, individuals, and movements of a particular era and place—be it the United States, East Asia, or Europe (pre-modern or modern). Second, these courses continue the students’ training in historical methods and continue to refine their skills in analysis and writing.
History 300: Theory and Methods
This course, usually taken by juniors, builds on what students have learned in their earlier courses about the methodology of doing History. The course has two facets: first, the study of different schools of historical thought from the nineteenth century to the present day; and second, student engagement with documents. In particular, students have the opportunity to visit archives—whether at Lake Forest College itself or other institutions—and learn how to read, analyze, and build arguments from historical sources.
The elective courses (4 total) are the place for students to personalize their major by following their interests in more depth. The department does not place restrictions on students’ choices beyond the fact that two of the courses must be at the 300-level. When we advise our majors, however, we encourage students to choose their courses with an eye to gaining expertise in a particular field of history while also encountering a variety of subject matters. In particular, we urge students to take at least one elective outside their “comfort zone”—an Americanist might take a course on Asia, for example, or a student who focuses on 20th century Europe might venture to ancient Rome.
The History curriculum culminates with the senior studies requirement, which can be fulfilled in two basic ways. Most students choose to take the senior seminar (HIST 420), which explores a broad theme appropriate to students whose interests fall in different periods and areas. Recently, in Professor Dan LeMahieu’s senior seminar Documentary and Propaganda, one student wrote a paper on Soviet documentaries about Stalin; another explored ESPN documentaries about the business of American sports; and yet another student made a documentary about how his own family illustrated the larger story of Hispanic migration to America. Another option for seniors is to pursue an independent research project—a senior thesis (2 semesters) or a senior project (1 semester). These allow students to do independent work on a topic of their choice, with guidance from an advisor. Recent examples include projects on early Christian understanding of the body in the doctrines of resurrection and the Eucharist, on the role of ministers in Puritan New England, and on US-Canadian relations in the Revolutionary era.
Students emerge from the history major able to do research, collect and assess evidence, read and critique work by others, and write and present clear and cogent arguments. These are the kinds of skills that allow for success in many fields, as the experiences of our alumni show.