Program overview

Major: History

Our focus is on the history of Western Civilization, particularly European and U.S. history, with occasional courses available in Islamic, Asian and Latin American history. Specific areas covered in U.S. history are the Colonial Period, Civil War and Reconstruction, the New Deal, and the Civil Rights movement. The courses in European History deal with social and institutional history from the middle ages to the present. Spain and modern Russia (including the USSR) are countries of particular interest.

Since the department requires no specific courses of all its majors, we offer a variety of introductory courses that attract a wide range of students. These courses include topical seminars such as Declaration of Independence and The Holocaust; general survey courses in European and U.S. history; and thematic surveys such as American Lives, Warfare and Society, and Baseball: The American Game.

While our majors have a great deal of flexibility in their course selection, the department essentially requires a significant amount of advanced work in one of three general areas:

  • Europe to 1700
  • Europe since 1700
  • U.S. and Latin American history

In advanced courses, we expect our students to master material as diverse as North American Indian treaties, medieval Spanish romances, petitions of 18th and 19th century Russian serfs, and the contemporary politics of gender. Advanced courses require that students evaluate the interpretations of several different historians.  They must go beyond a factual knowledge to the point where they can criticize how historians make judgments about the past. The extensive reading assignments are more sophisticated, more detailed, and representative of recent scholarship.

One Course At A Time

Cornell's One Course At A Time schedule makes possible in-depth discussions and focused classroom work, as well as a number of unique learning opportunities. For example, students can explore a variety of public history opportunities that connect them to local historical museums, immerse them in research at Chicago's Newberry Library, or give them a chance to become documentary film makers.

Related majors

History faculty and courses also contribute to a number of interdisciplinary majors, including ethnic studiesinternational relationsLatin American studies, and Russian studies.

Local history

The Cornell campus and sections of Mount Vernon are on the National Register of Historic Places giving students an immediate resource for extensive projects in local history, discovering the connections among transportation, commerce, settlement patterns, architecture, and the like.