Table of Contents:
Program Overview »
Distribution Requirements »
The Rule of 12 »
History of Science, Technology, and Medicine »
Cognate Approval »
Study Abroad »
Senior Departmental Examination »
Graduation Requirements and Honors »
Grading Practices »
Academic Integrity »
The undergraduate history program is designed to encourage students to immerse themselves in a particular time or place (depth) as well as to gain a broad sense of history (breadth). This is accomplished through both the independent research conducted by juniors and seniors and the distribution requirements that students must take. In their junior year, concentrators write two junior papers, one in each semester. In their senior year, students complete year-long independent research that culminates in the senior thesis.
Concentrators are encouraged to acquire a broad body of knowledge. All students must take four courses that satisfy the department’s thematic distribution requirements, and two that fulfill the geographical distribution requirement. (Thematic and geographical courses may overlap). In addition, students are encouraged to participate in study abroad programs and to master at least one language in addition to English. Knowledge of a foreign language is virtually essential for senior thesis research on many topics.
History concentrators must take ten courses in the Department: one 200-level prerequisite, the Junior Seminar (History 400), and eight other departmental courses. History courses taken in the freshman and sophomore years are counted among the ten required for graduation. Note that some courses designated as fulfilling the University’s Historical Analysis (HA) requirement are not History departmentals, which are differentiated by a HIS prefix in the course number. Students may not designate any departmental courses “Pass-Fail” even if the minimum ten courses have been completed. Students should speak with the Director of Undergraduate Studies if they have questions about satisfying the prerequisite or potentially designating cognate courses as departmentals.
For the class of 2025 and beyond, students are required to take and pass one course at the 200 or 300 level; a second course is recommended but not required.
Thematic Distribution Requirement
Students must take at least one course in each of the following four thematic areas:
- Knowledge & Belief (KB)
- Power & Conflict (PC)
- Pre-Modern, pre-1700 (PM)
- Race & Difference (RD)
See the Distribution Requirements for a list of courses satisfying each of these areas. Many courses carry more than one designation. A single course may satisfy only one thematic requirement.
Geographical Distribution Requirement
Students are required to take at least two (2) courses that are principally focused on Africa, Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East. These courses may double count with the thematic areas.
HIS 241: Faith and Power in the Indian Ocean Arena
Knowledge & Belief or Power & Conflict
HIS 251: The World of the Cairo Geniza
Knowledge & Belief or Pre-Modern
HIS 333: Modern Brazilian History
Power & Conflict or Race & Difference
HIS 383: The United States, 1920-1974
Power & Conflict or Race & Difference
HIS 393: Race, Drugs, and Drug Policy in America
Knowledge & Belief or Race & Difference
The Rule of 12
University regulations stipulate that students may take no more than 12 departmental courses, plus up to two departmental prerequisites taken during the first or sophomore year. Students who exceed the 31 courses required for graduation will be permitted to take extra departmentals. Questions about the Rule of 12 should be directed to your college dean or director of studies.
Special Track for History of Science, Technology, and Medicine
Students should have an understanding of the history of science, technology, and medicine at various times and in various places and be able to address questions concerning the conceptual and institutional development of these activities in relation to the societies that pursue them.
History majors wishing to concentrate in the history of science are required to meet the thematic requirements (4 courses) and geographic requirement (2 courses, which can overlap with the thematic) among their ten to twelve courses. They must also take courses that satisfy the following requirements:
- Two courses in science, engineering, or mathematics in addition to those used to fill the University's science distribution requirement.
- Four of the following courses:
- EGR 277 / HIS 277: Technology and Society (KB)
- HIS 290: The Scientific World View of Antiquity and the Middle Ages
- HIS 291: The Scientific Revolution and European Order, 1500-1750
- HIS 292: Science in the Modern World (KB)
- HIS 293: Science in a Global Context (KB, PC)
- HIS 294: What Is the Scientific Revolution? (KB, PM)
- HIS 295: Making America: A Technological History of the United States (KB)
- HIS 297 / STC 297: Transformative Questions in Biology (KB)
- HIS 391: History of Contemporary Science (KB)
- HIS 392: History of Evolution (KB)
- HIS 393: Race, Drugs, and Drug Policy in America (KB, RD)
- HIS 394: History of Ecology and Environment (formerly HIS 491) (KB)
- HIS 395: History of Medicine and the Body (KB, RD)
- HIS 396: History of Biology (KB)
- HIS 398: Technologies and Their Societies: Historical Perspective
- AMS 399 / HIS 399: In the Groove: Technology and Music in American History, from Edison to the iPod (KB)
- HIS 452: Magic, Matter, Medicine: Science in the Medieval World (KB, PM)
- HIS 472: Medicine and Society in China: Past and Present (KB, RD)
- HIS 489: The Scientific Self (KB)
- HIS 493: Science and Religion: Historical Approaches (KB, RD)
- HIS 494: Broken Brains, Shattered Minds (KB, RD)
- HIS 495: Alchemy - Art and Science (KB, PM)
- HIS 496: History of Neuroscience (KB, RD)
- HIS 498: History of Pseudoscience (KB)
- HIS 499: Things
These specific courses can and almost certainly will also serve to at least partially meet the geographic and thematic requirements.
Note: With the permission of Professor Rampling, the HOS Undergraduate Adviser, one of these courses may be replaced by a cognate course from another department.
- Four additional history courses.
The independent work and senior departmental examination requirements are the same as for all other departmental majors.
The Department allows students to take courses in other departments that will add depth and variety to their study of history. When taken during the junior and senior year, up to two such courses may be counted as departmental courses i.e., cognates, provided they contribute significantly to the student's field of concentration and/or independent work, and are substantially historical in their content.
Note that cross-listed courses, e.g., CLA 217 and NES 201, are not cognates; they are automatically considered departmental courses.
The designation of a course as a cognate must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies who will make an appropriate notation on the student's departmental track-sheet. The designation of a cognate course as a departmental should take place during the enrollment/advising period but no later than the University's "Deadline for 'Free' Course Change" (approximately two weeks after the beginning of the semester). Courses cannot be declared cognates retroactively. An approved cognate may be rescinded on an exceptional basis with DUS permission, before the end of the semester. Cognate courses do not satisfy distribution requirements; however, they count in the determination of departmental standing and honors.
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Students in the Department are encouraged to participate in those programs for foreign study recognized by the University (For further information, consult the Office of International Programs, 36 University Place, Suite 350.) The Department has the following policies and resources for students:
Sophomores intending to major in History may count one history course taken abroad toward the requirement to enter the Department. The course cannot be used as a substitute for the 200-level prerequisite (see section on Prerequisites). A HIS 400 Junior Seminar is offered each spring for sophomores intending to concentrate in History but who will study abroad in the fall of their junior year.
Juniors majoring in the Department may receive credit for up to four courses in history taken while abroad for either a full year or semester. These courses will require the prior approval of the Director of Undergraduate Studies, and to secure that approval students will be expected to produce some evidence of the work load and of the materials covered by the courses.
Recognizing the difficulties of doing research without Princeton's many resources, the Department will be flexible regarding deadlines of submission of independent work conducted abroad. (Students must make arrangements for extension of deadlines with the Director of Undergraduate Studies.)
Junior seminars offered during the spring term will be open to sophomores intending to go abroad in their junior year, thus enabling them to write their first junior paper in the spring of their sophomore year and thereby preparing them to write the second while abroad or in the resident semester of their junior year (if they elect to spend only one semester abroad). Students who meet the requirements of junior independent work while at Princeton will still be expected to undertake a full course load while abroad. Moreover, study abroad should include some research work. In particular, the Department encourages students to take seminars that include a research component.
Senior Departmental Examination
The senior departmental exam takes the form of a discussion of the student’s thesis and the student’s experience in the Department. Three people will be present at the exam: the student, the adviser, and the thesis’s second reader. The exam will last approximately 30 minutes and count for 5% of the student’s Departmental GPA.
Graduation Requirements and Honors
In order to qualify for a bachelor's degree a student must (a) fulfill the History Department's course distribution requirements, (b) receive a passing grade on the senior thesis and (c) achieve C or better in a departmental average calculated by the departmental honors formula. Departmental honors are calculated according to the following formula:
- Departmental course grades equal 45%. (All History department courses taken in the sophomore through senior years and all approved cognate courses taken in the junior and senior years count automatically. Courses taken freshman year will also be counted if they raise the overall average or if they are necessary to meet any of the requirements.)
- Junior independent work equals 15%.
- The senior thesis equals 35%.
- The senior departmental examination equals 5%. Note that this component counts at least as much as one course and often means the difference for graduation with honors.
The Department has no hard and fast statistical averages (or cut-offs) for determining the ranks of honors. These judgments are made at a faculty meeting when the quality of work that has been accomplished by students is reviewed.
The Department offers the following guidelines on graded work. Students are encouraged to fully engage with course material, both in their papers and their precept discussions.
An A or A- thesis, paper, or exam is one that is good enough to be read aloud in a class. It is clearly written and well-organized. It demonstrates that the writer has conducted a close and critical reading of texts, grappled with the issues raised in the course, synthesized the readings, discussions, and lectures, and formulated a perceptive, compelling, independent argument. The argument shows intellectual originality and creativity, is sensitive to historical context, is supported by a well-chosen variety of specific examples, and, in the case of a research paper, is built on a critical reading of primary material.
A B+ or B thesis, paper, or exam demonstrates many aspects of A-level work but falls short of it in either the organization and clarity of its writing, the formulation and presentation of its argument, or the quality of research. Some papers or exams in this category are solid works containing flashes of insight into many of the issues raised in the course. Others give evidence of independent thought, but the argument is not presented clearly or convincingly.
A B- thesis, paper, or exam demonstrates a command of course or research material and understanding of historical context but provides a less than thorough defense of the writer's independent argument because of weaknesses in writing, argument, organization, or use of evidence.
A C+, C, or C- thesis, paper, or exam offers little more than a mere a summary of ideas and information covered in the course, is insensitive to historical context, does not respond to the assignment adequately, suffers from frequent factual errors, unclear writing, poor organization, or inadequate primary research, or presents some combination of these problems.
Whereas the grading standards for written work between A and C- are concerned with the presentation of argument and evidence, a paper or exam that belongs to the D or F categories demonstrates inadequate command of course material.
A D thesis, paper, or exam demonstrates serious deficiencies or severe flaws in the student's command of course or research material.
An F thesis, paper, or exam demonstrates no competence in the course or research materials. It indicates a student's neglect or lack of effort in the course.
Precepts and Seminar
A student who receives an A for participation in discussion in precepts or seminars typically comes to every class with questions about the readings in mind. An 'A' discussant engages others about ideas, respects the opinions of others, and consistently elevates the level of discussion.
A student who receives a B for participation in discussion in precepts or seminars typically does not always come to class with questions about the readings in mind. A 'B' discussant waits passively for others to raise interesting issues. Some discussants in this category, while courteous and articulate, do not adequately listen to other participants or relate their comments to the direction of the conversation.
A student who receives a C for discussion in precepts or seminars attends regularly but typically is an infrequent or unwilling participant in discussion.
A student who fails to attend precepts or seminars regularly and adequately prepared for discussion risks the grade of D or F.
Senior Departmental Examination
In an A or A- comprehensive exam, the student conveys his or her main ideas with clarity and precision. The exercise demonstrates that the student has grappled with reader comments on the senior thesis and is able to respond concretely and persuasively to the questions of examiners. Finally, the exercise affirms that the student has thoughtfully considered the relationship between the senior thesis and other work in the Department, and is able to articulate a compelling account of her or his intellectual development while at Princeton.
In a B+ or B comprehensive exam, the student demonstrates many aspects of A-level work but falls short of it either in the clarity or cogency of responses to reader comments, examiner questions, or the ability to make connections between independent research and coursework. Some exams in this category are acceptable performances that lack a quality of deeper reflection; others may demonstrate more independent insight, but are not conveyed clearly or convincingly.
In a B- comprehensive exam, the student struggles to respond cogently to reader comments, while responding to examiner questions in a less than thorough manner. The exam reveals significant weaknesses in presentation, argument, or use of evidence.
In a C+, C, or C- comprehensive exam, the student does not respond to reader comments adequately, while failing to provide clear answers to questions from examiners. The exam is insensitive to historical context, suffers from frequent factual errors, or presents some combination of these problems.
Whereas the grading standards for work between A and C- are concerned with the presentation of argument and evidence, a comprehensive exam that belongs to the D or F categories demonstrates inadequate command of the material itself, especially in the senior thesis.
In a D comprehensive exam, the student demonstrates serious deficiencies or severe flaws in the command of the material.
In an F comprehensive exam, the student demonstrates no competence presenting the material. This grade indicates a student’s neglect or complete lack of effort in preparing for the exercise.
Multiple submission of papers to satisfy one requirement within the Department and one outside the Department constitutes academic fraud unless such submission has been previously authorized in writing by both professors involved. For more details see Rights, Rules, Responsibilities, 2015 ed., Section 2.4.6. See also Academic Integrity at Princeton: "Misrepresenting Original Work."