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Undergraduate Program — History Major

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Major Requirements:

  • 2-semester (6 credit) University Core sequence in history
  • 2-semester (6 credit) sequence in U.S. History
  • 3 credits of The Study and Writing of History
  • 6 credits in non-Western history
  • At least 12 credits of upper-division electives
  • Senior Honors Thesis or Senior Colloquium


Ideally, majors should take the History Core as freshmen.  The sophomore year should include The Study and Writing of History seminar, and possibly other electives.  Junior and Senior years should be used to complete the remaining requirements.  Upper-division electives (HIST 4001-4901) and the senior colloquia (HIST 5001-5499) are distinguished from HIST 2001-2899 electives by their substantial reading and writing assignments.  



Majors should concentrate in a field that interests them. At least 3 of the electives, including 2 of the upper-division electives, should be in a field approved by the student's History Department advisor. The fields include:


  • Social
  • Cultural
  • Political
  • Intellectual
  • Economic
  • Legal and Constitutional


  • Medieval
  • Early Modern

Area and Nation

  • African and Middle Eastern
  • Asian
  • East European and Russian
  • Latin American
  • Modern European
  • United States

Comparative and Transnational

  • Atlantic World
  • Global
  • International
  • Religion across cultures

Individual Specialized Field

  • by arrangement with the student's History faculty advisor


Students who scored a four or five in A.P. European History have fulfilled the History Core requirement. If your course audit does not reflect this, consult the Core Moderator.

For the Classes of 2015, 2016, and 2017, a score of four or five in A.P. American History fulfills the two-semester (6 credit) U.S. History requirement (HIST 2401-2402). For the Class of 2018, a History Major with a score of 4 or 5 on the A.P. test in American History Placement must substitute two U.S. History electives for the HIST 2401-2402 sequence.



History majors who have transferred from other colleges and universities must consult the Director of Undergraduate Studies to see how the history elective courses accepted for Boston College credit by the transfer admissions staff will be applied toward major requirements. For transfer of Core history courses, see the Core Moderator.

Boston College history majors hoping to take summer school elective courses, either at BC or elsewhere, must first seek approval from the Director of Undergraduate Studies. When you meet with the Director of Undergraduate Studies, bring with you the catalog description of the course(s) you want to take. If you are planning to take a summer school course away from BC, it must be at a four-year college or university. You should expect to get elective (not upper-division) credit for summer school courses. American History surveys are usually accepted in place of HIST 2401-2402, and it is possible to take courses for non-Western credit, as long as the course's non-Western content is clear from the course description. Students intending to study abroad should remember that at least six of the ten courses required for the major must be taken at BC during the regular academic year. Anyone desiring to take a History Core course in summer school must see the Core Moderator.


The Study and Writing of History:

The Study and Writing of History is a course required for all history majors and open only to history majors. Ideally it is taken during the Sophomore year. Taught in sections of 13-15 students, this course serves as an introduction to history as an intellectual discipline. It is a three-credit course, requiring a significant commitment of time and energy on the part of the student, who is required to research and write a major paper based on primary sources and to submit it in both draft and revised versions.

The course is designed to create a common understanding of historical method among our majors. After taking it, they should understand from practical experience:

  • the difference between primary and secondary literature;
  • how to find and evaluate primary sources;
  • how to interpret and synthesize the many different works they read;
  • how to generate a question to guide their research;
  • how to refine the question as they learn more;
  • how to compose an argument and organize a paper; and
  • how to revise their work in response to the questions and criticism of other readers.

After taking the class, our students should know what historical scholarship is.

Because of the small class size, the students experience a great deal of interaction with their fellow students and, in particular, with their instructor, with whom they normally meet individually several times during the semester in addition to class meetings.

Guidelines require at least 30 pages of written work for the course, including a historiographical writing assignment and a major (normally 25-page) research paper submitted in both draft and revised forms.

Each section of The Study and Writing of History addresses these general historiographical concerns while focusing on a specific topic.


Honors Program

The department encourages majors to consider the department's Honors Program, which centers around an honors thesis done in the senior year (3 credits each semester). Arrangements are made in the spring of one's junior year. The program should be seriously considered by any student thinking of doing graduate work in history. But it also has a broader appeal: to any history major who desires a challenging opportunity, that is the culmination of a liberal arts education.

The honors thesis involves researching a topic of some historical significance and interest both to you and to a professor who agrees to work with you. Normally, you and the professor would settle on a topic in the spring of your junior year, when a proposal is submitted to the Department Honors Committee (by April 1) for its approval. Once approved, you should begin some preliminary reading over the summer, so that you are ready to start in the fall. The finished thesis, after being approved by your advisor, must be delivered in a correct and neatly typed form, with appropriate documentation, by April 1 of your senior year. The members of the Honors Committee will be pleased to discuss the program further. For information about the Honors Program, you should contact Prof. Gelfand.

Interested students should consult the university catalog for information about the Scholar of the College Program, which offers our most outstanding seniors the opportunity to write a 12-credit thesis (counting as four upper-division electives).

All students doing a thesis enroll in HIST-4961: Honors Seminar, a three-credit course, during the fall term of senior year. Students doing the honors thesis enroll in HIST-4962, Honors Thesis (also a three-credit course) during the spring. Students doing the 12-credit thesis for the Scholar of the College Program enroll in both HIST-4961 and HIST-4921: Advanced Independent Research, which is also a three-credit course, in the fall. In the spring, these students enroll in HIST-4922: Advanced Independent Research, a six-credit course.


Phi Alpha Theta

The department houses a chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the national history honor society. Admission is open to all students who meet the basic criteria for admission: an overall B+ average (3.33) and a 3.5 average in history with at least four courses completed.

Each year, the faculty moderator of the Phi Alpha Theta chapter reviews the transcripts of junior and senior majors and invites students who qualify to join the society. There is a small admission charge, payable to the national organization. The Boston College chapter holds an annual induction ceremony for new members and elects officers who collaborate with the faculty moderator to organize various other activities. The chapter also confers an annual award for excellence in teaching to a member of the history faculty.

Sometimes students' transcripts fail to reflect their eligibility for Phi Alpha Theta (for example, because foreign study has temporarily given them an incomplete transcript), so seniors interested in joining might wish to contact the moderator by November 1.