University of Virginia
P.O. Box 400180
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4180
(434) 924-3478 Fax: (434) 924-7891
Overview The University of Virginia and the study of history are, in some ways, synonymous. Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 as a secular institution, the University represents a historical moment in American education. History, however, is more than the study of historical moments and monuments; it is a vital process that helps people develop the ability to think intelligently about the past. History students also hone their writing skills and learn to assess often radically differing views of the same subject.
With one of the largest faculties in the University, the Department of History is able to offer courses in global, transnational, and comparative history as well as in African, East Asian, European, Latin American, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and United States history. While many of the department’s courses address matters of political and diplomatic history, a sizable number of faculty members specialize in social, cultural, or economic history and carry their investigations into such topics as the history of class, race, and gender as well as the history of (to give just a few examples) cities, villages, workers, peasants, women, and slavery. Regardless of their field, all historians seek to explain whether people in the past acted and thought differently from the way we act and think today, and to describe the forces behind change over time. The study of history provides students with an opportunity to understand different cultures and ultimately to understand their own culture more fully.
Faculty The faculty members of the department are nationally recognized for outstanding teaching and scholarship, with a number of them having won major national and international prizes in their fields. Many have also been recipients of University-wide teaching awards. All of the faculty teach and are firmly committed to undergraduate education, making themselves easily accessible to students.
Students History is one of the largest departments of the University. Currently there are more than 400 students majoring in history. The department offers courses in eleven general fields of study: African, American, Ancient, East Asian, English, Latin American, Medieval, Middle Eastern, Modern European, Russian, and South Asian. Courses outside these fields, such as comparative and trans-national history, world history, and the histories of science, technology, gender, and war, are also available but do not constitute a specific field within the department. Most students begin the study of history in either an introductory survey course or in an introductory seminar. Introductory surveys are usually large and are designed to cover a broad topic or era (e.g., the age of the Renaissance; Colonial Latin America, 1500-1824). 100-level seminars, limited to fifteen first- and second-year students, focus on the development of skills in reading, writing, and thinking through the study of a defined historical topic (e.g., history, politics, and the novel; revolution, rebellion, and protest in Russian history). Virtually every course in the department, with the exception of discussion sections, is taught by a faculty member. Discussion sections, limited to twenty students per section, supplement all of the large lecture classes and are led by advanced graduate students. Advanced courses generally have enrollments of between thirty and fifty students; fourth-year history seminars, a requirement for the major, are limited to twelve students. These seminars focus on historical research and writing; a substantial thesis is required from each student in the class.
Whatever geographical focus or disciplinary emphasis students choose, they learn to focus clearly and to defend interpretations supported solidly in fact and theory. These are the skills demanded by employers in government, law, business, and teaching. Approximately ten percent of History majors go on to do graduate work in history, often at top programs. Students with this major also go to law school, business school, and to graduate programs in other social sciences and humanities. The majority of history graduates go into business, both domestic and international, government agencies, foreign service, non-governmental agencies, public service organizations, journalism, and writing and editing.