History Seminar description

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					                   THE HISTORY SEMINAR PROGRAM

         The History Seminar (01:506, 401, 402) is a three-credit course designed to help
students learn how to do historical research using primary source materials and how to
write a formal research paper. Enrollment in the course is reserved for History majors
who are in their junior or senior year. Though one of the department’s most demanding
courses, students usually find it to be one of the most rewarding parts of their major
because it allows them to explore subjects in greater depth than is possible in most other
         The Seminar is divided into a number of sections organized around different
topics and themes. In any given semester, there are likely to be a dozen or so different
sections, covering a wide array of chronological periods and geographical areas. Some
sections have a relatively narrow focus, dealing with a particular war or particular
political movement. Some have a broad focus, dealing with entire civilizations or
cultures. The topics for the sections are worked out by our faculty members, who teach
sections of the seminar that correspond with areas of their expertise as research scholars.
Students are free to sign up for whatever section seems most appealing based on the
subject matter.
         Each section has a maximum enrollment of 15 students, so professors and
students have an opportunity to work together closely over the course of a semester.
Different sections are organized in different ways, but they have a number of things in
common. They all are designed to orient students to a body of primary source material
that is suitable for research related to the theme of the section. These primary sources
might include such things as newspapers, collections of printed documents, printed
diaries or autobiographies, official government documents, treatises or literary works
published in a given era, and so on. Professors will help to orient students to the nature
of the source material that will be the focus of the section’s work. They will also provide
clear guidelines about how students should work out a topic that will be the main focus of
their research for the semester. In some sections of the seminar, professors provide
students with a list of feasible topics, while in other sections professors prefer to let
students develop their own topic through a process of consultation and discussion.
         The specific work that students do in the seminar varies according to the teaching
methods of each individual professor. The main focus of every seminar section is the
production of a substantial research paper at the end of the semester (typically 20 or more
pages). Professors frequently include a number of shorter assignments earlier in the
semester designed to help students make progress toward writing their paper. They may,
for example, ask students to review a book that furnishes background information needed
for the work of the seminar. They may also ask students to write a formal proposal for
their research topic, possibly including an annotated bibliography. They should require
students to write a first draft of their paper, due well before the end of the semester to
allow time for feedback and comments that can be used to turn the first draft into a more
polished final version. Many professors ask students to give oral presentations of their
work, typically after the first draft has been submitted. Students often find that the
feedback provided by other students in the section, who have been working on similar
projects, helps with the revising process and ultimately produces a better paper.
        Students who work consistently on their project through the course of the entire
semester invariably have more positive experiences and earn better grades for their work
than students who leave most of the work until shortly before their paper is due. Most of
the work related to the History seminar is done outside the classroom and requires
students to take personal responsibility for planning their research strategy and then
carrying it out. Students should expect to spend at least eight to ten hours each week
doing individual research. Early in the semester they will need to familiarize themselves
with primary source material and relevant secondary works that address the topic they are
working on. Through the middle part of the semester they will need to work closely with
their sources to develop a position or an argument that will be the primary focus of their
final paper. And later in the semester they will need to spend a lot of time writing,
presenting, revising, and rewriting their papers.
        The members of the History Department view the History Seminar as one of the
most important parts of the entire major. They do so because they believe that the skills
students develop in the seminar are essential to the major and also because they believe
that these skills have value in the world outside the university. The seminar teaches
students how to find meaning in documents and texts, how to develop creative and
persuasive arguments about interesting areas of enquiry, and how to express their points-
of-view in polished essay form. All of these skills will be useful to students in a wide
array of careers after graduation.

       For some sample syllabi, please follow the following links:

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       --New Jersey in the Great Depression

       --Medieval Biographies