What is History, and why does it matter?
History is the laboratory of human experience. Major aspects of a society's operation, like elections, economic crises, or military alliances, cannot be set up as precise experiments. Consequently, history must serve as our laboratory, and data from the past must serve as our most vital evidence in the fascinating quest to understand why our complex species behaves as it does in societal settings. History offers the only extensive evidential base for the contemplation and analysis of how societies function, and people need to have some sense of how societies function simply to navigate the complexities of an ever-changing world and to understand their own place in the wider sweep of human experience.
The past causes the present, and so the future. Any time we try to know why something happened—whether a shift in political party dominance, the overthrow of a regime, or the extension of human rights and freedoms—we must look for factors that took shape earlier. Oftentimes, we need to look further back into the past to identify the causes of change. Only through studying history can we grasp how things change; only through history can we begin to comprehend the factors that cause change; and only through history can we understand what elements of an institution or a society persist despite change.
History carries in it many surprises: The past is not the present in fancy costumes! Through history, we explore the “pastness” and strangeness of the past: the ways that people in distant ages lived, loved, and made sense of the world around them. This exploration carries with it a sense of intrigue and excitement, and ultimately gives us greater perspective on human life and society.
We offer a History major (36 credit hours), a History major with Secondary Education Licensure in Social Studies (33 hours of History + supporting coursework in the social sciences and a 36-39 hour education core), and a History minor (18 credit hours).
Many History majors pair their studies with coursework in other disciplines. Popular second major options include Earth, Society, and Environmental Sustainability, Gender and Women's Studies, Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology.
STEM majors find the study of History useful for long-term success in fields such as medicine, which require the ability to communicate clearly, understand different points of view, and work with people from a wide range of backgrounds.
The flexibility of the History major allows students to customize their path through the curriculum, explore their interests and passions, and pair the study of history with advanced language study, experiential learning, undergraduate research, and community engagement.
The history major prepares students for long-term professional success and our alumni have had outstanding success in careers spanning politics, education, law, public service, technology, business, and more.
The core skills learned through the study of history include:
- Analytical skills including reading critically, analyzing quantitative and qualitative evidence, and reasoning logically
- The ability to assess evidence and develop persuasive, evidence-based arguments
- The ability to assess conflicting interpretations.
- Communication skills, ranging from effective writing to public speaking to preparing reports and summaries of evidence
- Inter-personal and cross-cultural skills and understanding
- Global fluency
- Research and project development skills
These rank among the core skills that are most highly sought after by employers in the 21st century!
We pride ourselves on offering History students the experience of a small liberal-arts college with the added advantages of a world-class research university. We are committed to supporting our students and working with them to provide an inclusive and tight-knit community. Our majors find a home in:
- Phi Alpha Theta: Promotes the study of history through the encouragement of research, good teaching, publication and the exchange of learning and ideas among historians.
- The Society of Minority Students in History: Supports racial, ethnic, and LGBTQ+ students and strives to dismantle the misconception of what studying History looks like and who scholars of history are.
- History Undergraduate Journal: The Undergraduate History Journal at Illinois leads the effort to publish original undergraduate research. Join the journal team and develop skills in research, editing, and writing, or submit your original research and possibly be featured in the next issue!
Resources and Opportunities
- History hosts an internship course - HIST 398: Public History Internship. Our students have interned locally in Champaign-Urbana and across the country and gained extensive experience working in archives, libraries, museums, and advocacy campaigns
- Research is embedded in the core history curriculum and all students complete several, small research-intensive seminars (HIST 200 and 498)
- Faculty work with students in their research programs and students can also receive course credit for conducting their own research under the guidance of a faculty member.
- Students can study history where it was made by taking advantage of plentiful study abroad programs
- Dedicated career support in the Humanities Professional Resource Center
- The SourceLab Digital Documentary Publishing initiative offers an opportunity for students to publish their research
- All students have access to the amazing resources of the second largest university library in the country!
Think History at Illinois is for you? We sure do!