The past is fleeting, passed down to us often only in fragmentary form. Whether that material consists of published accounts, personal diaries, eyewitness chronicles, or shards of pottery, the task of historians is to arrange these remnants into meaningful patterns based on the evidence at hand. The questions which guide historians’ pattern-making change in response to the exigencies of the present; yet, even as the questions change, historians seek to use this material to understand the nature of causality and change and continuity across time and geography. As interpreters of the past, they connect one account with another and identify the relationship between these particulars and the cosmic, as a great scholar once said. To study history is thus to make it. History majors hone this craft as researchers and writers, and they do so in the classroom, among other scholars, and as members of the community at large.
The members of the History Department at Bates College offer widely differing views of the history of a broad variety of peoples, yet they agree that the study of the past provides meaning in the present and informed choices for the future. We seek to acquaint students with a broad range of approaches to historical methodology and familiarize them with the ways in which historians have thought and written. At each level of study, our students hone their growing skills of evidence-based analysis, construction of arguments and the articulation of conclusions. In addition to teaching and to graduate studies in history and law, majors find careers in related fields, such as work in museums and archives, public service, indeed any profession requiring skills of research, analysis, and expression. Such knowledge of the past supplies context, perspective, and clarity in a diverse and changing world.
Courses in the history department are designed to be taken in sequence: first, introductory survey courses (100-level), then more specialized intermediate courses (200- and 300-level), and ultimately advanced seminars (390). While nonmajors are welcome in any history course, all students are encouraged to begin their study of history with 100-level courses.