The Catholic University of America

Advanced Information about the Undergraduate Program


Where can you go in history?

Just about anywhere!

Studying the subject of history is an ideal form of liberal arts education that leads to almost any career you can imagine. The proof lies in the lives of our many graduates from this Department during the past ten years. Some of them go on to law school, and report back to us that they found our intellectual training a perfect preparation for the rigors of legal education. A small number go on to become history teachers in secondary schools, and we offer an excellent dual major program with our Department of Education for that purpose. But most of our History-major graduates go on to careers in business, government, intelligence, information analysis, non-profit foundations and the like, and take paths too numerous and diverse to summarize simply.

The History major at CUA can lead in so many directions because it is both an education in the "what" of history and a training in logic, research, and writing. How do you seek out and weigh the evidence of the past in all the forms it offers? How do you pose questions about it and arrive at some answers? And how do you learn to write and speak analytically about the results? In recent years, the discipline of history has exploded in all directions, and historians now involve themselves with questions that extend into the realms of art, literature, politics and economics. Our aim is to give you a rich, deep, and critical knowledge of the past and how to think about it.

We pride ourselves in offering a friendly, lively atmosphere of approachability and open doors for our students. As a CUA History major you'll engage in lively discussions in small classes: our upper-level undergraduate courses typically number well below twenty students in each class. Unlike the situation at many universities, full faculty members do the teaching, and our students value the close contact and open exchanges they can have with professors, both in the classroom and outside. You'll be challenged to read carefully, to think, speak and write clearly, and to master basic research techniques.

History students can get course credit toward the major through internships in Washington. We also strongly encourage study abroad, most typically in Europe or in Latin America. Catholic University has a number of programs for study abroad, including opportunities to work as Parliamentary aides in London and Dublin, and all these offer course credits, including the chance to study another country's history while living in its midst.



Guide to the Undergraduate History Degree

The purpose of this guide is to give students majoring in History, or thinking about majoring in History, as clear an outline as possible of the requirements for the major. The Department seeks to provide as high and consistent quality of advising as possible to its majors. But it also regards students as having fundamental responsibility for knowing the requirements. Any questions about these guidelines or their application to particular cases should consult the Department's Undergraduate Advising Coordinator, who can rule on situations that might be unclear.


To satisfy the major, a student must complete a minimum of eleven courses in history (university regulations permit a maximum of 14 courses in any one discipline) with a grade of C or better. Credit toward the major may also include Advanced Placement courses taken in high school, and comparable courses taken at other institutions prior to matriculation at CUA. In only the most extraordinary circumstances are students permitted to transfer courses from other institutions taken after enrollment at CUA and never without prior approval by the department's Undergraduate Advising Coordinator.

The program must include the following elements:


  • Two survey courses at the 200 level, or one 100-level and one 200-level
  • Two semesters of a research seminar (HIST 400-420)
  • History 496, "Senior Thesis Seminar"
  • Six elective courses in History
  • Of these courses, at least three classes must focus on the period of pre-1800


At the end of the sophomore year students are formally accepted as history majors. In order to be accepted, a student must have a cumulative GPA of 2.0 and grades of C or better in all History courses taken up to the point of acceptance.


HISTORY 400-420 Every student should take two iterations of junior seminar, a focused research seminar that prepares students to write their senior thesis.  In the Fall of 2017 there are two options: HIST 410: Diversity and Toleration in the Medieval Mediterrean with Dr. Weitz and HIST 415: Civility, Savagery, and Rebellion in the British Atlantic, 1600-1800 with Dr. Fisher.  Normally students will take one seminar in each semester of their junior year, but if a student is planning to study abroad, then he or she should take a seminar in his or her sophomore year.

HISTORY 496 In History, the senior thesis is the Department's equivalent of the comprehensive examination that is required for the B.A. by the School of Arts and Sciences at CUA; it is thus a requirement for the major and not an option. Students ordinarily must plan to do the senior thesis seminar in the fall semester of their senior year, and must ordinarily have done two junior research seminars (HIST 400-420) as preparation. The Department always offers several sections of History 496 each fall semester. These sections are offered in a variety of special topics. The senior thesis is a substantial piece of research and writing: requirements for length are subject to each section instructor's guidelines, but typically entail finished papers in the range of 35-40 pages.

The senior thesis must be based upon primary sources, whether published or unpublished, and whether in English, translation into English, or where feasible in another language. Equally importantly, the senior thesis must place its own original research within the context of current historiography on the topic in question, and so must engage the secondary literature. A good senior thesis requires preparation starting in the preceding semester, when topic and section are assigned.

Senior thesis seminars meet weekly as regular classes, and instructors of 496 sections may assign common readings to the class as a whole before emphasis shifts to the direction of individual thesis topics. Students must also meet a series of intermediate deadlines (for example, preliminary bibliography, detailed outline, oral presentation and group critique of early stages of the project, first draft) throughout the semester. The grade for 496 is not given exclusively for the finished paper, but also takes into account students' progress through the intermediate stages of research.

While in ordinary circumstances students must take History 496 in the fall term there are certain extraordinary circumstances when this might not be the case. If a student has gotten out of sequence, for instance as the result of a semester abroad in the junior year, he/she might need to take 496 in the spring semester, in which case he/she must make arrangements with the advice of the Department's Undergraduate Advising Coordinator for an individually-directed 496. It is important to emphasize that planning and consultation well ahead of time are critically important for any student contemplating such circumstances.

NOTE: It is important to emphasize that preparing and writing a senior thesis is intended to be the work of one semester. Therefore, as with any other course at CUA, no "Incomplete" ("I") grade may be given for History 496, except for documented major emergency outside the student's control. No "incomplete" will be allowed for the purpose of furnishing more time to complete the project.



Students in CUA's Undergraduate Honors Program may count HSHU courses as 200-level courses toward the History major; some of the courses could alternately count as  Literature distribution requirement. In addition, students entering the History major from the Honors Program may, with the permission of the Department's Undergraduate Advising Coordinator, opt not to take any 100- or 200-level surveys, but in their place may substitute 300-level History courses.



Please note that it is very difficult for an undergraduate to receive permission to take an Incomplete for a course and turn the coursework in after the end of the semester.  In particular, university policy requires documentation of a serious problem that prohibits the student from completing his or her work, and paperwork requesting the Incomplete must be submitted well before grades are due.  If a professor has already entered your final grade, then due to university policy it is impossible for an Incomplete to be given retroactively.


There are other undergraduate degree programs that undergraduates should be aware of: a special combined major in History and Secondary Education offered in collaboration with the education department; a 5-year joint B.A./M.A. in History; a 6-year joint B.A./J.D. program offered with the law school; and a 5-year B.A./MSLIS program offered with the library science department. Students who might want to opt for these programs must be aware that course planning for them must begin very early in their undergraduate careers and applications are required; consult the Department's Director of Undergraduate Studies for more details.