Professor Daniel Smail, Director of Undergraduate Studies

History is the study of the past. It encompasses every dimension of human interaction—social life, the economy, culture, thought, and politics. Students of history study individuals, groups, communities, and nations, and they study them from every imaginable perspective using all of the techniques of the humanities and social sciences to raise questions and probe for answers. There is no concentration more diverse than History. One can choose to study any part of the world in any epoch. History is as long ago as the most ancient civilizations or as current as yesterday’s newspaper. Every moment but the present moment is part of the past and each can be the object of historical study.

The great Roman orator, Cicero, once said that the person who knows no history remains forever a child. History allows us to extend vastly our natural memory into the remote past, to benefit from the experience, not only of our own lifetimes, but of humankind as a whole. It teaches us who we are, but at the same time, like foreign travel, it introduces us to the incredible variety of human behavior and human achievements. It gives us a way of analyzing our current predicaments; it re-evokes “the world we have lost;” and it reminds us of the heavy cost past generations have paid for the achievements of the present. It forces us to question the basis of our own social, economic, and political structures and helps us distinguish between things of permanent value and things evanescent. The lessons of history cannot be enumerated like natural laws, but there is no kind of human wisdom that is not informed by a knowledge of the past. At the same time, history can be a consuming passion providing endless delights. There are few voyeuristic pleasures greater than turning the leaves of a diary or reading the correspondence of ordinary people who lived in another time. There are few moments of excitement greater than the moment one lights up some previously dark corner of the past for the first time.

The History concentration at Harvard is a carefully sequenced program designed to introduce students to the ways in which historians recreate the past, and to build skills of historical analysis, writing, and research. Concentrators are required to take History 97, one reading seminar, and one research seminar. History 97 introduces concentrators to the various genres of and approaches to historical writing, and should ordinarily be taken during the sophomore spring. Reading seminars are limited enrollment, discussion-oriented courses focusing on the historiography of a particular time period or place and are taught solely by a faculty member. Concentrators will be able to select from a wide variety of these seminars. Reading seminars are geared toward freshmen and sophomores (but may be fulfilled in the junior fall). Research seminars, on the other hand, are geared toward more advanced concentrators and are recommended for the junior or senior year. Concentrators will learn historical research methods by focusing on a region or time period of their choice. A variety of reading and research seminars will be offered both fall and spring, thereby giving concentrators great flexibility in designing their tutorial program. For those who plan to write a senior thesis, the research seminar requirement must be completed by the end of their junior year. Thesis writers will spend their senior year producing an original work of history using primary sources or an original interpretative essay in History 99. In addition to working individually with a thesis adviser (ordinarily a faculty member), thesis writers will also participate in a faculty-led seminar (History 99) where they will have an opportunity to discuss their research and writing.

The Department of History offers a wide range of advising resources, including the faculty and staff in the UndergraduateTutorial Office, graduate student history advisers in the Houses, and faculty members grouped by subfield. Freshmen with questions about course selection are referred to the “History” section of the Guide to the First Undergraduate Year, the department’s own Handbook for Concentrators, and the department’s website.

With its emphasis upon critical reading skills, the evaluation of evidence, and persuasive writing, History’s program offers an ideal preparation for professional, business, and scholarly careers. Historians gather and analyze large quantities of information, searching for patterns that allow them to answer important questions about the past—a set of skills at the core of many professions. While most concentrators choose careers in law, business, medicine and government, each year, a number of History concentrators decide to become professional historians and enter leading graduate programs in America and abroad. In any case, long after it ceases to become an academic study, reading history will provide a lifetime of pleasure.


Basic Program: 12 half-courses
Thesis Program: 14 half-courses

  1. Required courses:

    1. One course in Western history.

    2. One course in non-Western history.

    3. One course in pre-modern history.

    4. Six additional half-courses in history, to be chosen in consultation with the student’s House adviser, who signs the study card. Three may be in related fields (by petition). A related field course is defined as a non-historical course that complements a student’s history program. They are normally chosen from courses in the humanities (with the exception of language-skill courses) or social sciences.

  2. Tutorials:

    1. History 97 (offered in spring): taken during the first term in the concentration (required and letter-graded).

    2. Reading Seminar: ordinarily taken by the end of the first term of the junior year (required and letter-graded).

    3. Research Seminar: taken in the junior or senior year (required and letter-graded). For thesis writers, the research seminar must be completed by the end of junior spring.

  3. Basic Program: No thesis.
    Thesis Program: History 99 (full-year, required, and graded SAT/UNS).

  4. General Examination: None.

  5. Other information:

    1. History courses: The courses listed under History in the course catalog (including cross-listed courses) as well as other courses taught outside the department by members of the Department of Hisotry are available for History credit without petition. Courses of an historical nature taught by other faculty in the College in related fields may be taken for History credit by petition to the DUS.

    2. Pass/Fail: Courses taken on a Pass/Fail basis may not be counted for concentration credit.

    3. Advanced Placement: For students given Advanced Standing status, Advanced Placements in History regularly count for a maximum of two half -courses towards concentration course requirements.

    4. Study Abroad: The history department encourages study out of residence and urges interested students to consult the DUS about their pro-grams at their earliest convenience. Additional information is available in the department’s own Handbook for Concentrators.

    5. Freshman Seminars: Please consult the Tutorial Office about which Freshman Seminars taught by history department faculty may be counted toward concentration requirements; no others may count.

    6. Joint Concentration in East Asian History: Consult the Undergraduate Tutorial Office of either History or East Asian Studies.


Students are encouraged to come to the History Undergraduate Tutorial Office in Robinson 101 for information and advice about the History concentration. It is particularly important for freshmen considering a concentration in History to stop by the Undergraduate Tutorial Office as soon as possible to receive advice about planning their sophomore year program. The director of undergraduate studies is Professor Daniel Smail. He and the assistant director of undergraduate studies, Dr. Trygve Throntveit, both hold weekly office hours and see students throughout the year. Each House has a history adviser on staff (resident or non-resident), and each History concentrator is assigned a faculty advising consortium based on field of interest. Caron Yee, the coordinator of undergraduate studies, is available in the History Undergraduate Tutorial Office on a walk-in basis during regular office hours.

Freshmen interested in exploring History as a concentration should take one or more of the following in the pre-concentration period: a Freshman Seminar with a member of the department; any lecture course designated as a broad survey in the department; and/or a reading seminar in the fall of the sophomore year.

For up-to-date information on advising in History, please see the Advising Programs Office website.


In addition to the History Department Library, located on the second floor of Robinson Hall, many other valuable resources available to undergraduates are listed in A Student Guide to the Harvard University Library.


Copies of the Handbook for Concentrators may be obtained at the History Undergraduate Tutorial Office or on the department’s website. For further information, call or visit the History Tutorial Office, Robinson Hall 101 (617-495-2157). The Undergraduate Office, in Robinson 101, is open Monday–Friday 9:00am–5:00pm and may be reached by telephone at 617-495-2157. The staff will happily make appointments for students with the director of undergraduate studies or assistant director of undergraduate studies.


Non-exempt areas:

Exempt areas:

Foreign Cultures

Historical Study A

Literature and Arts A

Historical Study B

Literature and Arts B

Literature and Arts C

Moral Reasoning

ONE of the areas marked †.

Quantitative Reasoning


Science A


Science B


†Social Analysis


For more information on fulfilling the Core requirement, see the Core Curriculum Requirement.

All students—regardless of concentration—planning to graduate under the requirements of the Program in General Education must complete one letter-graded course in each of the eight categories in General Education. The Class of 2013 is the first to enter the College under these requirements. Students who entered Harvard College in September 2008 or earlier are expected to fulfill the requirements of the Core Curriculum, but will be permitted to switch to the Program in General Education if such a change is possible and advisable given their overall schedule and plan of study. For more information on the requirements of the Program in General Education and the possibility of switching to it, please see The Program in General Education in Chapter 2 and the General Education website.


Number of Concentrators as of December













*History + another field






*Another field + History






* Ordinarily, History does not participate in joint concentrations other than East Asian History, a joint concentration with East Asian Studies.