An Overview of History at Laurier
The underlying purpose of studying history is to help prepare students for life and to promote a life-long love of learning. The basic aim of history is to teach students how to think for themselves, to analyse fairly the works of others and to improve their oral and written powers of expression. History provides a methodology for research and critical thinking which is widely applicable in most professions and walks of life. History is also an ideal discipline to acquaint students with important concepts, events and people. In short, it forms the basis of a sound education. When systematically studied, history promotes a depth of understanding of ourselves and otheróit heightens literacy, deepens global understanding, develops numeracy, and enhances our aesthetic and moral awareness.
The Laurier history department offers a well-structured but flexible program designed to assure a breadth and depth of learning that should help students adapt to the rapidly changing modern world. The undergraduate offerings of the history department are organized according to the student's year of study. Each year has its own academic objectives, and each year builds on the preceding year, and advances the student toward the knowledge and skills required for the succeeding year.
First-year (100-level) courses focus on topics designed to appeal to students new to the university setting. They offer thematic approaches to the history of individual nations (Canada and the United States), regions (medieval Europe, modern Europe, North America) and thematic areas (cultural history, business history, military history). Courses rely mainly on lectures, but most courses include class discussion in tutorials.
Tutorials are discussion groups of about 25 students, the purpose of which is to enhance a student's understanding of the assigned readings and lectures through discussion. Regular attendance at tutorials is usually needed for good standing in a course. Preparation through reading of assigned material and a willingness to participate in discussion are essential for successful learning in tutorials, and students should realize that mid-term and final exam questions are often based on the assigned readings and the discussions that take place in tutorials. Participation grades for tutorial discussion (between 10 and 20%) encourage students to work together to explore the meaning of what they have been assigned to read.
The underlying idea in a first-year course is to introduce students to the persons, events, ideas and forces which have shaped history and which should form part of the cultural literacy of every educated person. Students normally read up to 50 pages per week from their textbooks or readers. Close attention is paid to developing effective writing skills, and students write at least one essay in their first-year courses. Students average 10-12 pages of written work in 100-level courses. The types of assignments assigned include book reviews, primary source analyses, and research essays. There is often a mid-term in 100-level classes and always a final exam (typically worth at least 20% of the final grade). First-year courses vary in size but usually have 100 to 200 students. Students commonly take two 0.5 credit first-year History courses.
Second-year (200-level) courses provide a pedagogical bridge between broader first-year and more specialized upper-year courses. These courses are designed to advance studentsí understanding of how historians approach the problem of explaining change over time, but they do so in ways that remain accessible to the generally interested. They accomplish these various goals by adopting chronological or biographical approaches which lend themselves to survey. Courses focus on nations or regions, or explore topics that are geographically bounded (borderlands or human rights) or those that are either global or completely thematic (history on film or the history of the Second World War).
Second-year courses vary in size from 50 to 150 students. The main method of instruction is the lecture though some courses include tutorials or discussion classes on significant themes and readings from assigned texts. Students are taught to think analytically through assignments that require them to identify the nature, purpose and content of selected primary sources and the argument of assigned secondary readings. The types of assignments required at this level include book reviews, analyses of primary sources, and research essays. All second-year courses require a final examination (typically worth at least 20% of the final grade). Students average 12-18 pages of written work in 200-level courses, and will typically read at least 50 pages a week.
Third-year (300-level) courses permit greater specialization and depth. In comparison to second-year courses, 300-level offerings facilitate a more intensive study of specialized themes or more narrowly defined historical periods. Most third-year courses combine both lecture and discussion components in class. The classes tend to be much smaller than second-year classes and rarely exceed the limit of 40 students.
In third-year courses the primary source becomes the pedagogical centrepiece. Students in third-year courses listen to music; study images; read novels, chronicles, memoirs, personal and governmental documents; and watch films in order to deepen their understanding of the experiences of people who lived in the past. The goal is to make students better appreciate how people in the past understood their own lives and cultures. Students are also introduced to the core problem of interpretation and reconstruction which will dominate the reading component of fourth-year courses.
Students are advised to complete at least 2.0 credits of 200-level courses before registering in a 300-level course. Honours students intending to go on to graduate school are encouraged to enroll in the Department's Research Specialization Option, which includes HI 398 The Historianís Craft, a course designed specifically to explore questions of historical method and to survey recent trends in historical scholarship.
The written assignments for third-year courses typically require some form of comparative assessment of either books or articles, or more involved analysis of longer and more complicated primary sources. Students at this level also normally write a research essay which requires them to define and set their own question based upon a specific primary source and/or a minimum number of secondary sources which they have identified for themselves from databases. Students average 24 pages of written work in 300-level courses, and will typically read up to 75 pages a week.
Fourth-year (400-level) courses are seminars and represent the crowning experience of the honours history program. Seminars are a form of learner-centered instruction in which students take responsibility for preparing their weekly readings for class discussion and for researching their primary-research papers, thereby empowering themselves through independent study. They hone their skills of oral and written expression by sharing their ideas and writing with other seminar participants. The instructors guide students in their exploration of historiography and in their research in primary documents. These courses promote discussion of historical literature and research on specific historical periods and themes (the Cold War; Classical Athens; American Political Extremism, for example). All History majors must complete at least one reading/research combination seminar; students in the Research Specialization Option take two reading/research seminars. These classes are relatively small and have an optimal size of about fifteen students.
In the reading seminar students will engage deeply with the historiography of the chosen subject, reading the equivalent of one book per week, and writing essays varying in length from 12 to 20 pages. Discussions focus on the critical assessment of the analysis, context and methods employed in the secondary literature, and are crucial to a successful seminar.
In the research seminar students are guided in the preparation of independent research essay (usually of 25-30 pages in length) based on their own research in the relevant primary sources. Students will also present their work (in written and oral form) to their classmates. They are then required to respond to the feedback they receive, revise their written work, and re-submit. This approach teaches students the importance of effective oral and written communication and it also instructs them in how to respond to criticism. These are skills which will prove extremely useful to students well beyond the classroom setting.
Other Important Information
Area (Breadth) Requirements: All History students are required to fulfill area requirements. These are designed to ensure that students gain a familiarity with the history of different geographical regions as well as with different historical themes and time periods. For specific area requirements, see "Undergraduate Program Requirements" and "History Program Checklists".
Courses carrying special numbers (HI299, HI346, HI496) are established when a faculty member has an interest in pursuing a topic of study that is not part of our regular course offerings. In exceptional circumstances 346 and 496 numbers can be applied to Directed Studies and Special Reading courses (see below).
A Directed Studies or Special Reading Course may be approved by the department and the Dean of Arts when a faculty member and student(s) have an interest in pursuing a historical topic that is not treated in regular courses. Such a course usually involves weekly discussion of readings by the instructor and one or several students. Proposals for such courses originate with the faculty member, for they are taught in addition to the faculty member's regular teaching and are labour intensive for both faculty and students.
A B.A. Thesis (HI 499) is an original piece of research usually based on primary sources which is submitted in a student's final year in addition to the fourth-year seminar required for an Honours degree. In consultation with a faculty supervisor, the student develops a topic and bibliography, and spends the year researching and writing a thesis of about 40 pages. There is a final oral examination of B.A. theses by three members of the history faculty. While such an independent research project can be a very rewarding experience, students need to be highly motivated and self-disciplined to complete the research and writing in accordance with a pre-arranged timetable. Usually a project of this scope requires that the thesis topic and bibliography be established in the spring or summer before the commencement of the fourth year in September. To be eligible to enrol in HI 499, students need preferably an "A-" or at least a "B+" average in history, the willingness of a faculty member to act as supervisor, and permission of the department. It is recommended that students interested in HI 499 take HI 398, preferably in the third year.