College Bulletin - Course Catalog 
    Jun 18, 2021  
College Bulletin - Course Catalog




DIEGO ARMUS, Professor
BRUCE DORSEY, Professor1
MARJORIE MURPHY, James C. Hormel Professor in Social Justice
ROBERT E. WEINBERG, Isaac H. Clothier Professor of History and International Relations and Chair
FARID AZFAR, Associate Professor
BUYUN CHEN, Associate Professor
MEGAN BROWN, Assistant Professor3
AHMAD SHOKR, Assistant Professor3
JEN MOORE, Administrative Assistant

Absent on leave, fall 2020.

Absent on leave, 2020-2021.

Swarthmore’s History Department gives students the intellectual and analytical skills to think critically about the past and the contemporary world. It is part of a journey of self-discovery and crucial to the kind of liberal arts education offered at Swarthmore, because it asks students to question critically the assumptions, values, and principles that guide them in their daily lives. History encourages us to have respect for other cultures and peoples.

What is History?

The study of history is not limited to learning events, dates, and names. History is a method of analysis that focuses on the contexts in which people have lived, worked, and died. Historians seek to go beyond their descriptive abilities and to wrestle with the essential questions of “how” and “why” change occurs over time. They interpret the past and are in constant dialogue with what other historians have written about it. For example, although there may be agreement that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, historians have and will continue to debate the origins of Nazism, the rise of Hitler to power, and the causes of World War II and the Holocaust. Historical scholarship enables us to not only know what occurred in the past but also to understand the thoughts and actions of people living in other times and places, allowing us to uncover the continuities and disruptions of patterns that characterized life before our time.

Overview of Curriculum

Swarthmore’s history curriculum introduces students to historical methods and the fundamentals of historical thinking, research, and writing. Faculty members expose students to the contested nature of the discipline, cultivating the skills historians employ to understand and interpret the past. Students learn to assess critically the evidence of the past through first-hand exposure to primary sources. They also develop the ability to evaluate the respective arguments of historians. In all courses and seminars, the department strives to involve students in the process of historical discovery and interpretation, emphasizing that all historians are engaged in the constant sifting of old and new evidence.

Each faculty member in the History Department has a regional focus as well as expertise in a particular kind of historical inquiry. Some study social, cultural, and political movements; others examine the impact of religion or explore the history of ideas, sexuality, and gender. They all share a commitment to a global and comparative approach to the study of history and a common pedagogical concern for promoting a critical understanding of the past.

Students are encouraged to hone their skills as historians by using the rich collections of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection and Friends Historical Library, both located in McCabe Library. The Peace Collection is unparalleled as a depository of antiwar and disarmament materials, housing the papers of many leading social activists. The Friends Library possesses one of the richest collections of manuscripts and printed source material on Quaker history. The holdings of other institutions in the greater Philadelphia area, such as the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Hagley Museum and Library (Wilmington, Del.), the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the American Philosophical Society, are also accessible to the student-researcher. Students are also encouraged to broaden their cultural and intellectual horizons through foreign study.

Students are eligible to apply for grants that will enable them to spend a summer conducting research on a historical topic of their choosing. In the past, students have used these grants to immerse themselves in materials found in libraries and archives around the United States, Europe, and Latin America, collecting materials that formed the basis of their senior research papers. Topics of recent senior theses include he culture and politics of anti-tobacco campaigns in 21st Century Argentina; cross-dressing in early 20th Century San Francisco; the cultural history of the 20th Century civil rights movement in the United States; the interplay of baseball, masculinity, and American popular culture during the Reagan years; the memorialization of a catastrophic fire on board the USS Constellation in 1960; and the diplomatic and cultural reaction to the “Winter War” between the Soviet Union and Finland.

Courses and seminars offered by the History Department are integral to most interdisciplinary programs, such as Black Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Interpretation Theory, Islamic Studies, and Latin American and Latino Studies, as well as to the majors in Asian Studies, German Studies, Global Studies, Medieval Studies, and Peace and Conflict Studies. Students interested in these programs should consult the appropriate statements of requirements and course offerings. In addition, we encourage students who wish to obtain teacher certification to major in history.

The Academic Program

First-Year Seminars

First-year seminars (HIST 001A-001Z; 1 credit) explore specific historical issues or periods in depth in a seminar setting; they are open to only first-year students and are limited to 12 students. Students who are not admitted to first-year seminars in the fall will receive priority for seminars in the spring.

Survey Courses

Survey courses provide broad chronological coverage of a particular field of history. Survey courses (002-010; 1 credit) are open to all students without prerequisites and are designed to offer a general education in the field as well as provide preparation for a range of upper-level courses. Although these entry-level courses vary somewhat in approach, they normally focus on major issues of interpretation, the analysis of primary sources, and historical methodology.

Upper-Division Courses

Upper-division courses (HIST 011-099; 1 credit) are specifically thematic and topical in nature and do not attempt to provide the broad coverage that surveys do. They are generally open to students who have fulfilled one of the following: (1) successfully completed one of the courses numbered 001-010; (2) received an Advanced Placement score of 4 or 5 (or a 6 or 7 IB score) in any area of history; (3) successfully completed an Ancient History   course; or (4) received the permission of the instructor. Exceptions are courses designated “not open to first-year students” or where specific prerequisites are stated.

Double-Credit Seminars

Double-credit seminars are small classes in which students are expected to take substantial responsibility for the development of the discussion and learning. These seminars focus on the literature of a given field. Critical thinking about secondary sources and historiographical writing constitute their principle objectives. Seminars are limited to 10 students. Admission to these seminars is selective and based on the department’s evaluation of the student’s potential to do independent work and to contribute to seminar discussions. A minimum grade of B+ in at least two history courses taken at Swarthmore and a record of active and informed participation in class discussions are normally required of all students entering seminars. In addition, recommendations from department faculty members who have taught the student are solicited.

Language Attachment

Certain designated courses offer the option of a foreign language attachment, normally for 0.5 credit. Arrangements for this option should be made with the instructor at the time of registration.

Course Major Requirements

All majors in history must take at least 9 credits in history that fulfill the following requirements:

  1. They complete at least 6 of their 9 credits at Swarthmore. Only one credit from AP/IB will count toward the 9 credits required for the major.
  2. They take at least one course or seminar at Swarthmore from each of the following categories: (a) before 1800 (including Ancient History courses) and (b) outside Europe and the United States, specifically Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Near East. This distribution requirement encourages students to explore various fields of history and engage in comparative historical analysis. Students must use different courses or seminars to fulfill this requirement.

Senior Research Seminar

All majors must complete the Senior Research Seminar (HIST 091) in which students write a research paper based on primary sources. This course (which counts as one of the required nine credits) satisfies the College’s requirement that all majors have a culminating exercise and is only offered during the fall semester. The department encourages students to consult faculty members about their topics by the end of their junior year and select their topic prior to taking the Senior Research Seminar. Juniors are also strongly encouraged to apply for summer research fellowships through the Division of Social Sciences.

Acceptance Criteria

Admission to the department as a course major normally requires a B average in at least two history courses taken at Swarthmore and a satisfactory standard of work in all courses. Courses in Ancient History offered by the Classics Department count toward the two history courses prerequisite. The department reserves the right to withhold evaluation of applications submitted after the deadline. If after applying a student is deferred, the department will review their application at the end of each semester until the student is either accepted into the major or withdraws their application.

Honors Major Requirements

Honors history majors must complete the same credit and distribution requirements as described above. Seminars are the normal mode of preparation for students studying history in the Honors Program. Honors majors will complete three double-credit seminars. Students may substitute an Honors Thesis (HIST 180) for one of their seminars. Students wishing to write an Honors Thesis (HIST 180) should declare their intention to the Department and secure an adviser by May 1 of their junior year. They will develop their proposal in the summer with the help of their advisor and submit it upon returning to school in September. Honors majors will also be required to complete the Senior Research Seminar (HIST 091). Honors students may, if their Honors Program requires it, receive approval from the department chair to complete the Senior Research Seminar in the fall of their junior year.


Seminars are a collective, collaborative, and cooperative venture among students and faculty members designed to promote self-directed learning. Because the seminar depends on the active participation of all its members, the department expects students to live up to the standards of honors. These standards include attendance at every seminar session, submission of seminar papers according to the deadline set by the instructor, reading of seminar papers before coming to the seminar, completion of all reading assignments before the seminar, respect of the needs of other students who share the reserve readings, and eagerness to engage in a scholarly discussion of the issues raised by the readings and seminar papers. Students earn double-credit for seminars and should be prepared to work at least twice as hard as they do for single-credit courses. The department reminds students that the responsibility for earning honors rests squarely on the students’ shoulders and will review on a regular basis their performance in the program. Failure to live up to the standards outlined previously may disqualify students from continuing in the Honors Program. Students in seminars take a 3-hour written examination at the end of each seminar and receive a grade from the seminar instructor based on the quality of seminar papers and comments during seminar discussions, in addition to the written examination. Seminar instructors will not normally assign grades during the course of the seminar, but they will meet periodically with students on an individual basis during the course of the semester to discuss their progress.

External Examiner Evaluations

Honors students will revise one paper per seminar for their portfolio submitted to external examiners. Revised papers will not be graded but will be included in the portfolio to provide examiners a context for the evaluation of the written examination taken in the spring of the senior year. The thesis and revised seminar papers are due by the end of classes or April 30 in the spring semester of the students’ senior year, whichever comes first.

Revised seminar papers are written in two stages. During the first stage, students confer with their seminar instructor about what paper to prepare for honors and what revisions to plan for these papers. Seminar instructors will offer advice on how to improve the papers with additional readings, structural changes and further development of arguments. The second stage occurs when the student revises the papers independently. Faculty members are not expected to read the revised papers at any stage of the revision process. Each revised paper must be from 2,500 to 4,000 words and include a brief bibliography. Students will submit them to the department office by the end of classes in the spring semester of the students’ senior year. Students who fail to submit their revised papers by the deadline might adversely affect their honorific. Examiners will be notified about late papers.

Study Groups

The department encourages students to form their own study groups to prepare for the external examinations. Although faculty members may, at their convenience, attend an occasional study session, students are generally expected to form and lead the study groups, in keeping with the department’s belief that honors is a collaborative, self-learning exercise that relies on the commitment of students.

Acceptance Criteria

Admission to honors is selective and based on an evaluation of the student’s potential to do independent work and to contribute to seminar discussions. A minimum grade of B+ in at least two history courses taken at Swarthmore and a record of active and informed participation in class discussions are required of all students entering seminars. In addition, recommendations from department faculty members who have taught the student are solicited.

Sophomores hoping to take history seminars in their junior and senior years should give special thought to the seminars that they list in their Sophomore Plans. Seminar enrollments are normally limited to 10. If you are placed in a seminar at the end of your sophomore year, you will be one of 10 students guaranteed a space and you are, in effect, taking the space of another student who might also like to be in the seminar. Consequently, you should not list any seminar in your Sophomore Plan without being quite certain that you intend to take it if you are admitted.

Honors students are expected to maintain a B+ average to continue attending honors seminars and being an honors student. 

Honors and Course Minor Requirements

To graduate with a minor in history, a student must complete five history credits at Swarthmore College (AP, transfer credit, and foreign study courses do not count). Two of the five credits must be from courses above the introductory level (course numbers 011 and higher; honors minors will meet this requirement with their honors seminar), and one credit may be in an Ancient History course offered by the Classics Department. Honors minors will complete one double-credit seminar as part of their academic program.

Admission to honors is selective and based on an evaluation of the student’s potential to do independent work and to contribute to seminar discussions. A minimum grade of B+ in at least two history courses taken at Swarthmore and a record of active and informed participation in class discussions are required of all students entering seminars. In addition, recommendations from department faculty members who have taught the student are solicited.

Special Major in History and Educational Studies


Students designing a special major in history and educational studies must take six courses in history, including one course in a field other than the United States or Europe. To graduate with a major in History and Educational Studies, a student must also complete our culminating exercise, HIST 091: Senior Research Seminar. With permission, students can complete a two-semester, two-credit thesis (but one credit of this thesis must be HIST 091). Special majors in history and educational studies will work with both an educational studies faculty member and the HIST 091 instructor(s) to complete their one-credit senior research paper or two-credit thesis.

Acceptance Criteria

Admission to the department as a special major follows similar requirements as course majors. Advisers in each department should be consulted when designing a plan.

External Credit

Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate

The History Department will automatically grant one credit to students who have achieved a score of 4 or 5 in the U.S., European, or World History Advanced Placement examinations (or a score of 6 or 7 in the International Baccalaureate examinations) once they have completed any history course number HIST 001 to HIST 010 and earned a grade of C or higher. Students who want credit for a second Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate examination (in a different area of history) must take a second history course at Swarthmore (any course number, including ANCH 016, 023, 030, 031, 032, 034, 035, 042, 044, 056, or 066) and earn a grade of C or higher. The History Department will grant up to two credits for Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate work. Only one credit from AP/IB will count toward the 9 credits required for the history major.

A score of 4 or 5 for Advanced Placement (or a score of 6 or 7 for International Baccalaureate) allows students to take some upper-division courses in the History Department.

Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate credit may be counted toward the number of courses required for graduation and may be used to help fulfill the College’s distribution requirements.

Off-Campus Study

The History Department encourages students to pursue the study of history abroad and grants credit for such study as appropriate. We believe that history majors should master a foreign language as well as immerse themselves in a foreign culture and society. To receive Swarthmore credit for history courses taken during off-campus study, a student must have departmental preapproval and have taken at least one history course at Swarthmore (normally before going abroad). Students who want to receive credit for a second course taken abroad must take a second history course at Swarthmore. Students must receive a grade of C or higher to receive history credit at Swarthmore. We will only grant an exception for domestic off-campus study experiences validated by our Off-Campus Study or Registrar’s Offices and at our discretion.

Transfer Credit

The History Department does not grant credit for any history courses taken at other U.S. colleges and universities except courses at Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and the University of Pennsylvania while a registered Swarthmore student.

Teacher Certification

History majors can complete the requirements for teacher certification through a program approved by the state of Pennsylvania. For further information about the relevant set of requirements, please refer to the Educational Studies  section of the Bulletin.

Life After Swarthmore

Graduate School

Students who intend to continue the study of history after graduation should bear in mind that a reading knowledge of one or two foreign languages is generally assumed for admission to graduate school.

Career Opportunities

With strong analytical, writing, and research skills, history majors are prepared for a wide range of occupations and professions. Swarthmore College history majors can be found pursuing a broad range of career paths, ranging from government service to the world of medicine, from elementary and high schools to trade unions and public interest foundations, from journalism and publishing to consulting, and from the private to the public sector. Many find that studying history is excellent preparation for law school and business. And others have gone onto graduate school in history and now teach at universities and colleges in the United States and overseas.

History Courses