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Department Programs

History Department Writing Program

The History Department is committed to the goals set out by the college’s Academic Writing Program: to improve the quality and effectiveness of students’ writing, to enhance their ability to learn through writing, and to make them familiar with and practiced at the genres of writing most germane to the discipline in which they are majoring. We especially welcome AWP’s concern for developing students’ research fluency, which the department has always sought, and its emphasis on integrating various types of writing into course design and execution, the better to have writing serve the development of critical thinking, active learning, and mastery of the modes and substance of historical study.

We will give new attention to the mandate to help students develop competency in oral and visual rhetoric. Our efforts individually and collectively will aim to challenge and encourage students to greater participation in their learning and surer command over the creative and analytic modes of communication appropriate to the discipline. Recognizing that the standards for formal writing in history are not specific to the discipline, we are also committed to teaching and upholding the requirements of clear expository prose, close analysis, rigorous argumentation, technical accuracy, and proper form.

We set out the following expectations on the understanding that individual instructors may surpass them, may alter them to fit the needs of a particular class, and should always be free to meet them in ways compatible with their own pedagogical preferences. We recognize, further, that some students will develop writing skills at a different pace and through a different route than others, and we commit ourselves to accommodating these differences in a reasonable and equitable manner. At the same time, all department faculty will plan their courses keeping in mind the demonstrated benefit for learning of the frequency and variety as well as quantity of writing required.

General Guidelines       

In particular courses as well as in our curriculum as a whole, we aim to meet the department’s official Goals and Objectives of teaching “effective written communication” and engendering a “close familiarity with the process of historical research and writing.” Therefore,

  1. All courses in History shall entail writing assignments that factor significantly in determining the student’s final grade.
  2. All courses will aim to use a variety of informal as well as formal writing exercises to maximize engaged, effective historical learning for students of varying interests, majors, and vocational plans.
  3. Midterm and final examinations shall normally include a substantial essay component.
  4. In the course of the major, History students will have adequate occasion to develop critical competency in the exercise of oral and visual rhetoric.
  5. As students advance through the major, the department shall monitorthe process by which they develop skill at communicating in the genres appropriate to the discipline.

Guidelines for Core Courses

  1. History 151-152. Students will write 10-15 pages, beyond examinations and informal exercises, in at least two of the followinggenres: the critical book (or film) review, the research report, and the reflective essay. Over the course of the term student writing, whether formal or informal, will engage significantly with both primary and secondary texts. Faculty may at their discretion encourage or require revised drafts for any or all of these papers.
  2. Courses in other core categorieswill follow the specifications for a 200- or 300-level course in the major. 

Guidelines for Courses in theMajor

200-level courses
At this level students will be introduced to a more sophisticated analysis of the historical past and of history as a mode of inquiry and understanding. They will become more practiced at dealing with primary and secondary sources and will be expected to integrate the two in their writing. They will be encouraged to investigate the possibilities and limits of different modes of writing (about) history, including genres typically categorized as ‘creative’ as well as analytical. These courses will normally entail 12-15 pages of formal writing beyond examinations and informal exercises. Students may be expected to deal with oral and visual materials as historical evidence and with oral and visual modes of historical presentation. Faculty are encouraged to requirerevised drafts and to teach the research/revision process by setting separate deadlines for submission of topic, sources, and different drafts.

300-level courses
At this advanced level of historical study, History majors can be expected to engage in either a significant amount of primary research or a sophisticated critique of secondary interpretations on a topic, or both, and to render its results in 15-20 pages of formal writing beyond examinations and informal exercises. Each student will be expected to demonstrate knowledge of how the processes of reading and writing history are shaped by their contexts (temporal, social, and geographical location, and philosophical or religious perspective). Students will be required to investigate the possibilities and limits of different modes of writing (about) history, including genres typically categorized as ‘creative’ as well as analytical. Students will be expected to deal with oral and visual materials as historical evidence and with oral and visual modes of historical presentation. Faculty are urged to requirerevised drafts and to set separate deadlines for submission of topic, sources, and different drafts.

Methods and theory courses
HIST 294 (Research Methods in History) seeks to ensure that majors have assimilated a sound understanding of and practice in the genres of standard historical writing: the critical review, research report, and critical bibliography. Students are expected to write 10-12 pages beyond classroom exercises and will demonstrate mastery of conventional notation. From their work in this and other courses they will, at the completion of the History major, have demonstrated their ability to work critically with archival, visual, and electronic, as well as more conventional published printed sources.

HIST 394 is a research seminar devoted entirely to the design, research, writing, and a formal oral presentation of an article-length (20-30 pages) paper based on primary sources. Faculty must require revised drafts and set separate deadlines for submission of topic, bibliography, and completed drafts. The revision process also entails peer review and critique of fellow students’ papers.

HIST 395, as the capstone course in the major, is the venue where students demonstrate their proficiency in matters of secondary interpretation. They are to write, besides examinations, 15-20 pages of critical reflection on the construction and representationof historical understanding. Faculty may encourage revised drafts and require formal oral presentations. 

Faculty Awareness and Development

The department chair and/or new faculty mentor will ensure that newly hired members of the department become versed in its writing policies and expectations. Allmembers of the department will commit themselves to adapting their own practices as needed to meet these expectations. Inter alia this will entail that the department: (1) purchase for common use several copies of John C. Bean, Engaging Ideas (Jossey-Bass, 2001) or a similar handbook, (2) devote one meeting a semester for the two years after adoption of this statement to discussing the principles behind and different modes of implementing the new writing policy, and, partly in consequence of that, (3) create a portfolio of assignments and exercises that faculty have used to carry out the statement’s mandates. With mutual consent, different faculty members may volunteer to develop special expertise in one set or another of exercises outlined in the handbook so that, across the department, its different rubrics will be field-tested within our particular matrix of needs and expectations. Thus, both an oral and a written body of experience will emerge to help all members experiment more confidently in supporting their teaching with a broader array of writing assignments and class presentations.

Finally, History majors will be given copies of the department’s writing policies, including grading rubrics that reflect faculty consensus of how written work is to be evaluated in History courses.


During the third year under the revised policy, the department’s curriculum committee will conduct a survey to determine the extent and consequences of changes in members’ writing pedagogy to date. The results will be presented to and discussed at a department meeting and a consensus articulated as to the successes achieved, frustrations encountered, and adjustments needed either to the policy, its patterns of implementation, or both. A second department-wide inventory, including an appropriate survey of current-student and recent-alumni opinion, will be taken in year 5 under this policy and revisions formally proposed and ratified as needed. This periodic assessment, along with the continuing expansion of the department’s writing-resource portfolio, is intended to sustain continuing discussion of writing pedagogy, upon which discussion the success of this policy chiefly depends.

The department will also maintain an online portfolio for each student majoring in history. This portfolio will include a paper the student has composed for courses taken in the department at each of the 100, 200, and 300 levels. The faculty evaluation of each paper will also be included in this portfolio. In addition, the department will continue to maintain the collection of capstone research papers each major writes and maintain a file of the faculty evaluations of these papers.


Under these goals and guidelines, students in History will graduate having composed between 135 and 200 pages of formal writing in their major. Their learning will have been sharpened and sustained along the way by frequent writing exercises calibrated to improve effective communication. They will have had ample opportunity to explore different voices and modes of presenting, interpreting, and reflecting upon history.  They will be practiced at the process of planning, editing, and revising their compositions. They will know historians’ criteria of good research and critical reflection and will be well practiced at rendering these in formal prose that meets high standards of clarity, coherence, efficiency, and proper form. Together, these experiences will have primed them for real achievement in their vocations as citizens and professionals, to which ends of Christian liberal arts education the History Department wholeheartedly subscribes.