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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Arts
April 23, 2014
Canadian Excellence

History Curriculum

Statement of Objectives

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. It forms the basis of a sound education. When systematically studied, history promotes a depth of understanding of ourselves and others -- it heightens literacy, deepens global understanding, develops numeracy, and enhances our aesthetic and moral awareness.

Students in history contribute both to their own intellectual development and to that of fellow students and faculty. To gain the most from one's studies, students need to come prepared to classes, and should endeavour to ask questions and volunteer answers. Students of history will have ample opportunity throughout their education to assess and improve their own intellectual maturity, professional competence and self-knowledge. The history department also encourages students to develop a working knowledge of those technological developments that are proving indispensable to modern intellectual work. Students have available university computer facilities, and are encouraged to develop a user's familiarity with the technology of word-processing and modern information management.

The Laurier history department offers a well-structured 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 courses focus on topics designed to appeal to students new to the university setting. The instructor selects topics which are thought to be most interesting and most necessary for the beginning student of history. Courses rely mainly on lectures, but most courses include class discussion in tutorials. The underlying idea in a first-year course is to introduce the student to the persons, events, ideas and forces which have shaped history and which should form part of the cultural literacy of every educated person. The instructor will introduce the student to methods of historical analysis through readings and assignments which will engage students in the assessment of primary sources, journal articles, and significant and engaging books. The assignments in a first-year course typically include an analysis of primary documents, short and narrowly defined essays, and book reviews. The instructor will normally provide considerable guidance as to how these assignments should be approached. There is often a mid-term in 100-level classes and always a final exam (worth at least 30% of the final grade). First-year courses vary in size but usually have 100 to 200 students.

Second-year courses build the foundation for upper-level courses by improving the student's understanding of the process of change over time. This aim is accomplished through surveys which cover long time periods or broad geographical expanses. These survey courses vary in size from smaller classes of 50 students, to larger ones of more than 150 students. The main method of instruction is the lecture, though some courses include discussion classes on significant themes and readings from assigned texts. Second-year courses are intended to provide students with the chronological and thematic frameworks on which they can build more specialized knowledge of particular issues. Honours students with an interest in Canadian history should note that HI 292 and 293 are prerequisites for fourth-year seminars in Canadian history.

Third-year courses permit greater specialization and depth. In comparison to second-year courses, 300-level offerings facilitate a more intense study of specialized themes or more narrowly defined historical periods. Most third-year courses combine both lecture and discussion components. The classes tend to be much smaller than second-year classes and rarely exceed the limit of 40 students. Honours students intending to opt for a B.A. thesis or graduate school are encouraged to take HI 398, which is designed to explore questions of historical method and to survey recent trends in historical scholarship.

Fourth-year (400-level) courses are seminars and represent the crowning experience of the honours history program. These courses promote discussion of historical literature and research on specific historical periods and themes. These classes are relatively small and have an optimal size of about fifteen students. The seminars give students an opportunity to engage in their own research projects (usually based on primary sources), and provide a forum for the presentation and discussion of each student's research paper. In addition to the required fourth-year seminar, students with exceptional standing and the permission of the department may also take HI499, the B.A. thesis.

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".

Types of Classes

Tutorials are discussion groups of about 20 students attached to lecture courses in the first and second years. The purpose of these tutorials 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. It is important for students to become active and not merely passive learners. 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.

Seminars are fourth year classes designed for the discussion of weekly readings of articles, essays, books, and documents, and for the presentation of student research papers. Through these discussions, which will focus on specific themes, sources, methods and historiographical interpretations, the seminar helps students prepare for advanced research using primary and secondary sources. The seminar provides students with an opportunity, usually in the second term, to present their research papers to the class. To gain the optimum benefit from a seminar, students should come to class well-prepared and ready to assess the readings critically and exchange views with other members of the class. The presentation of one's own research is similarly an opportunity to sharpen and refine one's thinking in light of the questions and comments of colleagues in the seminar.

Courses carrying special numbers (346, 496) 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 the 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 pursing 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.