Historians study the past, in all of its complexity, to better understand our contemporary world and the forces that created it. Historians analyze change over time, and they use archival and other primary-source evidence to build interpretations that explain change and put it into context. In seeking to understand historical subjects on their own terms, and by appreciating the diverse perspectives of past actors, students of history develop empathy even as they rigorously engage with the ethical dimensions of past human decisions and actions. When students study the past on its own terms, they recognize their power to understand the present and shape the future.

History faculty conduct research and teach courses in a wide range of eras—from ancient to modern times—and across most major world areas including Africa and the Middle East, South and East Asia, Europe and the Americas. History faculty also pursue multiple methodologies and approaches, including cultural, diplomatic, demographic, economic, environmental, ethnic, gender, intellectual, legal, political, religious, social and transnational history. 

The undergraduate degree in history balances the broad study of various world regions, exposure to multiple discipline-specific methods, and the freedom to pursue individual areas of interest.  At the lower-division level, you are required to take one introductory course on the history of the United States, one on the history of Europe and one on the history of other areas of the world. Methods courses will provide an Introduction to Global History and more intensive practice in Historical Thinking and Writing (a sophomore-level seminar course that also serves as your upper-division writing requirement). At the upper-division level, you have greater flexibility because you take more courses, so long as you take at least one class in U.S. history, one in European history and two in the history of other areas of the world or in comparative/global history. In addition, when choosing courses to fulfill your major requirements, you will need to take at least two pre-modern history courses and two modern history courses.

While the major requires both geographical and chronological breadth, the requirements are flexible enough that you can concentrate your studies in a specific geographic area (for example Britain, China, Latin America or the U.S.), historical period (for example the Ancient world, the Medieval period or the twentieth century), or central theme (for example, environmental or diplomatic history, the history of revolution and war, imperialism and colonialism, borderlands and migration, cultural and intellectual history, or religious history). Within these areas, you are free to plan your program around a diverse set of rotating course offerings.

As you gain expertise in historical skills, knowledge of multiple regions and familiarity with diverse methodologies, you will apply that training to a capstone project. During a one-semester capstone senior seminar or a two-semester honors sequence, you will engage in your own original research, producing either a substantial research paper or an Honors thesis. History majors also have other undergraduate research opportunities and access to history-related internships.

Many history majors and minors combine their study in fruitful ways with other humanities fields or related programs such as international affairs, Jewish studies, women and gender studies, or Asian languages and civilizations. Moreover, many of our students combine a major or minor in history with studies in other social or natural science disciplines, or even as a complement to training in CU’s professional schools such as Business or Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Course code for this program is HIST.


Total Credit Hours

Students must complete 42 credit hours in history courses with grades of C- or better. Of those 42 credit hours, 24 must be at the upper division. Students should complete the required 1000-level survey courses, HIST 1800 or HIST 1830 and HIST 3020 before they enroll in any 4000-level history courses.

Required Courses and Credits

Students must complete the general requirements of the College of Arts and Sciences and the required courses listed below.

Lower-division Requirements
One 1000-level United States history course3
One 1000-level Europe history course3
One 1000-level world areas history course3
One 1000-level global history course: HIST 1800 or HIST 18303
Upper-division Requirements
HIST 3020Historical Thinking & Writing 13
One 4000-level United States history course3
One 4000-level Europe history course3
Two 4000-level World Areas or Comparative/Global history courses6
Two 4000-level HIST electives6
One 3000-level Capstone Senior Seminar or HIST 3110 Honors Seminar 23
Lower- or Upper-division Elective Requirement
6 credit hours in any other HIST courses6
Historical Period Requirement 3
6 credit hours in courses whose focus falls primarily before 1800
6 credit hours in courses whose focus falls primarily after 1800
Total Credit Hours42
Ancillary Written Communication Requirement 4
History Majors should select from one of the following lower-division written communication courses:3-4
College Writing and Research
Writing in Arts and Sciences
Argument from Evidence: Critical Writing about the Ancient World
Writing, Reading, Culture
Reading, Writing and Reasoning
Extended First-Year Writing and Rhetoric
First-Year Writing and Rhetoric
Advanced First-Year Writing and Rhetoric
Total Credit Hours3-4

NOTE: Under normal circumstances, no more than 45 credit hours in history may be used toward a student's total University of Colorado Boulder graduation requirements. Students must have a grade point average of at least 2.00 in the major in order to graduate. Students may receive credit for HIST 1012 and/or HIST 1025 and/or 3 lower-division elective HIST credit hours by obtaining a score of 4 or better on the high school Advanced Placement history test(s). Some types of International Baccalaureate credit are acceptable; consult one of the major advisors to determine individual applicability. Credit from a CLEP History test cannot be applied to the major. 

All students majoring in history must complete at least 12 credit hours of upper-division history in courses taught by the CU Boulder faculty. In addition, HIST 3020 and the 3000-level Senior Seminar must be successfully completed on the CU Boulder campus with a C- or better.

Graduating in Four Years

Students should consult the Four-Year Guarantee Requirements for further information on eligibility for the four-year guarantee. The concept of "adequate progress" as it is used here only refers to maintaining eligibility for the four-year guarantee; it is not a requirement for the major. To maintain adequate progress in history, students must consult a history advisor each semester, but the following plan provides a rough outline of acceptable progress.

Recommended Four-Year Plan of Study

Through the required coursework for the major, students will fulfill all 12 credits of the Arts & Humanities area of the Gen Ed Distribution Requirement and both components of the Written Communication Gen Ed Skills Requirement. Depending on the courses selected within the major, students can also potentially complete some of the Social Sciences area of the Gen Ed Distribution Requirement and both the US and Global Perspective categories of the Gen Ed Diversity Requirement.

Plan of Study Grid
Year One
Fall SemesterCredit Hours
Any of the required 1000-level HIST geographic survey courses 3
Ancillary lower-division written communication course 3
Gen. Ed. Distribution course (example: Natural Sciences with Lab) 4
Elective 3
Elective 3
 Credit Hours16
Spring Semester
Any of the required 1000-level HIST geographic survey courses 3
Gen. Ed. Skills course (example: QRMS) 3
Gen. Ed. Distribution/Diversity course (example: Social Sciences/US Perspective) 3
Elective 3
Elective 3
 Credit Hours15
Year Two
Fall Semester
Third required 1000-level HIST geographic survey course 3
1000-level Global History (usually HIST 1800) 3
Gen Ed Distribution/Diversity (example: Social Science/Global Perspective) 3
Gen. Ed. Distribution course (example: Natural Sciences ) 3
Elective 3
 Credit Hours15
Spring Semester
HIST 3020 Historical Thinking & Writing (fulfills Gen Ed upper division written communication) 3
Either a 2000 or 4000-level HIST elective (4000-level preferred) 3
Gen. Ed. Distribution course (example: Natural Sciences) 3
Elective 3
Elective 3
 Credit Hours15
Year Three
Fall Semester
Two 4000-level HIST geographic area requirements 6
Gen. Ed. Distribution course (example: Social Sciences) 3
Gen. Ed. Distribution course (example: Natural Sciences) 3
Elective 3
 Credit Hours15
Spring Semester
Two 4000-level HIST geographic area requirements 6
Gen. Ed. Distribution course (example: Social Science) 3
Elective (Upper Division) 3
Elective 3
 Credit Hours15
Year Four
Fall Semester
HIST 3000-level Senior Seminar 3
HIST 4000-level elective 3
Elective (Upper Division) 3
Elective (Upper Division) 3
Elective 3
 Credit Hours15
Spring Semester
HIST upper or lower division level electives 6
Elective (Upper Division) 3
Elective (Upper Division) 3
Elective (Upper Division) 3
 Credit Hours15
 Total Credit Hours121

Learning Outcomes

To study history is to develop a disciplined way of making sense of the world by inquiring about the past. The History Department has identified a common set of learning objectives that are crucial components of historical thinking. No single course will attend to all of the objectives listed below. Instructors identify learning goals specific to the course they are teaching, and so each course will reflect a unique combination of these broader objectives. However, taking multiple courses at increasing levels of difficulty during your time at CU Boulder will allow students to develop proficiency in historical literacy—the substantive knowledge, skills, concepts, methods and habits of mind specific to the discipline of history. These skills build upon and add to critical thinking skills shared across multiple disciplines, such as attentive reading, engaged discussion, recognition of multiple perspectives and effective writing. Mastering each cluster of historical elements will allow students to develop a portfolio of analytical and communication skills that will serve them in and beyond the discipline.

1. Substantive Essentials

What do we know about the past? How do we interpret it?

  1. Facts: Call upon substantial factual knowledge about the past.
  2. Evidence: Understand that history is an evidence-based discipline that requires identifying reliable sources of information.
  3. Questions: Ask rigorous and open-ended questions of historical evidence in order to interpret what happened in the past.
  4. Context: Establish relevant context to relate historical facts and/or evidence to the time and place of their original existence.

2. Conceptual Foundations

What foundational concepts frame how we think about the past? How do we analyze historical change?

  1. Change over time: Understand how change over time, and continuity, shape narratives of the past.
  2. Causation: Account for causation in explanations of historical change.
  3. Contingency: Consider historical change as never preordained but dependent upon a set of prior conditions, actions, and events in human societies and the non-human world.
  4. Complexity: Treat historical change as complex and not easily reduced to simple explanations or single variables.

3. Analysis of Historical Narrative

How do we assess accounts of history? How do we engage in scholarly conversation about the past?

  1. Argument: Recognize historical narrative as a form of argument, built from evidence and interpretation and open to rigorous questioning and critique.
  2. Sources: Assess authors’ interpretations of sources (primary and secondary) as evidence in their historical narratives and arguments.
  3. Methods: Identify how historians have used various sources and methodological traditions, including those drawn from other disciplines where relevant, to build their interpretations.
  4. Historiography: Evaluate historical argument as part of a larger historiographical conversation among scholars who offer multiple and changing interpretations.

4. Production of Historical Knowledge

How do we develop arguments about the past? How do we share historical narratives?

  1. Research: Conduct historical research, which includes: navigating libraries, databases, and archives; identifying, locating, and managing sources; and summarizing significant amounts of information.
  2. Explain: Build historical explanations by evaluating, interpreting, and synthesizing historical evidence, and applying relevant theory and methods.
  3. Express: Share historical knowledge and argument through written, oral, digital, and/or other forms of expression.

5. History and Perspective

Why do multiple perspectives matter to interpreting history? How can history help us to understand the present world?

  1. Global literacy: Develop in-depth knowledge of multiple regions, countries, cultures, and communities across the world, and the factors that have shaped their historical interactions and interconnections, sometimes at a global scale.
  2. Diversity: Identify relevant categories of analysis to frame and explore questions that aim to deepen our understanding of the complexity, richness, diversity, and power dynamics within human experience in the past and present.
  3. Public application: Apply historical knowledge, skills, and habits of mind to the problems of the present world.