Harvard Law School Makes Online Zero-L Course Free for All U.S. Law Schools Due to Coronavirus


For Kennedy School Fellows, Epstein-Linked Donors Present a Moral Dilemma


Tenants Grapple with High Rents and Local Turnover at Asana-Owned Properties


In April, Theft Surged as Cambridge Residents Stayed at Home


The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Fields of Concentration



History is a most wide and varied field. The opportunity it offers for a man to find himself and develop his own interests is aided by a progressive tutorial policy. Its relatively high standards of study and instruction insure the concentrator that he will get a sizeable share of the cultural and practical advantages for which the study of history is valuable.

The first step in concentrating in History is getting rid of History 1, Government 1, and Economics A. All three of these must be taken, for the concentrator has really joined the Division of History, Government, and Economics. They are, in fact, "lumber" courses, bulky foundations for the real concentration which comes afterward. Yet they are interesting in themselves.

The chief service of these courses is to prepare a student for choosing from a large field of studies. In History, the next stops are either further survey courses like 2 and 5, in which one learns a great deal about periods of general interest, or else more specialized courses, more or less valuable as the quality of instruction and material varies. It need hardly be said that the Harvard faculty includes some of the most notable historians and lecturers in various periods.

A Vast Field

The field of History is so vast, even when limited to what we call "our" civilization, that in it there is a miniature system of concentration and distribution. One must know a little about a lot of history and a great deal more about some single period. There are fourteen fields from which to choose. Of the concentrators in History who have chosen a special field at present, about 70 per cent are divided equally between Continental European history since 1789 and American history since 1783. English history since 1485 claims another 21 per cent. Five other special fields now have concentrators, the largest having 3 per cent. Naturally modern history is the most popular; one feels he is understanding present conditions. Yet much of the advantage of concentrating in History may be got as well or better from any of the other special fields. It is to be noted that one may concentrate in a field combining History with some other subject, as literature or classics; these combined fields have requirements of their own and are not discussed here.

Besides specializing in a single field, the concentrator must provide for a general knowledge of several other fields, and if he is out for honors, also a correlation field. This year for the first time the "departmental" examination in History is being given at the end of the junior year. In this, one answers questions on Greek or Roman history, medieval or Renaissance-and-Reformation history, some modern history of England or a continental country, modern European history, and American history.

When the "departmental" has been safely passed, one has a full year in which to study his special field and his correlation field. The latter is chosen from a given list. It combines some phase of History with Government or Economics. Seniors who are out for honors are advised to take one of the courses of a more advanced status. It is in these that one comes really to know the professor and to bask in the radiance of his inspiration. Here one really comes in contact with the active part of history.

Departmental Figures

A few facts gleaned from the President's Report for 1931-32 may help to put the department of history in its place.

For several years History has been the third largest field of concentration. In 1932, 36.8 per cent of its concentrators were approved candidates for honors, the third highest percentage among the six largest fields. Of the same six fields in order of the percentage of those taking general examinations who received the degree with honors in 1931, history was fifth, with 20.2 per cent as compared with 26 per cent for all divisions; and in 1932 it was third, with 26.3 per cent as compared with 31.1 per cent for all divisions. Of those who took general examinations in history in 1932, a greater percentage were failed than in any of the six largest fields except one; and in 1931 a greater proportion was failed than in any of these fields, with 8.7 per cent as compared with 5.8 per cent for all divisions.

Thus History may be said to be a large field with an average number of concentrators out for honors. It appears to be less liberal than the general average for all departments in giving degrees with honors. It seems to fail a greater percentage than most of the comparable departments fail.

Deals With Real Forces

Probably in most cases the effective reason for concentrating in History is its cultural value, but the study of History for itself, and especially, the training involved, are ultimately just as important reasons. One studies history, especially modern history, in order to acquire a perspective toward things of his own day. This has a particular application for persons intending to enter some profession where a historical background is valuable. Or one takes an interest in some phase or period of history because it is pleasant to understand and revitalize what used to be. This reason is probably as important as the "cash nexus" to those who intend to "spend their life in history," either as teachers, as historians, or as hobbyists. But that reason for concentrating in history which is common to all of its concentrators is the mental training derived from its study. Such training it is true, is not the exclusive property of the Department of History. Yet the study of history gives peculiar opportunity for learning to deal with complicated sets of real forces and events. In the case of History at Harvard College, this training is enhanced by the relatively high standards of study, the nature of the material studied, and the generally good quality of instruction and tutelage.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.