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Why Study History

Build historical knowledge.

Learn how to gather and contextualize information in order to convey both the particularity of past lives and the scale of human experience.  Recognize how humans in the past shaped their own unique historical moments and were shaped by those moments. Develop a body of historical knowledge with breadth of time and place—as well as depth of detail—in order to discern context.

Skills for work and life: Knowledge and the curiosity and foundation for life-long learning.

Develop historical methods.

Through your study of history at New Paltz, you will come to recognize history as an interpretive account of the human past—one that historians create in the present from surviving evidence. You’ll learn to collect, sift, organize, question, synthesize, and interpret complex material.  Through your work you will make use of and acknowledge sources from the past as well as the scholars who have interpreted that past. You will be asked to engage in ethical source use and develop empathy toward people in the context of their distinctive historical moments.

Skills for work and life: Research skills and the ability to manage multiple and diverse sources of information and critically understand the importance of material you work with.

Recognize the provisional nature of knowledge, the disciplinary preference for complexity, and the comfort with ambiguity that history requires.

Historians welcome contradictory perspectives and data, which enable us to provide more accurate accounts and construct stronger arguments.  Your course work will engage you in the experience of past events from multiple perspectives. You will be able to reconstruct multiple causes of complex events and phenomena using conflicting sources. As you familiarize yourself with a historical topic, you will learn to identify, summarize, appraise, and synthesize other scholars’ historical arguments.

Skills for work and life: Critical thinking and the appreciation for the complexities of any argument and any perspective.

Apply a range of skills to decode the historical record because of its incomplete, complex, and contradictory nature.

In the study of history, you’ll be asked to analyze a variety of historical, primary sources to consider not just their content and importance, but also their credibility, perspective, and importance. You will evaluate historical arguments, explaining how they were constructed and might be improved. You will also learn to be flexible and responsive to the historical record, for example, historians revise analyses and narratives when new evidence requires it.

Skills for life and work: Ability to question, critique, and develop supported and well-reasoned arguments and to change your mind if needed

Create historical arguments and narratives.

In your study of history, you will learn to generate substantive, open-ended questions about the past and develop research strategies to answer them. You will also learn to craft well-supported historical narratives, arguments, and reports of research findings in a variety of media for a variety of audiences.

People trained in history are strong communicators, both orally and in writing. They are able to identify issues of importance and develop organized plans for understanding those issues.

Use historical perspective as central to active citizenship. 
History classes and historical thinking always reflect on the relevance of the past in our own time. You will be asked to apply historical knowledge and historical thinking to contemporary issues. Because of the importance of learning from the past, you will come to develop positions that reflect deliberation, cooperation, and diverse perspectives.

Being deliberative, developing empathy for past populations and people from diverse perspectives today, and the ability to understand the central significance of any matter are essential traits of trained historians.