History SOAR Gateway

Welcome to UW-Madison!  This page is intended for incoming first-year and transfer students interested in the History Major or Certificate or in exploring course options in History and History of Science.

Alt Text: The Wisconsin Historical Society Reading Room Permission: from the UW Photo Collection
The Wisconsin Historical Society Reading Room.

Academic Advising

First-year students who are intending to major in or explore the History Major or Certificate can make an appointment with our academic advisor, Scott Burkhardt, through Starfish or by emailing Scott directly.  Scott is happy to answer questions about our programs or our courses, so don’t hesitate to reach out to him.  You can find the official requirements for both our major and certificate in the UW-Madison Academic Guide.

AP Credit Equivalencies

UW-Madison’s credit equivalencies for all subjects and exams can be found on the Credit by Exam page.  AP History scores of 4 and 5 are granted course equivalencies that may be used to fulfill the total credit requirements of either the History Major or Certificate.  You can find more details about these policies in the UW-Madison Academic Guide.

Recommended Courses for First-Year Students

History and History of Science courses can help you explore your interests and meet UW-Madison requirements at the same time!  The courses below are all open to all new students, and you can find out more about them in the instructor-provided content for each class (you can see this content within the Course Search & Enroll tool).

*For information about our First Year Interest Group (FIG) seminars, see the next tab above.

Martin Luther King Jr. standing in front of an image of Mahatma Gandhi. Image courtesy of Stanford University Libraries, Bob Fitch Photography Archive Permission: https://exhibits.stanford.edu/fitch/catalog/zm389mc0116
Martin Luther King Jr. standing in front of an image of Mahatma Gandhi.

What is a FIG?

A First-Year Interest Group (FIG) is a kind of academic learning community designed specifically for first-year students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Each FIG is a unique cluster of UW classes, linked together to explore a common theme or topic. All FIGs are based on a small seminar and most FIG seminars are connected to two other classes.  We highly recommend this program, and you can find out more about it on the FIG Program website.

History seminars anchor the following FIGs:

You can also take History classes as part of the following FIGs:

History of Science classes are part of the following FIGs:

History Students with an archivist in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archive Reading Room.
History Students with an archivist in the Wisconsin Historical Society Archive Reading Room.

Academic Advising

Incoming transfer students who are intending to major in or explore the History Major or Certificate can make an appointment with our academic advisor, Scott Burkhardt, through Starfish or by emailing Scott directly.  Scott is happy to answer questions about our programs or our courses, so don’t hesitate to reach out to him.

History 201

Transfer students interested in the History Major or Certificate should take History 201: The Historian’s Craft in their first year at UW-Madison, ideally in their first semester.  History 201 is a topics course, which means that each semester there are different versions of the course with different emphases and themes.  For Fall 2020, we have a wide range of 201s on twelve different topics, including The Arab Spring and Witches in Early Modern Europe.  You can find more details about our 201s (and all of our other courses) in the Course Search and Enroll tool.

The Historian’s Craft courses give students a foundational experience of research and writing in the discipline of history and they also satisfy the Com-B General Education requirement.  Transfer students have top priority on our wait lists for the 201s, so if you are interested in a 201 with a wait list please be sure to enroll on the wait list and email Scott Burkhardt to let him know that you are hoping to take that section.

History Requirements at UW-Madison

You can find the official requirements for both our major and certificate in the UW-Madison Academic Guide.  These requirements are flexible and allow for both a range of exploration and a depth of experience with research methods in our field.  Students are not required to have a focus in any particular area of coursework, but are encouraged instead to consider writing a senior honors thesis if they want to pursue a specialized research topic in history.

History Transfer Credits

History and History of Science courses taken at other institutions can be used to fulfill the breadth requirements of the History Major at UW-Madison.  If you see courses on your DARS that have been given non-direct equivalencies (any course number that begins with an X, e.g. History X13), please speak with our academic advisor to make sure that they will count appropriately toward our major requirements.

Front page of The Daily Cardinal from October 10, 1918 Permission: UW-Madison Archives
Front page of The Daily Cardinal from October 10, 1918. UW-Madison Archives.

It’s intellectually exciting! History asks: how did the world get to be this way?

To study history is to study change: historians are experts in examining and interpreting human identities and transformations of societies and civilizations over time. Historians use a wide range of sources to weave individual lives and collective actions into narratives that bring critical perspectives on both our past and our present. Studying history helps us understand and grapple with complex questions and dilemmas by examining how the past has shaped (and continues to shape) global, national, and local relationships between societies and people.

Image of Prof. Cindy I-Fen Cheng in a classroom Permission: UW photo collection
Cindy I-Fen Cheng teaches during in the Humanities Building. UW photo collection.

Great Teachers

Our department cares about undergraduate teaching and is full of outstanding teachers.  Ten members of our faculty have won the University Distinguished Teaching Award, including Professor Cindy I-Fen Cheng, who teaches Asian American History and won a Distinguished Teaching Award in 2017. Prof. Cheng will be teaching History/Asian American Studies 160: Asian American History: Movement and Dislocation this fall.

Academic Support from the History Lab

UW-Madison is one of a handful of schools with a dedicated writing center for history, the History Lab.  During the academic year, the History Lab serves as a resource center for undergraduate students who are studying, researching, or writing about the past. It is staffed by experienced graduate students from the Department of History.

Through individual tutoring, the Lab focuses on honing students’ abilities to form topics, conduct research, develop arguments and thesis statements, cite evidence, and write effectively. The Lab is equipped also to support challenges faced by English-language learners.

The History Major and Certificate are very flexible

History makes it easy to pursue a variety of interests, goals, and professional paths.

History is a core discipline of the Liberal Arts, and History students at UW-Madison can meet the requirements of the College of Letters & Science (L&S) in ways that make it possible to: double major, study abroad, pursue honors, or fulfill pre-requisites for professional and graduate programs.  Majors that students most frequently pair with History are: Economics, English, Environmental Studies, Journalism, and Political Science. History majors can also choose to add certificates in L&S or from outside the college, such as the certificates in Business or Education and Educational Services. The history advising team is happy to discuss ways for you to make your intellectual and career goals work as part of a four-year plan.

What skills make studying history so valuable and applicable?

  • Historians are storytellers. We examine a time, place, or experience that is not our own, then write and talk about it in a way that engages and enlightens others. Many individual courses nurture students’ storytelling abilities – some through novel routes such as digital history projects or using family ancestry to understand immigration patterns. We know that communication skills flourish when used often, so our major is constructed to give students repeated practice and focused, constructive criticism.
  • Critical and analytical thinking. Studying history teaches us to examine and explain past events in all their contexts and complexities. Searching for patterns to help understand the past can help us see patterns in our present; historians specialize in viewing and explaining change over time, and learning to see themes and patterns in historical contexts enhances our ability to see them in current events as well. Everything we do is shaped by our past, and understanding political, cultural, and social change can help us improve our present and shape our future.
  • Problem-solving. History students excel at asking difficult questions and then pursuing their answers. We don’t only seek to know “who” and “when” – history is also about understanding “how” and “why,” and those questions take flexibility, creativity, and persistence to answer. Anyone who has written a research paper will know well the experience of revising a question mid-project, identifying alternate sources, and making sense of unexpected forms of information; often historical questions do not have conclusive answers. History teaches us to be comfortable with the imprecision and nuances that flavor our daily lives even as we work towards our best possible understanding of the world around us.

Christina Matta & Career Advising

The Department of History is fortunate to have our own in-house Career Advisor, Christina Matta! Christina helps undergraduate history students explore career options that will engage and challenge the critical thinking, analytical, and communication skills they learn during their time at UW. She also works with our alumni and private/public sector organizations to identify internships and other professional opportunities for undergraduates to gain exposure to fields they are interested in before graduation. To schedule an appointment with Christina, you can use the scheduling assistant Starfish, or you can email her directly.