University of Sydney Handbooks - 2017 Archive

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The Department of History is part of the School of Philosophical and Historical Inquiry (SOPHI).

About the major

The study of history helps you to understand yourself and the world in which you live. It equips you to think about cultural difference, and to understand better how everyday life, in different times and places, has shaped and been shaped by larger currents of politics, society and thought. It enables you to perceive, and to challenge, patterns of political, social and cultural life established over time. In a History major, you will learn about the rich complexity of the human past, and about how historians seek to interpret that past.

There are many ways of doing history. Historians make sense of the past by using a broad variety of evidence - written, oral, visual, digital and material - and a diverse range of approaches. What they share is a belief that time and context matter: that all human happenings are embedded in particular times and places that must be studied thoroughly. Many of the units in our major therefore concentrate on particular periods, places and cultures, from the medieval through to the present day, from Australia and China to the United States and Europe. Others take a thematic or transnational approach, encouraging you to think comparatively across different societies in relation to one another. All of them teach you how to interpret evidence critically and constructively, how to apply different historical approaches and methods to a particular question or problem, and how to shape a historical argument.

Completing a history major will teach you not only how to write history, but also how to read it: sceptically, critically, analytically. It teaches you to recognise the power of certain historical narratives, and to question the assumptions and evaluate the evidence on which they are based. It teaches you to approach the problems of the present in a historical frame: historians understand that things don’t have to be as they are, that change is not only possible but inevitable. The study of history also develops your personal skills – of empathy, curiosity, and sensitivity to cultural difference. It builds your research skills, teaching you how to frame purposeful questions and how to find and evaluate the evidence that allows you to answer them. As an intrinsically narrative discipline, it also hones your skills of writing and speaking. These so-called ‘generic skills’ – in research, critical thinking and communication are crucial not just for history, but for fields ranging from law and international relations to English or economics, so a history major is a great complement to any of those studies. They are skills that will impress any employer, and will stand you in good stead no matter what profession you enter. To judge by the experience of past students of our department, you will have excellent prospects of a brilliant career in many fields of endeavour: from museums, libraries, teaching, arts administration or academic research to media, journalism, advertising, public relations, politics and law.

Pathway through the major

A major in History requires 36 senior credit points, including at least 24 credit points of core units of study of which 6 must be taken at 3000 level.

The full list of units of study for the major can be found in the Table A unit of study table for History. You will also find information regarding a full list of units of study available to the major on the departmental website.

Junior units of study (1000 level)

Junior units of study survey a broad period and region and a variety of different approaches. These units focus particularly on the skills you need to read, interpret, and contextualise primary source material (that is, evidence about the past). To progress to senior-intermediate (2000 level) units of study you complete any 12 junior credit points in History or Ancient History.

Each junior unit in History involves two hours of lectures and one hour of tutorials each week, and 4500 words of assessment including a source analysis, outline and final essay answering a set question, and an exam that examines the breadth of your knowledge, as well as your participation in tutorials.

Senior units (2000-level)

You will be able to choose from approximately 7-9 senior intermediate (2000) level units each semester, each focused on the history of a particular nation or region, or exploring one theme across a range of times and places. You might for instance study Renaissance Italy, or you might focus on a theme, such as the history of war or the history of sexuality. These units are designed to extend and deepen your research skills and your capacity for critical engagement with ideas and context.

Each 2000 level unit involves two hours of lectures and one hour of tutorials each week, and 4500 words of assessment, including a bibliography, essay outline final essay and an exam or journal plus your participation in tutorials.

Senior units (3000-level)

To complete your History major you will take one senior advanced (3000) level unit, choosing from the three that are on offer every year. You must complete three 2000 level History units (18 credit points) before you can do a 3000 level unit. These units are a great opportunity to draw upon the skills and knowledge you have acquired throughout your major and begin to work like a historian yourself, to produce your own historical analyses and projects. In ‘History in the Making’, you will write an original piece of history based on your own primary research, in any area you have already studied in a 2000 level unit. In ‘History and Historians’ you will focus on the history of history - the way historians have thought about the ‘what, why, and how’ of their discipline over time. And in ‘History Beyond the Classroom’ you will look at the way history is used or framed in such venues as museums, archives, or documentary films.

Each senior advanced unit involves a one-hour lecture and one-hour tutorial each week, and 6000 words of assessment, which may include a proposal, bibliography, outline and drafts for your final 4000-4500 word project.


If you love history, and can’t get enough of it – or if you want to turn your degree into one that will really impress your prospective employers – then you should think about enrolling in Honours. For one year at the end of your bachelor's degree, you’ll be able to do nothing but history. You’ll attend seminars with like-minded fellow-students in which you explore a variety of historical fields and approaches, and you’ll write a thesis on a historical question that you devise and research yourself, with the guidance of a supervisor. For some of you, the Honours year will be a critical step on the path to further study – a first-class honours degree will equip you to undertake a PhD here or anywhere in the world. For others, it will be the culmination of your formal education, an experience that helps you refine your skills in research, analysis and writing, extend your intellectual range, and develop the body of personal and professional skills you need to see a major project through to completion.

To be eligible to undertake honours a student must have an average of 70 percent or above in a History major.

Contact/further information

The SOPHI office is on Level 3, Quadrangle A14
Phone: +61 2 9351 2862
Fax: +61 2 9351 3918