History Department
History Department

Mission Statement

Garrison Hall, north entrance

Garrison Hall north entrance; Photo: Marsha Miller

Students come to the UT History department for a wide range of reasons.  Some are curious about the origins of their families, hometowns, or religious and cultural traditions, while others want to learn more about the current state of the world—how it came to be the way it is today.  Still others like to read about the grand sweep of human history, with all its attendant drama driven not only by fascinating individuals and big ideas, but also by the choices of ordinary people and the imperatives of everyday life.  Studying history alerts us to the ways that people contend with and shape the natural environment, and the reasons why people gather into groups and identify themselves in certain ways.  History is a story more lively and intriguing than a novel because it is real--as best we can determine from the available evidence!  Doing history means playing detective in order to locate, study, and then piece together information gleaned from documents and other kinds of materials, with the aim of telling a true story about the human past.

Regardless of students’ reasons for wanting to study history, they find that majoring in history here at UT offers them a number of real benefits.  History majors learn to write well and think critically.  They become skilled in evaluating different kinds of evidence, and in organizing large research projects.  They study with professors who are distinguished not only for their scholarly research but also for their classroom teaching, men and women who inspire as well as instruct.  Possessed of the skills that are the hallmark of an educated person, our majors go on to careers in any number of fields-- education, business, law, finance, policy-making, government service, entertainment, and more.

As an undergraduate I studied history because I grew up in a small town of 500 people that remained rigidly segregated by the color of one’s skin.  I was curious to know why the black children who lived near my school took a bus to another school several miles away.  I wanted to learn why this small town had four churches—three Methodist and one Presbyterian, two black and two white—and why despite these divisions, each Sunday morning all of the congregants were singing the same hymns and following the same order of worship.  When I asked my mother and father to explain black-white differences in the town, they simply said, “That’s just the way things have always been here.  Maybe someday things will be different.”  Those bland words that were meant to reassure me instead provoked in me a lifelong interest in the study of history.

In college, I found that I liked every aspect of “doing” history— reading widely about the past; learning how to be resourceful, creative, and persistent in tracking down historical evidence; writing in a clear and accessible way so that other people could understand what I had learned; and appreciating the way that history shapes who and what we are today.  In fact, I would encourage every history student to do some kind of primary-research project, either as part of the departmental honors program, or a research seminar, or an independent-study project with a professor.  Completing such a project helps the historian to hone skills that are critical for any number of post-graduation jobs—finding and evaluating evidence, organizing a large body of material, making an argument, getting things done on time. In the process, we historians derive a great deal of satisfaction from bringing order out of chaos, as it were—putting together disparate pieces of evidence to form a compelling story about the past.

Simply put, the history major prepares students not only for diverse workplaces, but also for a life of engaged citizenship, as all of us confront an ever more complicated and interconnected world.  As a history student, you will study with some of the finest teachers at UT, graduate with the skills that every job-seeker needs today, and learn about the U. S. and its relations with the rest of the world.  Few other majors in the university offer comparable benefits—and such interesting and lively lectures and reading assignments ripe for discussion and debate!

Dr. Jacqueline Jones, Chair, Department of History