Independent Study in History

Though not required for the history major or minor, an independent study course is often one of the most rewarding experiences in the history curriculum. Whereas 100-300-level survey and seminar courses introduce students to periods and themes designed by members of the faculty, an independent study course allows a student to chart her own intellectual path. 

With this independence comes the freedom to ask questions of one’s own choosing, the creativity to construct original insights to these questions and the challenge of learning self-motivation and self-discipline outside of a structured classroom environment. Independent work thus moves students beyond the study of history to its actual practice as a discipline of critical humanistic inquiry.

The first step in undertaking an independent study is to find a faculty supervisor, most often a faculty member who shares the student’s interest in the proposed topic and with whom she has already taken courses. 

  • Students typically register for independent study at either the 200-level (295) or 300-level (395). A 295 independent study often involves extensive reading of secondary source literature related to a particular historical question, sometimes in anticipation of further primary source research carried out in a subsequent 395 course.  
  • Senior independent study courses can be taken on their own (without any prior 295 work), or as part of a two semester independent project that may, as a result of consultation among the writer, her advisor, and other faculty, become a senior thesis. 

A senior independent study can lead to a senior thesis and any student considering a course of independent study should consult with a member of the history faculty and consider the department's award opportunities for funding their research.