Sept. 2007


History Department Assessment          




Program mission statement and goals:


History is the study of human societies, their changes and continuities.  The very essence of historical study is change through time.  We attempt to make sense of the human experience, its complexities and ironies.  We seek to train our history majors to develop skills in several areas:  how to research effectively, how to write clearly on a complex topic, how to state one’s case orally as well as in written form, how to discuss and defend one’s point of view drawing from evidence to substantiate and strengthen the argument; how to sift through large bodies of evidence to discover which is of more and which is of lesser importance to making sense of the topic; to develop the immensely valuable faculty of thinking historically, of seeing the fluidity and evolution over time of women, men, their attitudes and values and the societies they have created.  Our ultimate goal is to produce people of good judgment who are “prepared for the irrational, the accidental, in human affairs:” and who can grasp “the power of ideas and character in history.”  (The Atlantic)


How do we know that students are learning these skills and achieving the objectives we deem essential for a history major at Wells College?


Our history courses are largely a combination of lecture and discussion.  Because we enjoy the luxury of small classes at Wells, we are able to draw our students into class discussion in which we endeavor to have them understand the complexities of historical causation and outcome.  The ideal class is one in which every student is enabled to speak and express opinions based on the assigned readings.  To encourage focused reading, we frequently request the students to submit discussion points in which they are expected to raise issues and questions concerning the assigned material.  This device ensures that each student will have prepared something to contribute to class.  Another learning device is to request members of the class to prepare different sides in interpreting a document. 


To ensure that students develop oral communication skills, we require frequent short oral presentations on an assigned topic based on the readings.  Over a four-year period, we are able to ascertain through our notes and grades, the progress or lack thereof in a particular student.  We confer individually with students to evaluate their oral presentation skills and we suggest ways to improve.  Students are expected to write short papers on assigned topics during the semester and in some courses a term paper as well.  A standard method of assessment is the mid-term and final exam.  By the time history majors take three-hundred level seminars they are expected to be skilled in oral presentation and paper writing.  Thus three-hundred level seminars are based more intensively on oral presentations and written papers.


One assessment device that the history department is developing is to gather examples of papers by first year students who have expressed an interest in majoring in history and then compare them with the work of that student in the junior and senior years.  We are planning in the future to require our history majors themselves to keep a portfolio of their exams and papers.  We will then review our students’ work during their junior year and again early in the senior year.  As a department, it is our custom to discuss students’ progress. 


Our final tool in assessment of our senior history majors is our History 401-402 senior capstone course.  In this four credit course, taken in the fall semester, our students write a senior thesis on an historical subject of their own choosing, arrived at in consultation with one of the history faculty.  The senior thesis is about 35 pages long and appended to it is a bibliographical essay in which the students assess their sources.  An early step in our students’ development as history majors who will write a senior essay is history 375, Writing History, which we encourage students to take in their junior year.  In the senior essay we expect our students to demonstrate their research, analytical, and writing skills.  Along with writing the essay, the history majors meet in a seminar each week with the history faculty member whose turn it is to conduct the seminar.  The senior thesis goes through several drafts.  A final copy is submitted in mid-December.  In the spring semester, each student presents her/his thesis to the Wells community.  We believe that the essay provides the student with the opportunity to demonstrate the written and oral skills that are necessary for a Wells student successfully to go out into the world.  It is not uncommon that a senior essay is submitted to a future employer or to a graduate school as an example of the student’s writing ability.  The ultimate assessment is in graduation itself.  Students who have achieved a 3.5 average in the major and who have received an A in the senior essay are awarded distinction in the field of history.