Wells College History Major

Assessment Plan




Executive Statement

After experiencing almost no change in the last fifteen years, thehistory major is currently in flux.  Our long time chair, with more than forty years in the department, is moving into phased retirement (and will soon need to be replaced).  In August 2008, two professors returned from sabbatical leave and one of them became our new chair.  Next Fallour major(with 3 FTEs) will expand by 33%,as we add a new position in East Asian Studies—our first full-time appointment ever in non-Western history.   These significant changes will provide us all with the opportunity to examine seriously our curriculum and other aspects of our major with the intent to make changes.


At the moment, then, the History Major is offering this preliminary assessment plan that will function as a basis for on-going re-evaluation in the next year and beyond.  We feel that we are playing catch up a bit, since two professors were on leave or partial leave from 2006 to 2008 and missed out on earlier assessment activities.   In any case, we expect to be moving toward a more internationalized curriculum that not only reflects current methodological practices and scholarship, but also will help prepare our students to live responsibly in a more diverse and challenging world.  We will be meeting each semester to discuss how to do a better job of implementing assessment measures in our current program.  We are committed to initiating our new East Asian colleague into this on-going dynamic process of accountability as we participate more fully ourselves in assessment activities.



Mission Statement for the History Major

A cornerstone of a liberal arts education, history is the study of continuity and change over time.  The history major at Wells College aims to help students acquire an understanding of the richness, diversity, and complexities of human existence over long periods of time in different geographical regions.  Asstudents pursue historical questions in depth and gain knowledge, they also become aware of a variety of ways that historians have approached and interpreted the past, they gain an appreciation of the contested nature of historical knowledge, and they engage issues that raise ethical questions and provoke historical debate.  In their courses and thesis research, students learn to think critically and creatively,as they interpret historical evidence and construct reasoned arguments back up their claims. 



Program Goals of the History Major


To develop students’ ability to think historically, by cultivating a sense of change and continuity over time. 


To enable to students to read critically a variety of different kinds of texts; to distinguish between primary and secondary sources.


To recognize connections between the past and the present:i.e., to locate both self and others in time and space.


To understand the value of conceptual analytical categories such as class, race, gender and ethnicity in historical scholarship.


To develop research skills that allow students to access, critically evaluate, and use information effectively in composing well-reasoned historical interpretations; writing skills that enable them to produce a 35-40 page essay, and oral skills needed for public presentations of their work.


To develop intellectual curiosity and an appreciation of difference and diversity, by cultivating a sense of shared human experiences across time and space. 


To provide knowledge of the past and to develop analytical skills thatencourage students to become well informed, critical, and active citizens capable of exercising sound judgment.


To develop an appreciation of historiography: to understandthe constructed/interpretative nature of historical scholarship and how historians can disagree.


To enrich students’ understanding of how others perceive their own societies and promote in students a more informed sense of and commitment to a global human commons.


To gain a general familiarity with some areas of  intellectual, political, economic, social, and cultural history of the United States, Europe, and at least one “Non-Western” area.








Outcomes that determine Whether the Goals have Been Achieved.


Students will be able to identify and analyze both primary and secondary documents/ sources, and cite them correctly in their written work.


Students will graduate with a general competence in the historical areas they chose to study, with an ability to identify key events and turning points in the areas s/he has studied. 


Students will understand the interpretative nature of historical enterprise.


Students will be proficient in the reading, researching and writing skills necessary in doing historical study


Students will think rationally, critically, and analytically about important issues, and will be able to use concepts such as race, class and gender in their analyses


Students will be able to work independently as well as collaboratively on a particular problem or question


Students will be able to prepare and deliver an oral presentation that is clear, well-reasoned, and meaningful. 








Assessment of Outcomes;  How to Measure?


Student performance is measured in a variety of ways:


1.     In-class testing:  examinations, quizzes, and spontaneous written responses demonstrate how well students are able to use their analytical and critical thinking skills, their mastery of the concepts of the disciplines.


2.     Informal writing:  short reflective papers on assigned readings and discussion questions generated by students reveal their understanding  of the assignment and ability to respond to it


3.     Written work:  Short essays (4-6 pages), position papers, longer interpretative essays, research papers, emphasizing analysis and interpretation of a problem or question


4.     Performances in class:  debates, role-playing, and simulations that demonstrate students’ ability to understand the significance of particular historical events, ideas, and personages –as they take on various roles or positions.


5.     In-class oral presentations and discussions that demonstrate verbal skills and competence, ability to communicate and synthesize material,


6.     Student performance in internships in museums, historical societies, archives, libraries, high school classes.  Interns submit journals and papers on their experiences; on-site sponsors also report backto  us, rating students’ contributions to the organization or project.


7.     Student success in History 375, “Writing History:  Theory and Practice.” This seminar, required of all history majors and minors, attempted to make students explicitly self-conscious of the contested nature of history and historical interpretation. Student given several oral preentations, write two short historiographical/bibliographical essays, a book review, and a longer research paper that is intended to be a preparation for their senior thesis.


a..  History 375 is in part a methods course.  It is designed to introduce students to the methodological problems involved in historical research, criticism, and writing, as well as to the technical issues involved in producing a research paper (noting taking, format, compiling a bibliography, etc.).


b.  History 375 is also a survey that examines the ways the historical profession has evolved over time and connects those changes to the social, political, cultural, and economic contexts of the larger society at particular moments. 


c.  History 375 offers students the chance to reflect and speculate about the historical enterprise and ask questions such as How do historians know what they know?  What is an historical fact?  What counts as evidence?  How objective can we be?  Can we make moral judgments about the past?  What is the function of historical periodization and historical categories?  What does it mean when historians disagree about the same evidence?


d.  History 375 introduces students to various approaches to the past and to different types of historical writings.  It considers, for example, the questions appropriate to economic history and how they differ from social, cultural or political approaches to the past.  What is the relation between history and myth, history and literature, history and social sciences?  What can the categories of race, gender, class, or ethnicity bring to historical analyses?  What is the status of microhistory and oral history and other sub-fields?


e.  History 375 addresses practical issues of research and writing such as defining a topic, organizing material, making arguments, using evidence.  By sharing rough drafts and engaging in peer-editing, we will work collaboratively toward creating more polished and more effective essays.   It strives to prepare students for the independent work they will do the following year for their senior thesis (the research, writing, and oral presentation).



8.     Senior Capstone Experience  (3 aspects)

History 401/402 Theresearch and writing of the senior thesis (a35-40 pages) of original work (in history or historiographyfor 4 hour semester credit. 


a. (402) Senior history majorsmeet weekly as a group with a faculty member.  Together  theygo through all the stages of the research process:  they discuss research problems, share information, comment on each others’ topics, learn more about proper citation formats and bibliography, make preliminary presentations, share drafts, engage in peer-editing, and generally form a bonding group of thesis writers. 


b.  (401)  The finished thesis itself is written and graded in the Fall semester.


c. In the Spring, all history majors also give a public oral presentation of their senior thesis to the Wells community and participate in an oral examination with the history faculty


Performance (on a, b, and c) determines if a student will graduate with Distinction in the major.




How Assessment Data will be Used.


1.     The history faculty will meet at least once each semester to evaluate the effectiveness of the current major. 


2.     We will look at the performance of students in our various lower-level courses  (grades and exams and assignments) to see how effective they are in preparing students for more advanced work in the major


3.     We will discuss the quality of senior theses and oral presentations/exams to determine how well our students have been prepared and supported in their capstone projects.


4.     We will keep portfolios for our students, to help document how students are progressing toward our stated goals.


5.     We will use enrollment data to help make decisions concerning staffing needs and the requests for newcourses and seminar topics.


6.     We will try to keep better track of our students after graduation: their success in graduate work and other employment, their chosen careers, and civic activities.