Garrison Hall — north entrance; Photo: Marsha Miller
The study of history is a quest — a quest for some understanding of the great varieties of human experience and changes in those experiences over time. Whether faculty, postgraduates or undergraduates, we are all students of history engaged in probing the vast laboratory of human endeavors. We look for powerful narratives woven out of individual and group experiences that tell compelling stories. We look for identifiable cultural configurations that define communities and the changes they undergo. We look for ways of construing evidence that explicates and interprets who we are, who others are and how both came to be that way. And we look for the ways in which both current interests illuminate the past and how past human activities generate insights into contemporary concerns.
By its very nature, then, history includes a vast array of human activities. And that is reflected at The University of Texas. When students choose to study history they open doors to a great variety of courses offerings. Between 50 and 60 department historians list courses that range through the areas of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, Europe, Latin America and the United States, and encompass varieties of cultural, political, social, economic, gender, and foreign relations history. History majors, of course, may choose to specialize in particular clusters of courses but overall what distinguishes the university history program is its breadth of offerings.
Another facet of the History program is the education its courses provide in the way of personal skills requisite for achievement in modern society. Our courses stress sustained student development in research, analysis, synthesis, critical thinking and the written, visual, oral, and technological literacies that enable twenty-first century citizens to communicate. Above all, we stress the importance of asking questions, positing and evaluating conflicting interpretations, taking into account thinking in other disciplines, assessing evidence, trying out possible hypotheses and of presenting both our narratives and analyses with a clarity that facilitates understanding.
Important as these skills are, their cultivation is not the reason students study history. Again and again, when students respond to the question "Why do you take history?" they say, "Because I like it." What a wonderful combination! To learn what you need to know to get along in the world AND to enjoy the subject matter.
The fact is that we humans are history and we find that very interesting. The various facets of our collective challenges, ambitions, accomplishments, foolishness, malevolence, and failures are often enthralling. History emanates from our curiosity about how the world works and how we might understand it. History encompasses so much and far from being some ivory tower discipline, it attracts people with a passion for exploring the complexities of the "real worlds" humans have faced. That quest lies at the heart of the education University of Texas historians are committed to offer.