We live in a world shaped by the past. To make sense of the past, we must empathize with people who once thought very differently than we do today. We must learn how to see bygone lives and events on their own terms, to render the strange legible and the unfamiliar comprehensible. As a discipline, history teaches the analytical, interpretive, and expressive skills necessary to study the past and to understand social change over time.
It might seem counterintuitive that one of the best ways to understand the present is by studying the past, but that is precisely why history is so important. When we appreciate that history is not, first and foremost, a body of knowledge – that is, a collection of names, dates, and events – but rather a way of seeing and thinking, it becomes a powerful tool for assessing contemporary challenges and promoting social change. Once we know how to penetrate different modes of thought and human behavior and can understand their inner logic, it becomes easier to make sense of the contemporary world, its diverse peoples and ideas. Studying history cultivates a crucial set of skills that help navigate not only the past, but the present as well.
Preparation for the Major
Before declaring the History major, students must take at least one class within the Stanford Department of History, taught by a Stanford History instructor.