At Reed, history is treated as a basic component of general education. The department attempts to include in its course offerings as many periods and areas of study as student enrollment and available faculty make possible. The priority, however, is on diversity of approach—constitutional, intellectual, economic, social, diplomatic, cultural—rather than on specific coverage of conventional fields. The aim is to arouse sufficient interest in history to stimulate a student’s independent inquiry and the necessary analytical thought and perspectives that go with historical study.
The department tries to inculcate students with a sense of history—to impress them with the legacy, conscious or unconscious, that each present has inherited from its past, as well as the many perspectives one can have on that legacy. While many graduates have become prominent as professional historians and teachers of history, it is even more as a fundamental contribution to liberal, humanistic education and the development of a critical intelligence, carried through in many different professions and ways of life, that the department program is conceived and directed to majors and nonmajors alike.
The department expects students to develop competence in various periods and areas of history, as specified in the course requirements, and to attain analytical skills common to all fields of history. The junior qualifying examination in history requires students to analyze a significant piece of recent scholarship in the discipline. The examination is offered once each semester, in the first week of classes. Students in the major ordinarily take the exam in the first week of the second semester of their junior year. The department encourages but does not require its students to pursue the study of a foreign language.For students who wish to pursue interdisciplinary study in American history and some other area—for example, literature, economics, or government—Reed offers an American studies major. Among other possible programs are interdisciplinary majors involving history, such as history–literature and international and comparative policy studies.