History Handbook

Academic Plan

Program Coordinators


Andrew Culp, '13

History major
Altoona, PA

"There are so many career paths with a history degree, from teaching to research and beyond. Our professors are engaging and teach us to apply what we learn. And we have opportunities to learn through travel—like to D.C. and Gettysburg. It’s a great major and has taught me so much."

What is History?

Introduction: What is History?

Historical PhotoAt the college level, the discipline of history involves not simply learning facts about the past, but sharpening skills of analysis and interpretation. As you critically evaluate primary documents as well as books and articles written by professional historians, you need to consider not simply what happened but why and how different perceptions of a particular moment in the past came to be formed. In our coursework, you will learn how to interpret evidence and craft your own interpretations of the past. The history faculty at Penn State Altoona aims to empower you as an independent thinker, researcher, and writer, confident in your knowledge and your ability to critically examine new information.

The skills of critical thinking, intellectual flexibility and clear argumentative writing that history majors cultivate are at the core of the liberal arts tradition. Mastery of these skills will enrich your life and, we hope, deepen your engagement with the present as well as the past, and with the global community as well as the local and national ones. They are also skills that are in high demand in a number of rewarding professions. History majors can go on to careers in the private sector, in public service and in the non-profit sector. We encourage you to think about and explore a variety of options, many of which require further study beyond your B.A. These fields include business, journalism, law, library science and information technology, medicine, museum work, public administration, publishing, social work, teaching, urban and regional planning. Graduate study in history itself is another path, either at the M.A. or Ph.D. levels. For even more reasons to study history, please consult Why Study History?