The History Major

Elizabeth Meisenzahl and Hannah Kerekes sat down with President Magill in December 2022 to learn more about her own experience in the major. Read the full interview here!



To graduate with a B.A. in History you must take twelve courses. At least eight of those courses must be taken in the Penn Department of History. Depending on your  concentration, you may count up to four courses from other institutions (including study-abroad and transfer credits) or other Penn departments (i.e., "major-related" courses). 

A. Geographic Distribution

Students must take ONE course in FOUR of the following geographic areas:

  • United States and Canada
  • Europe (including Britain and Australia)
  • Africa and the Middle East
  • Latin America and the Caribbean
  • East Asia and South Asia
  • Global Issues

These courses may be taken in the Penn Department of History or a history department abroad. No major-related courses may count toward the Geographic Distribution; however, courses that are cross-listed with History are acceptable.

Note: The content of some history courses—HIST 1785  American Expansion in the Pacific, for example—crosses regional boundaries. This course may be used to fulfill the U.S. or Asia requirement, but not both. Majors should tell their advisors where they would like to count such courses.

B. Chronological Distribution

All majors must take two pre-1800 courses.

These courses may be taken in the Penn Department of History or a History department abroad.  All pre-1800 courses are designated on the History Department website's Undergraduate Courses pages.

Note: Majors may "double-count" pre-1800 courses and geographic distribution courses. For example, it is perfectly acceptable to take HIST 3820 Renaissance Europe to fulfill both the pre-1800 requirement and the Europe geographic requirement.

C. Upper-Level Seminars

All majors must take at least two upper-level History seminars numbered HIST 2000-3799. Both upper-level seminars must be taken in the Penn Department of History; no study abroad, credit away, or major-related courses will count towards this requirement.

D. Research Requirement

All majors must conduct significant research with primary sources and write a substantial paper that interprets and analyzes the material uncovered through this research.

The requirement ensures that all majors have become acquainted with the historical methodologies of research, and that they can evaluate source material, interpret evidence, and construct an historical argument. Majors will typically fulfill this requirement by completing a 15-20 page final paper in one of their required seminar courses, though specifics will vary from course to course. Majors may also opt to fulfill the requirement in an independent study or through other coursework with the permission of the major advisor.  Majors completing the honors program will have fulfilled the requirement by researching and writing their thesis. 

Courses that automatically fulfill the major research requirement are numbered HIST 3000-3799. 

E. Concentration (Optional)

Students may choose an area of concentration, though they are not required to do so.

Students pursuing the General Curriculum History Major (i.e., no concentration) should work closely with their faculty advisor to plan a course of study that allows them to take advantage of this flexibility without sacrificing intellectual coherence in their chosen coursework. No “major-related” courses may be included in the General Curriculum option.

For Class of '22 and earlier:  History Majors with no concentration must take two upper-level courses (200 level and above), in addition to the two required seminars.


No more than four courses from outside the Penn Department of History may count toward the Major requirements. This number includes all courses taken at another university, including study abroad programs (except Penn Summer Abroad courses in programs administered by LPS that have regular Penn course numbers). This maximum also includes major-related courses.

Major-related courses may be used only with a concentration; they may not be included in the general curriculum.

Exception: All courses taken in the Ancient History Department (ANCH) at Penn or history courses in the College of Liberal and Professional Studies (LPS) will be considered equivalent to history courses taken "within the Department." They are NOT part of this four-course maximum.

Major advisors must approve the allocation of outside courses in the major. If it is not a Penn course, it must first be approved by the Department's Study Abroad and Transfer Credit Advisor through XCAT, the External Course Approval Tool. Students transferring to Penn from another university with a history major should see the links below for course approval details and consult the History Undergraduate Advisor to discuss allocation of credits.

Policies and course approval instructions for:

No Credit Away will count towards the Geographic or Chronological Distribution. Credit Away is defined as summer or regular term courses at other institutions taken by students already matriculated at Penn. Credit Away may count in the category of "other courses for the major" towards the required total of 12 course units, or in a concentration if relevant and approved by the major advisor.

The first step in declaring the History Major is to meet with the History Undergraduate Advisor