The history curriculum prepares cadets for careers in law, business, politics, government service, and the armed forces. With proper electives, the curriculum also meets the requirements for admission to law schools and graduate programs in business administration and management, and history.
History majors receive training in the natural sciences, mathematics, literature, and foreign language. History courses emphasize an understanding of developments and problems, and give attention to social, economic, cultural, political and constitutional problems.
A concentration in military history is available.
Opportunities for Graduate Study in History as Commissioned Officers in the Armed Forces
History majors commissioning in the armed forces have several options for postgraduate education. The Army will send junior officers on active duty (usually captains) to graduate school in history in preparation for a tour as instructors at the Military Academy; the Air Force has a similar program.
Reserve officers in any branch can attend graduate school full time while drilling as a member of a reserve unit. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps have commissioning programs in conjunction with attendance at law school; cadets should consult service recruiters for details.
Degrees and Programs
Degree(s): Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)
The curriculum, with proper electives, fully meets the requirements for admission to outstanding schools of law and graduate programs in business administration and management, as well as history. By concentrating electives in a specific subject area, cadets can acquire both the broad outlook offered by history and the specific outlook of other disciplines.
The cadet majoring in history receives, first of all, training in the natural sciences, mathematics, and the English language as an instrument of written and oral communication. Additionally, the cadet learns a foreign language. History courses cover the principal fields of modern European, Middle Eastern, East Asian, Latin American, African, and American history. Rather than merely cataloging events of the past, these courses emphasize an understanding of developments and problems, and they give attention to social, economic, and cultural phenomena, as well as political and constitutional problems.
As history majors advance through the curriculum, they apply the lessons of previous courses to challenging new subjects. Students in 100-level World History comprehend fundamental themes, issues, and trends in global history. Students in 200-level United States history explore and analyze increasingly complex themes, issues, and trends in U.S. history. Students in 300-level courses develop a detailed knowledge of a specific field’s major historical events and themes, and where appropriate acquire a functional understanding of relevant historical geography. Each level of the history curriculum is associated with a set of essential skills. Students in 100-level World History sharpen essential college-level skills such as note-taking, critical reading, and studying for both objective and analytical exams. Students in 200-level United States history interpret primary sources and base an argument on them, evaluate secondary sources, and cite sources. Students in 300-level courses evaluate the thesis and evidence in essential historical essays or books and identify significant historiographical trends. In HI 200 and those 300-level courses designated as methodologically intensive, students learn the basic techniques of historical research, analysis, and documentation. They employ common library and electronic research tools and use book reviews or review essays to assess a field’s major literature. In 400-level courses, students frame a research topic, locate and evaluate relevant primary and secondary evidence, and discuss relevant historiography.
The capstone course requirement ensures that all majors gain experience in historical methodology and writing. An Honors Program, open to majors who have demonstrated excellence in the study of history, and a Directed Study course offer opportunities to engage in more extensive research and write a paper under the close supervision of a faculty sponsor.
Courses in Military History offered by the History Department are listed below:
- HI 310X – War and Society in Modern China
- HI 322 – United States Civil War and Reconstruction
- HI 335 – The Vietnam War
- HI 376 – European Warfare, 1600-1871
- HI 377 – Insurgency and Terrorism in History
- HI 379 – European Warfare since 1871
- HI 385 – United States Military History to 1919
- HI 386 – United States Military History since 1919
- HI 387 – History of Air Power
- HI 388 – Modern Spain: Civil War and Colonial Conflict
- HI 390 – Sea Power from the Age of Sail to the Early Twentieth Century
- HI 391 – Sea Power in the Twentieth Century
- HI 392 – World War I
- HI 393 – World War II
Other courses that can be applied to the Military History minor depending on topic are:
- HI 330 – Topics in Ancient History
- HI 460W – Capstone Experience
- HI 480 – Directed Study
- HI 481 – 490 and HI 493 – 499 Special Seminar
- HI 491W – Thesis Course for Honors
- HI 492W – Thesis Course for Honors
The Department of History offers an honors program for history majors who, at the end of the first semester of their second-class year, have demonstrated excellence in their major field of study. The program involves an intensive reading course, a research paper, an oral examination on the paper, revision of the paper, and a second defense. A cadet who completes this program will have earned nine hours of credit in history. Participation in the Honors program fulfills the requirements for a writing intensive course and a methodologically intensive course in history and replaces the capstone course, HI 460W.
The course descriptions follow:
HI 372 Reading Course (Staff) 3-0-3
Reading in depth in a selected field of history under the close supervision of a faculty member as preparation for an honors research paper. Introduction to historical methodology and preparation of an annotated bibliography or such other preliminary project(s) as the advisor directs. Prerequisite: admission to the honors program.
HI 491W Thesis Course for Honors (Staff) 3-0-3
Research and writing of the honors paper under supervision of a faculty member. Oral examination on the honors paper. Prerequisite: HI 372.
HI 492W Thesis Course for Honors (Staff) 3-0-3
Revision and second defense of the paper. Final submission of the paper. Prerequisite: HI 491W.
The purpose of the honors program is to give the candidate an opportunity to read widely in a chosen field, to do extensive research in that field, to organize research results by writing a paper based on that research, to defend the paper’s conclusions in an oral examination, to revise those conclusions into an acceptable final thesis, and to defend it in a second examination.
Entry into the honors program is voluntary, and although every qualified cadet is invited to apply for admission, none is under any pressure to do so. Admission to the program is not automatic; the departmental honors committee made up of three standing members screens candidates and consults with the potential advisors. The committee then recommends to the department head those whom it feels are qualified, based upon the cadet's academic record and other factors, including availability of an appropriate faculty mentor for the project.
To apply, a history major must have at least a 3.200 GPA in history (History 103-104, 200, 205-206, plus any other history courses taken through the cadet’s first five semesters) and a 3.000 cumulative GPA. Cadets must maintain at least a 3.200 GPA in history courses to remain in the honors program and to graduate with honors. Those cadets who wish to engage in a research project, but either do not qualify for the honors program or elect not to enter it, are referred to HI 480, Directed Study.
A cadet accepted into the program must propose a topic or area of study based on a preliminary consultation with the potential advisor. Upon selecting a topic or area of study, the candidate is assigned by the honors committee to a thesis advisor and together they define the project, subject to review by the honors committee. Candidates are expected to confer at least once a week with their advisors throughout the program.
HI 372 is the first course in the Honors sequence. The cadet is expected to read a minimum of 3,000 pages (or about 300 pages a week) and write book annotations and/or short papers. At the end of the first semester, the cadet will submit a comprehensive annotated bibliography to the advisor, or such other preliminary projects as the advisor directs. This will be considered a probationary period. The cadet must earn a grade of B or better in this course to remain in the program. Cadets who do not continue in the Honors program must have earned a grade of C or better in HI 372 in order to have that course satisfy the departmental requirement for a 300-level methodologically intensive course. In marginal cases, decision for retention in the program will rest with the advisor and be reflected in the grade assigned.
In HI 491, the cadet will research and write a paper on the chosen topic and defend it. The completed paper with full scholarly apparatus will be submitted to the advisor no later than CAD on the last day of classes. The cadet will have his first oral examination on the paper no later than the end of final exams. In general the examining committee will be made up of the project’s major advisor, a second reader, and a third member of the Department of History. If the situation dictates, a member of another department may sit on the committee, or more than three members may be utilized. The committee will be chosen by the advisor in consultation with the cadet. If the cadet does not have a completed paper by CAD on the last day of classes or if the committee deems the product and progress to be insufficient, the cadet will have to leave the honors program and register for a standard capstone course HI 460W. The grade for HI 491 will in that case be decided by the cadet’s advisor. For those cadets who complete HI 491 but do not continue, a grade of C or above will be deemed appropriate to substitute for HI 460W.
In HI 492, the cadet will revise his or her paper for a final defense and submission. The completed paper with full scholarly apparatus will be submitted to the advisor no later than CAD on the last day of classes. The cadet will have his final oral examination on the paper no later than the end of final exams. The paper should be at least 60 pages long, and contain both bibliography and notes. Format will follow Robert Perrin, Pocket Guide to the Chicago Manual of Style, Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, or The Chicago Manual of Style. Two bound copies of the paper are required, one to be retained by the History Department and the other placed in Special Collections at Preston Library. Binding service is available through the library. In addition, the cadet should prepare a 400-600 word abstract for posting on the Department of History’s website.
After the final defense, the cadet's committee will assign a final grade for the course. Grades of A or B will earn the designation of Honors in History. Grades of C or D will earn credit, but NOT honors. (A grade of F is a failure and will earn neither honors nor credit.)
History in the News
Find out more about the department's cadets and faculty in recent VMI news.
The George C. Marshall Foundation hosted a week-long professional development seminar recently for secondary school teachers from across Virginia.
Riley Malone ’25, a history major at Virginia Military Institute is examining the government policy on service members, and how their First Amendment rights have changed from 1900 to the present in his 10-week SURI project titled, “True Faith and Allegiance: The First Amendment in the Military.”