Understanding the present by studying the past

History majors study change over time—or how the world came to be as it is.  In order to interpret the past with clarity and rigor, historians master what the American Historical Association calls “a set of evolving rules and tools.”  The skills history majors learn are among the most useful in an information economy and include: searching for evidence across multiple datasets, analyzing vast amounts of material, and distilling complex ideas into a coherent argument.  Finally, the study of history makes for engaged citizens, people who appreciate multiple perspectives and who understand the various forms of oppression and liberation that have haunted and inspired our democracy.

Our alumni go on to rewarding careers.  Roughly one in four pursues a career in history, teaching everywhere from primary schools to research universities and working at museums, archives, or in other public history positions.  The vast majority, however, use their training in other fields.  A list of positions held by recent graduates includes: Trial Attorney (with various firms as well as the US Dept. of Justice), Manager of Sustainability (Wal-Mart), Portfolio Manager (various private equity firms), Brand Planner (Twitter), and Military Officer (US Army, Navy, and Air Force).

At Elon, you will receive excellent instruction and the opportunity to work with scholars who have expertise in a variety of world regions (US, Europe, Africa, East Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean). You also will complete a major research and writing project as the capstone to your studies. When you graduate, you will not only know something about history, but you will also know how to create and use new knowledge for the public good.

“The classes I took at Elon, though not directly related to my career, gave me a solid foundation that has enabled me to take on my new job with confidence. As a history major, my professors helped fine-tune my writing and research skills and taught me to read with a critical eye. … Though I am no longer writing papers on historical topics, I frequently conduct research and compile reports that allow me to draw upon the skills I learned as a history major.”

Kirstin Huges ’14, Global Banking and Brokerage Consultant

Working with faculty scholars

The faculty in the Department of History and Geography are committed to innovative teaching and are also internationally renowned scholars. You get the best of both worlds: professors who invest considerable time and effort in the classroom to help you succeed and scholars who have published widely and are nationally recognized in their fields. Our faculty include:

Peter Felten (with Charity Johansson), Transforming Students: Fulfilling the Promise of Higher Education (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014)

Mary Jo Festle, Second Wind: Oral Histories of Lung Transplant Survivors (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)

Michael Matthews, The Civilizing Machine: A Cultural History of Mexican Railroads, 1876-1910 (University of Nebraska Press, 2014) and, edited with Stephen Neufeld, Mexico in Verse: A History of Music, Rhyme, and Power (University of Arizona Press, 2015)

Capstone experience

As a history major at Elon, you will create history as well as study it. You will complete at least one senior seminar that will allow you to study a topic in depth and produce a comprehensive, original research paper as the capstone to your education. The seminars are offered every semester and are typically linked to a professor’s research interest. Recent seminar topics include the Victorian era, American religious history, gender/sexuality in American history, and imperialism.

To prepare for the seminar, you will take a research methods course, in which you will learn how to conduct historical research and write a major research paper. In addition, you will have the opportunity to hear faculty members discuss their current scholarly research.

Research opportunities

History majors are encouraged to present their senior seminar project and other research findings at Elon’s annual Spring Undergraduate Research Forum (SURF). All SURF projects in history are the result of collaboration between students and faculty members. Generally, student research is either related to a professor’s area of scholarship or a paper that the student has written for a class. Regardless, faculty mentors give each student direction and advice during their research. Several projects result in co-authored articles or presentations vital to a developing scholar’s resume.

Even if one does not participate in SURF, it is still possible to participate in independent studies or in ongoing research projects in the department’s oral history program, which involves collecting oral interviews that will become resources for future generations of scholars.

Challenging Fellows programs

History students participate in all of Elon University’s most prestigious fellows programs, which include additional support for undergraduate research within the major. Majors are Elon College Fellows and Honors Fellows, and some participate in the Leadership Fellows program or are recipients of the Lumen Prize, Elon’s most prestigious academic award.  These programs offer special courses, research opportunities, scholarships and study abroad grants.

International study

At Elon, you can deepen your knowledge of the world and of yourself by participating in the university’s top-ranked study abroad program. History majors, in particular, benefit from exploring important historical sites and events around the world.

History faculty members regularly lead study abroad courses during Elon’s winter term. There are several courses of particular interest to history majors, including the London program, where students choose among arts and sciences courses; World War II on the Ground, through which students travel to England, France, Germany, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands exploring how World War II influenced those societies; and Studies in Ghana, where students explore the history, literature and culture of the West African country. History majors have also spent semesters studying in Scotland and Australia.

Engaged Learning

Study Abroad

Faculty members in History, Art History, and Geography routinely lead study abroad courses, especially during winter term, and department members have frequently served as faculty in residence at the Elon Centers in London and Florence.  Faculty routinely teach courses in Ghana, Greece, Italy, Costa Rica, China, and the United Kingdom. Students also study independently all over the world, and our majors have done so in Scotland, Turkey, England, South Africa, France, and elsewhere.


History majors may gain valuable professional experience and insights into their studies by participating in internships. Elon students may work with a faculty mentor to conduct a graded internship at a theoretically limitless number of sites.  Some elect to remain close to campus (the Alamance Battleground, Haw River Museum, Charlotte Hawkins Brown State Historic Site, etc.), while others have pursued internships further afield (the Smithsonian Institute, History South Australia, etc.).

Departmental support

In order to support student initiatives outside of the formal opportunities above, we offer Alumni Grants of up to $1,000 for majors or minors to conduct research, travel to conferences, or do other projects consistent with the major.  We hope through these grants to encourage independent, rigorous work.