Carnegie Mellon University

What is Social & Political History?

Social & Political History (SPH) is a research- and writing-intensive major that emphasizes analysis of change over time and in-depth understanding of the societies, cultures, economies, political systems and conflicts that have shaped our world.

All majors take Introduction to Historical Research & Writing and the capstone Historical Research Seminar, where they conduct original, highly individualized historical projects using archival and other primary sources. Outstanding research papers are regularly presented at regional and national history conferences, and at CMU’s year-end symposium, Meeting of the Minds. Several students have published the results of their research, and we are exploring new ways to facilitate future publication of students’ research in both undergraduate and professional history journals.

The History Department offers a wide array of survey courses covering seven major regions of the world: Asia, Europe, United States, African Diaspora, the Middle East, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Russia and the Former Soviet States. In addition, the Department offers numerous electives that focus on topics of specialized faculty expertise, such as environment, technology, gender, culture, labor, race, science, criminal justice, education, war, public health, politics, and diplomacy. Many of these topical courses closely link analysis of past and present, with a special interest in applying historical insight to the formulation of public policy (examples: “History of American Public Policy”; “American Environmental History”; “American Foreign Policy and the Middle East Since 1945”; Delinquency, Crime, and Juvenile Justice”).

The broad analytic, research, and writing skills cultivated by the SPH major prepare students for success in a wide variety of graduate and professional schools, and for exercising leadership in careers in business, law, government, education, journalism, public policy, social work, the armed services, Foreign Service, media, museums and libraries. (For students interested in pursuing a professional career in History, options today include not only research and teaching -- our graduates have earned Ph.D. degrees at Harvard, Northwestern, and other major universities -- but also expert positions as historians in museums, archives, historic sites, the armed services, media outlets, and other public history venues.) Often, history graduates pursue post-undergraduate professional school, such as law, business administration, education, public policy, urban planning, librarianship, journalism, the ministry, or social work.