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What Is History?

The most common myth about studying history is that it is little more than the memorization of facts and dates.


History is more than facts and dates! History is an interpretation that uses facts and dates to make an argument. Moreover, history is an interpretation without end - always subject to reinterpretation based on new evidence and new ways of looking at the past. The historian is both an investigator and storyteller who challenges listeners to think critically about the past and present.

Why Study History?

islam Studying the past can broaden your understanding of human nature and human civilization, giving you insight into the capabilities of humans to build social, political, and cultural institutions. What led to the rise of some civilizations and the decline (or destruction) of others? Is class exploitation the source of human conflict? Was unbridled nationalism the cause of World War I, or was imperialism the culprit? What was the attraction to fascism by millions of Germans and Italians in the 1930s? In what ways have oppressed ethnic and racial groups responded to discrimination?

But there's more to history than just learning about the past. History can also help you understand the present. Why is the United States a superpower on the world scene? Why are Jews and Palestinians killing each other in the Middle East? Why did terrorists attack the World Trade Center? These questions cannot be answered without an understanding of the root historical causes behind them.

WTC plane


History also teaches you important research, writing, and critical thinking skills. History faculty use a variety of approaches in their teaching to enhance the learning experience of students who learn to weigh evidence and construct logical arguments. The history major is not confined to teaching history in the classroom after graduation, but will find such skills useful in journalism, law, government service, business, and science. (For more possibilities, see "What Can I Do With a History Major?")

Finally, history is essentially an interdisciplinary academic field. You learn more than just about past events when you take a history course at West Valley College; you also learn about economics, politics, sociology, race and ethnicity, gender, psychology, literature, and even music.

Elvis Dancing

The History Department seeks to offer a broad range of courses that fulfill not just West Valley College breadth requirements, but also stimulate the intellectual curiosity of the campus student population. Regularly offered courses include western civilization, U.S. history, and California history, as well as a variety of ethnic history courses in the fields of African American, Mexican American, Native American, and Asian American history. All of the courses offered by the History Department are transferable to CSU and UC schools.

What are the Department's Learning Outcomes?

After completing courses or an A.A. degree in History, a student will be able to:

bullet Describe how the social, political, intellectual, and economic systems of a particular society change over time.
bullet Analyze how the interplay of multiple factors in a society - including intellectual, economic, demographic, and cultural variables - resulted in particular historical outcomes.

What are the requirements to Major in History for the A.A. Degree?

Course Units

bullet HIST 004A History of Western Civilization 3
bullet HIST 004B History of Western Civilization 3
bullet HIST 017A U.S. History 3
bullet HIST 017B U.S. History 3

Choose 6 Units of Electives from HIST 008A, 008B, 012, 014, 016, 020, 030, 031 or 006. Requirements vary somewhat among four-year institutions. Consult the department advisor and counselor for transfer requirements of the institution of your choice.

To be awarded an A.A. Degree, a student must complete

bullet All the major requirements
bullet Additional units to meet the college graduation requirements.

Welcome to the Department of History at West Valley College!


last published: 4/1/18