History, as the story of humankind, permits us to examine the lives and cultures of the past with a vision informed by hindsight and enhanced by modern analytical tools. People have traditionally looked to history to understand where they and their times fit into the continuing flow of changing circumstances and ideas. The History major at Ramapo College offers students the opportunity to study this subject for the reasons that have made it a hallmark of an educated person: it appeals to intellectual curiosity, expands awareness of other cultures, develops the imagination and helps connect the past to contemporary concerns. It provides students with the background and skill to understand the present and assist in creating the future, for, as the philosopher George Santayana observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The History program at Ramapo thus treats history as a narrative of the past, an exploration of different cultures, an example for the present, and a guidepost for the future. Students may explore geographical areas including the United States, Europe, Latin America, East Asia, the Middle East and Islamic world, or Africa, or concentrate on historical periods as varied as Ancient Greece, nineteenth century Europe or the United States since 1945. In addition, students can elect to study the history of specific groups such as women, Native Americans or African-Americans, or subjects as diverse as Biblical archaeology, Islamic art and architecture, military history, witchcraft, the American West, Jews in twentieth century Europe, and Korean cinema.
History majors also have hands-on opportunities to write history themselves or to work in the field. Students are encouraged to initiate independent study projects on a subject of interest to themselves under the supervision of a faculty member of their choice. Majors can gain additional perspective from study abroad, fieldwork in historical areas, and internships at historical museums, and historic preservation sites.
In entry-level courses through senior seminars, History majors are taught to evaluate what they read analytically and express their ideas clearly in writing; these are essential skills in virtually any career. Because History encourages these abilities, students who major in History are often sought after for positions not directly related to their field of study — business, for example. Careers more typically pursued by History majors include law and the other professions. Additional choices include government service, publishing, journalism, social work, public history, and library and museum work. The field of diplomacy is another obvious possibility, as is teaching, either in secondary school, or, after attending graduate school, in a college or university.
The Ramapo Chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the National History Honor Society, gives special recognition for outstanding history students. A thriving History Club provides the excitement of outside speakers, sponsors field trips, and gives students a chance to exercise leadership abilities as well. Ramapo’s historians have published books and articles on subjects as diverse as ancient archaeology, the early Ottoman Empire, nineteenth century American technology and culture, German history, modern Korea, Native Americans, religion in the eighteenth century Atlantic world, women and the New Right in the U.S., and poor women in Victorian London. In their research and classes, they use perspectives and methodologies as varied as their interests. Students in the program can encounter psychohistory, interdisciplinary or archaeological techniques, and feminist, literary and oral history, to name but a few.