International History (IHIS)

  • Curricular Field Chair: Associate Professor Abdullah A Al-Arian
  • Curricular Dean: Dean Morgan Fisher


Processes of historical change have become increasingly global during recent centuries. The major in International History (IHIS) combines a broad introduction to the analysis of historical changes that transcend national boundaries with the opportunity to explore a particular theme or question in the context of a self-designed major concentration.

The major goes beyond study of the formal relations between states – the traditional subject matter of diplomatic history – to address themes in social, cultural, and intellectual history. Historical scholarship today draws on ideas and data from subjects as varied as anthropology, philosophy, sociology, political science, religious studies, and literature, and this mix is reflected in the coursework for the International History major. In addition, the major exposes students to a range of theoretical tools and methodological approaches to historical analysis, and places special emphasis on the development of critical thinking, argumentation and writing skills.

What IHIS Majors Learn:

  • Develop the ability to explain and contextualize change over time on the basis of evidence
  • Distinguish between types and genres of sources and between evidence-based conclusions and unfounded statements
  • Use sources to formulate questions and construct original arguments, and develop their ability to support their conclusions orally and in writing with evidence and appropriate documentation
  • Identify, evaluate, and compare historians’ different interpretations of the past, thus understanding the discipline of history as an ongoing conversation between sources, scholars, and students
  • Identify and trace major themes, issues, and developments in comparative, international, and global history, and gain the ability to formulate comparative questions and arguments about different societies and cultures

International History Major Requirements (8 Courses)

Majors must take Global History, and seven electives as detailed below. At least two but no more than three of the courses applied to the IHIS major must be non-history courses and at least one of these non-history courses must be in the concentration. These courses contain integrated writing requirements.

  • HIST 3105 Global History (Fall Year 3)
  • Four IHIS electives 
  • Three courses toward self-designated concentration 

Sample Elective Courses

  • ARAB 4403: Islam and Arabic Culture in the Golden Age
  • HIST 2418: History of International Law
  • HIST 4202: Africa and the Politico-Economics
  • HIST 4208: Topics in African Women’s History
  • HIST 4301: The Silk Road
  • HIST 3609: America and the Muslim World
  • INAF 4370: Revolutions in Comparative Perspective
  • CULP 4370: Women and Law
  • IPOL 3394: Islamic Movements

Integrated Writing Requirements

The major in International History (IHIS) in the School of Foreign Service is rooted in the history of diplomacy and international relations but it goes beyond the study of the formal relationships between states—the traditional subject matter of diplomatic history—to address themes in comparative, trans-regional and global history. Interdisciplinary in focus, the major draws on ideas and methodologies from subjects as varied as anthropology, philosophy, sociology, political science, religious studies, and literature. It is grounded in History, a discipline which places special emphasis on the development of critical thinking, textual analysis, argumentation, and writing skills.

Integrated Writing in the IHIS Major

As they move through the SFS Core Curriculum and meet the requirements towards their major, IHIS students repeatedly encounter and practice various forms of historical writing. Students of history are typically asked to write many kinds of papers, including document analyses, book reviews, response papers, bibliographic surveys, historiographical essays, research or exhibit proposals, or research papers. They might also be asked to develop a digital history project, which would involve writing text to accompany any digital maps or images.

All SFS students, including IHIS majors, take history courses as part of the Core Curriculum, and go on to complete courses which progressively engage with literature in the field.

  • HIST 1401-2804: These core courses introduce students to writing in the discipline of history through the careful reading and discussion of primary sources and writing assignments that require engagement with the past based on evidence-based analysis and interpretation.  
  • HIST 2001-2821: Courses in this range continue to engage students in work on primary sources, but they will more frequently encounter differing interpretations of modern scholars. They will become more fully cognizant of the wide variety of sources available for historical analysis, and they will experiment with different types of written assignments that further hone their ability to select and interpret reliable evidence, to contextualize that evidence, and to build and support analytical arguments in written form.
  • HIST 4101+: These discussion-based seminars require more substantial reading (in both primary and secondary sources) and more complex and substantial writing assignments, including those that require historical research and extensive use of the library.
  • Optional Honors: Many IHIS majors go on to complete the year-long Senior Honors Seminar, in which they research and write a significant and original historical thesis under the mentorship of the Seminar director and individual faculty members. In the Honors Seminar, students routinely review and comment on each other’s drafts. This feedback, combined with that provided by faculty, allows students to continually develop and revise their writing across the academic year.

Writing Competencies in the Discipline of History

Providing Evidence and Analysis

The study of history and writing are inseparable. As a form of knowledge based on the interpretation of fragmentary records that survive from the past, all historians use the written word to posit an argument and defend it with evidence. Because historical sources reveal only part of the whole story, no single historical work can ever be fully comprehensive or definitive. As a result historians continually debate the varying interpretations that emerge between different schools of thought. Ultimately, the quality of historical writing is determined by the successful collection, organization, and presentation of evidence in support of a coherent and convincing thesis.

Engaging with Sources

At its core, historical writing depends on judgment: the thoughtful selection of good research questions and the identification and interpretation of historical sources. Historians use two types of evidence: primary and secondary sources. Primary sources are documents or other records created at the time of the events under analysis; they come directly from the participants themselves. Secondary sources are the findings of writers who were not direct participants in a historical episode but those who have subsequently investigated primary evidence of it. Works of scholarship are the most common secondary sources students of history will encounter. In certain situations, a secondary source can become a primary one.

Thinking Critically

Sources, whether primary or secondary, do not answer historical questions themselves. Students of history must sift with a critical eye through the information provided in their sources and then rely on their own judgment to construct a historical argument grounded in evidence. In order to determine the reliability of their sources, historians read documents closely and place them in historical context. They ask critical questions to determine who wrote the document, when and where it was created, and for what purpose. The capacity to determine what matters—to think critically about what evidence to include and what to exclude and how to frame one’s analysis—is one of the core skills students of history acquire through writing.

Writing in Various Formats and Styles

Writing in history takes many forms. Some history papers are organized as narratives that tell stories of people and events in the past; others are more analytical and organized as an essay. Most historical writing incorporates both narrative and analysis. Some papers deal with historiography, that is, how different historians or schools of thought have approached the history of a particular subject. Other papers deal directly with history, analyzing not simply what happened but why and how it happened. Whatever the format, history students must begin with a thesis statement and the evidence bolstering their argument must always be divulged using a responsible and consistent citation style.

How to Declare

During the first semester of their sophomore year, students meet with their academic advisor to declare their major. When declaring a major, sophomores prepare a declaration proposal outlining the reasons why they are pursuing one of the majors offered at GU-Q, including how the intended major coincides with their academic interests and possible career goals. Furthermore, students declaring the IHIS major will be expected to articulate their self-designated concentration and explain why they have chosen it.

Honors in the Major

The honors program allows the student to examine a significant scholarly issue in detail and to focus his or her time and attention on an important issue in which he or she is deeply interested. Honors theses are original works of thought and research, not merely summaries of the work and ideas of others.

Application Requirements

  • GPA: Have a GPA of 3.5, or strong evidence of the capacity to achieve it
  • Thesis Proposal: Submit a thesis proposal to the IHIS faculty chairperson or curricular dean on or before March 1

Completion Requirements

  1. Seminar: Complete the IHIS Honors Seminar in the senior year
  2. Thesis: Submit a final written thesis that is approved by the IHIS faculty. Honors theses are ordinarily 50-80 pages long, however students should work with their thesis advisor to determine a suitable length
  3. Presentation: Give a formal, public presentation of his or her research in the spring semester in which the thesis is completed. The entire Georgetown community is invited to this event
  4. GPA: Earn a cumulative grade point average of 3.5 and a grade point average of 3.67 in the major by the date of graduation

Frequently Asked Questions


Students who elect this major often pursue careers in teaching, journalism, banking, law, consulting, intelligence, and government.



All GU-Q students, regardless of their major, take a number of free electives that allow students to explore courses and issues that interest them but that do not directly relate to their specific major.



The CULP major focuses broadly on the factors that shape cultures (religion, gender, ethnicity, etc.) and how those factors affect relations between states, communities, and people. The IHIS major is similar in scope, but very specifically trains students to understand, analyze, and interpret the myriad factors affecting human and state relations from a historical perspective.


One cannot pursue Honors and a Certificate simultaneously, given the heavy workload. If the student insists on doing both, he or she MUST complete the Certificate thesis in the junior year. The deadline for submitting the certificate thesis in its approved form would be the first day of classes in the student’s senior year.