Academics Blog

Archive for the Category History



Name: Maura Kanter

Year: Class of 2017

Majors: History, Theatre Studies minor

Hometown: San Diego, CA

As a History Major here at Hopkins, I am part of a fairly tight-knit community. As a Medievalist, that community narrows even more. I focus on 12th century England and France and occasionally branch out to the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period, but only when I’m feeling daring. My interest in history stems from my mildly unhealthy obsession with Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was a 12th century monarchial figure who continues to blow my mind. The more research I am able to do on her, the more I realize how incredibly badass she was. She was born in 1122 in Aquitaine, France and succeeded her father, Duke William X of Aquitaine as the sole heir to arguably the most important duchy in Europe. She married two kings, one Louis VII of France, and the second, Henry of Anjou (Henry II of England); and remains, to this day, the only person to be a monarch of both England and France. Her life continues to inspire me and motivate me to be a better historian and a better woman. But, my life does not entirely revolve around her – I am writing my sophomore thesis on Lady Macbeth. I’m choosing to examine her as an atypical eleventh century Scottish noblewoman and look at the way in which Shakespeare frames the decidedly early modern characters around her. Though not all of this, or really any of this, may interest someone besides myself, I think this kind of passion is very characteristic of a Hopkins student. We are constantly fascinated by the unknown, and perpetually intrigued by the possibility of discovery.

I am also a Theater Studies minor. When I’m not exploring the past, I am constantly finding new characters and analyzing them. I love getting new scenes and the subsequent memorization process. The best part comes after the scene has thoroughly invaded your psyche. That is when you can truly explore the character, their objectives and motivations. Sanford Meisner tells us, “Acting is behaving truthfully using imaginary circumstances.” The struggle to keep a character, a scene, truthful is constant. The only way to truly lose yourself in the character and forget your surroundings and adjust to theirs is to have so internalized the role – the lines, the blocking, etc. – so that the scene is not forced or artificial. They take over and the lines between where you and the character are begin to blend. When that can happen, and believe me it does not happen all the time, the magic of live theater can be felt.

Though to some my areas of study may seem disparate, they are interrelated on one integral point. They are both a form of character study. I love to see what makes people tick, why someone does what they do, what motivates a person to act in a specific way. History is a study of those departed, and theater is a study of those who do not exist outside the realm of the stage. Both can be somewhat hard to make tangible, but I like the challenge. I relish in the opportunity to try to decipher why Eleanor of Aquitaine went on Crusade with her first husband, just as much as I love trying to portray a complicated character like Martha from Edward Albee’s Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Click here to access more information about the History Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the History questions thread.



Name: Tess Thomas

Year: Class of 2014

Majors: History

Hometown: Ridgewood, NJ

Ever since I decided to pursue a degree in history, I have suffered my fair share of insults from narrow-minded friends and acquaintances who don’t understand the merits of studying such a rewarding subject. I’m subjected to jokes like if you’re looking for a history major, the best place to look is on the unemployment line. Prospective students I meet through my work at the Johns Hopkins Admission office are often eager to discuss the specifics of pre-med requirements and seem crestfallen to discover I’ve never set foot in a lab and that the only science class I’ve taken at JHU is “Oceans and Atmospheres.” So after three years of being a part of the fabulous history department at JHU and the wonderfully vibrant humanities community, I have officially had enough, and am writing this piece to assert the supremacy of history as a subject of study (not that I’m biased or anything).

One of my favorite aspects of the history program is the flexibility with my schedule. I have taken history classes in a wide variety of subjects and periods, including the Rise of Early Modern Japan, Ancient Egyptian Civilizations, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, the Victorians, the United States since 1929, 20th Century China and Conflict and Co-existence: Early Modern Mediterranean. As you can see I’ve had the opportunity to really expand my global history horizons!


But the other great thing about the program is that you can study other subjects too. A course load with five history classes is pretty much impossible when you get upwards of a hundred pages of reading per week per class, so I’ve balanced my schedule with other great classes like Intro to Sociology, 19th Century Bestsellers, Oceans and Atmospheres, Intro to Film and the Archaeology of Ancient Greece. Being able to take other subjects has been a really enriching part of my Hopkins education, and I’m so lucky my departmental requirements are so flexible.


Another great aspect of the program is how it prepares you to write your senior honors thesis if/when the time comes. One of the major requirements is a class taken your sophomore year called the “Undergraduate Seminar in History.” This full-year course is designed to teach history majors how to write a research paper of publishable quality. The entire second half of the class is devoted to personal research, concluding in a thirty-page thesis. The awesome part about this is that it teaches you how to follow through with a yearlong research project, and acts as kind of a baby step towards your senior thesis. Now that I’m a senior and researching for my thesis, which is actually a continuation of my sophomore paper and is studying the ways in which the 1948 London Olympics directly built and consciously diverged from the foundations built by the 1908 London Games. I wouldn’t feel this prepared writing/researching my thesis without the guidance I received from my Undergraduate Seminar.


One of the major flaws people tend to find with history, or really any subject in the humanities is that they don’t lead directly to one career path. Pre-med, business, engineering, the logical career step is set the moment you choose the major. Sure, many people do deviate from this “expected” employment path, but it’s always there as an option. For history, this is not the case. There is no typical path for someone with a history degree, and some can view that prospect as being quite scary. I prefer to think of it as having a world of opportunities.

In studying this subject, I have not closed any doors for myself (except perhaps the door to being a doctor, but let’s face it, that door closed on itself when I chose to draw cats instead of molecules on the AP Chem exam). I have had three whole years to pursue my academic interests, while at the same time discovering what interests me in a professional setting through extra curricular activities, on campus jobs and internships. College is the time for academic exploration, not professional training. Presenting myself as a history major has allowed me internships at Teen Vogue, an academic publishing house in London and Penguin USA.


Another question often asked from the history-haters is how will what I’m studying help me in my post-graduate life? This is true. I don’t need to know how the Venetians interacted with the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. I won’t ever be at a job interview and be asked to list defining features of Japan’s Tokugawa period. Real life doesn’t require an intimate knowledge of the differences between the 1908 and 1948 Olympics (the subject of my senior honors thesis). But real life does require you to articulate your ideas in a clear and concise manner, a skill I now possess from hundreds of marked up research papers telling me to get to the “so what” of my argument. Interviewers look for an ability to follow through on long-term projects, which having written a sophomore and now a senior thesis I feel well equip to handle. The time management required to sift through hundreds of pages of readings a week will surely help me when I enter the work force. So while the content of my classes is not necessary for my future profession, the experiences, habits and skills I have developed from my rigorous Hopkins studies are.

In conclusion, I can’t say enough positive things about the history major here at Johns Hopkins. The program has guided me into the student who sits before you today, and the senior who is prepared and excited to enter the real world.

Check out some other blogs I’ve written on my life as a Hopkins History Major here:

Click here to access more information about the History Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the History questions thread.



Name: Eden Ahrens

Year: Class of 2010

Hometown: Chadds Ford, PA

Major: History


Whenever I tell people where I attend college, they immediately and invariably ask the same question, “So you want to be a doctor?” What these people don’t know (but has thankfully begun to spread) is that Hopkins has world-renowned programs in many fields other than medicine. I, for example, have studied history (with a concentration in the history of the United States) for three years.

I first knew that I wanted to study history in college during my senior year of high school while I was taking an AP United States History class. Never before had I felt so connected to the material that I was being taught. I was excited every day that I took that class and found myself wanting to learn more. This connection to history has stayed with me throughout my time at Hopkins, and I think I’m very lucky to so enjoy my major.

One of my favorite things about the history department at Hopkins is the flexibility inherent in the program. Unlike nearly every other school, the Hopkins history department specifically requires Image004 only one course, the Undergraduate Seminar in History (a year long seminar where students write an article length paper about any topic they choose). Aside from that, students are required to take 8 other history courses – whatever classes in the department that interest you. During my time here, I’ve enrolled in several very interesting classes. One, “Civil War to Katrina: Reconstructing New Orleans”, described the history of New Orleans and allowed students to write a final research paper on any topic they wanted that was related to the city (I chose the history of voodoo). The choices are many and pertain to a wide array of historical interests, including European history, East Asian history, American history, African history, Caribbean history, etc.

Another important feature of the history program here is the opportunities that it provides to Image002students. My favorite Hopkins experience so far has most definitely been the month-long study abroad program in Egypt that I took during the winter of my sophomore year. Dr. Betsy Bryan, a professor in the Near Eastern Studies department, organized the program and selected twenty students to travel with her throughout the country, from Alexandria in the North to Aswan in the South. The experience was truly life changing. Because of Dr. Bryan’s long-standing relationship with the Egyptian government (most notably Dr. Zahi Hawass), our group was allowed to enter many closed monuments and tombs as well as tour closed archaelogical sites. I will never forget climbing the steps of the Great Pyramid or standing an arms length away from the sphinx (none of which the general public is allowed to do without paying a hefty sum).

In short, Hopkins has given me more than I could have ever asked. I have been welcomed into a community of diverse but intelligent and motivated students. Within this wider group I have come to find a family in my department, a group of students and professors who are guided by a similar passion. Finally, Hopkins has exposed me to a group of friends that I will cherish for the rest of my life – those who are both interesting and unique, all of whom are involved in many different activities and worthwhile causes.


Click here to access more information about the History Undergraduate Program of Study.

To further your exploration of this academic program and ask any question you may have of current students, be sure to visit the Hopkins Forums’ Academics: The Insider Perspective and the History questions thread.