History / social science ("a")

Two units (equivalent to two years or four semesters) of history / social science required, including:

  • One year of world history, cultures and historical geography, and
  • One year of U.S. history, or one-half year of U.S history and one-half year of civics or American government.

Goals of the requirement

The goal of the history / social science requirement is to ensure that students arrive at UC ready to undertake college-level study in history. Historical thinking distinguishes itself from other modes of thought in that it sees the objects of its analysis as situated in a particular time and place, and as having emerged from a particular nexus of developments. This approach to the world should be introduced to students through the history / social science requirement. Thus, more important than content coverage is the set of attitudes and habits of mind that foster historical literacy.

The “a” subject requirement therefore seeks to give students a repertoire of historical concepts and skills through exploration of particular historical and geographical periods, and through the repeated engagement with historical practices. These competencies, which may not be weighted equally in a given course, are:

  1. An understanding of the significance of time and place as variables in shaping culture, politics and social arrangements.
  2. Comprehending and evaluating a wide range of historical evidence across a variety of cultures and time periods, and constructing narratives and arguments based on that evidence. This includes understanding not only that all evidence is partial, but also that different and even conflicting perspectives do not necessarily invalidate each other.
  3. Offering multiple explanations of causality − social, political, economic and environmental −  as well as the shifting relationship between determinism and contingency.
  4. Knowledge of a variety of social, economic and political practices across time and space, including the building blocks of different societies, the distribution of resources within societies and the variety of political systems.
  5. Being aware of the contingent nature of our knowledge of the past, as it is shaped by the vagaries of evidence survival and changes in interpretation.
  6. Communicating historical knowledge in oral and written formats.

Course criteria & guidance

All history / social science (“a”) courses will expose students to primary sources and secondary literature, and promote critical thinking and questioning regarding historical events and perspectives. The guidelines cover both the skills expected in all courses and the content requirements for different types of courses.

Skills guidelines

Because the “a” subject requirement seeks to ensure that students have a repertoire of skills for historical analysis, courses that fulfill this standard will require students to do all of the following (though the balance may vary from course to course):

Research and inquiry
  1. Formulate research questions, which can provide the basis for productive investigation.
  2. Develop library skills, including use of online databases and other research tools.
  3. Examine the nature of evidence and the ways in which evidence is created, identified, curated and accepted or rejected.
  4. Undertake a research project so that students learn fundamental elements of historical practice, namely: formulating a question they wish to answer, identifying primary and secondary historical sources, analyzing those sources, and using them to create a narrative and an analytical argument. These projects may vary in depth and extent as students build skills for research over the high school years.
  1. Evaluate the quality of information in the primary and secondary sources they have identified.
  2. Compare and contrast different perspectives on particular events, based, for example, on status, location, time period or national context.
  3. Explore multiple causal explanations of events and changes in ideas, societies or cultures.
    1. Engage in writing exercises of different lengths, including at least one longer (depending on grade level, 1,000- to 2,000-word) writing project. These exercises may also include visual or web-based presentations of evidence.
    2. Develop confidence in oral presentation through regular practice.

Content guidelines

Courses meeting the “a” subject requirement will do at least three of the following, in varying degrees of depth:

  1. Examine how and why societies change and the different ways (economic, political, cultural, social) we can explain those changes, including the relationship between contingency and determinism.
  2. Explore the building blocks of different societies (for example: family, tribe, caste, class, religion, citizenship, ethnicity) and what cultural norms shape how these units relate to, and interact with, each other.
  3. Examine how societies obtain, produce and distribute the resources and services they need to continue to exist.
  4. Identify the defining features of different political systems by answering such questions as: Where does political power originate and how is it exercised? How do political practices and institutions relate to other aspects of historical development?
  5. Analyze the impact of environment—physical geography and climate—and environmental change on societies.
World history, cultures and historical geography
  • World history courses do not need to cover every culture or period in the history of humankind. A suitable course could be an in-depth study of a single culture over an extended period of time (at least three centuries), such as Chinese history from the Tang dynasty to the present, as long as other world cultures are regularly included as comparisons. Alternatively, several cultures might be studied and compared, as in a more traditional world history, cultures or historical geography course.
  • An important element of appropriate courses is that the focus be outside the United States and, whenever possible, away from contemporary cultures very similar to our own, e.g., England and Canada.
  • At least some time should be spent examining historical periods in the more distant past — before the 18th century.
  • May be a single yearlong course or two one-semester courses.
U.S. history
  • Courses will:
    • cover a substantial period of U.S. history (at least 200 years),
    • examine U.S. history in its wider international context, and
    • avoid examining particular groups isolated from the larger society of which they are a part.
  • U.S. history courses may have a particular emphasis, such as business and economy, ethnicity, immigration, gender and family, or science and technology. In this case courses should place that emphasis area in a broader context, either within U.S. history or in a comparative framework.
American government / civics
  • Focus may be on the U.S. federal government or U.S. politics.
  • Both yearlong and semester courses are acceptable.

Other options for satisfying the “a” subject requirement

UC-transferable college courses or satisfactory scores on SAT Subject, AP or IB exams can also be used to fulfill the history / social science subject requirement.