Departmental Distinction Fall 2018

History Department – Distinction Guidelines

(New for 2018)

Note: history majors graduating in the class of 2019 may opt to apply for Distinction following the old system. For details on that process, please follow History Departmental Distinction Guidelines prior to Fall 2018.


I.  History Department Policy on Departmental Distinction

History awards distinction on a yearly basis to senior majors who meet the criteria listed below.  The guidelines for distinction reflect the desire of History to promote scholarly excellence, provide students with an opportunity to reflect critically upon their work, and to summarize their experience as students of history.  In so doing, the Department seeks to promote the skills upon which our discipline is founded: textual analysis, critical thinking, and written expression.  History’s Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) aptly summarize those skills:

  1. knowledge of content: The ability to identify and recall important historical events, turning points, and large scale social, political, and cultural transformations that comprise the historical narrative(s) of at least one geographical region.
  2. the ability to analyze primary sources in context.
  3. the ability to identify, compare, and evaluate differing historiographical traditions and the contested nature of historical interpretation.
  4. the ability to employ research methods specific to the discipline of history.
  5. the ability to compose a historical argument in writing, according to the conventions of the discipline.

Departmental distinction will be awarded on the basis of:

1)    the candidate’s overall academic record (at the College and within the major), and

2)   a portfolio submitted by the candidate in his or her senior year.


II.  Procedures

     A.  Eligibility

To be eligible to be a candidate for departmental distinction, a student must have completed a minimum of six graded courses in the major taught by St. Olaf College faculty. The GPA of all graded courses in the major taught by St. Olaf faculty must be 3.7 or above. Only courses taught by St. Olaf faculty count in this calculation.  Students must also carry an overall GPA of 3.5 or above to be eligible.

     B.  Path to Distinction

     Step 1: In the second week of the spring term, the department will invite all senior majors with a GPA of 3.7 or above in the History major (as determined by the above criteria) to apply to be candidates for distinction.

     Step 2: Qualified students who wish to be considered for distinction will complete the Distinction Application 2018-19, and select a faculty Distinction Advisor from within the department who will oversee the submission process. Typically, the Distinction Advisor will be a professor who has served as an instructor for one or more courses and mentored at least one of the papers submitted in the portfolio.

     Step 3: Students will submit a portfolio representative of their very best work in the History major.  The portfolio shall consist of

  • Two papers written for two different history courses. At least one paper shall be of a total length of approximately 4,000 words that engages historiography and employs primary sources – typical of those written for a level-3 seminar. The second paper may be shorter, but should also adhere to standards of writing and analysis appropriate to the discipline of history.  In some circumstances, a student might include in the portfolio work for which History credit is earned but which was not taught in a History course at St. Olaf (for example, work completed while studying abroad, a paper from an American Conversations course, etc).  The candidate should discuss the appropriateness of such choices with the Distinction Advisor.
  • In lieu of the second shorter paper, students may submit digital, audio, or visual work that is commensurate with the craft of history. These include, but are not limited to, documentaries, podcasts, web pages, or museum displays.
  • A Distinction Essay of 1800-2200 words (include word count and page numbers). For the essay, respond to the following prompt: How did the two papers/projects submitted for this portfolio promote the development of your skills as a historian? Relate to at least two of the ILOs mentioned above and include specific examples derived from both papers/project.  For written projects, consider also discussing the methods you employed and reasons why. For digital, audio, or visual projects, why did you choose that medium and how does it accomplish something different from a traditional history paper? Additionally, if given unlimited time and resources, in what manner would you revise or expand either of the two papers/project?
     C.  Evaluation

Distinction portfolios will be evaluated by all History faculty members.  Distinction will be awarded by majority vote.

III.   Timetable

Fall Semester: The Department will inform majors of the criteria, procedures, and timetable pertaining to departmental distinction.

Friday, February 15, 2019 Students who have met the eligibility requirements will be invited to submit a portfolio for distinction.

Friday, March 1, 2019: Candidates for distinction must have met or corresponded with the department chair by this date with an outline of the portfolio’s contents.

Monday, April 8, 2019, 3:00 pm: By this date a copy of the completed portfolio must be uploaded to a team drive folder on Google Drive.

Monday, April 29, 2019: The History Department faculty discusses all submissions and votes to award distinction.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019: Candidates who are recommended for distinction are notified by this date, and the Department forwards its recommendations to the Registrar’s Office.


Early submission option: Students who are planning to graduate in December are welcome to consult with the department chair about the possibility of early submission of a distinction portfolio. Students interested in this option should consult the chair no later than September of their senior year.

See St. Olaf College Statement on Distinction.