The History Department offers a large number of courses, taught by approximately sixty faculty, that cover all periods of recorded human history. The Barnard History Department offers its own set of courses, most of which are open to Columbia College and General Studies students. There are additional history courses and historians in related departments (Classics, Religion, MESAAS, EALAC, etc.).

Courses address the histories of the Ancient World, Europe, Middle East, Africa, East Asia, South Asia, Latin America, and the United States. Some courses cut across geographical boundaries to deal with transnational themes. Other courses focus on religious, intellectual, social, economic, legal, or political history, as well as historical theory and method.

There are two types of courses: lectures and seminars. Lectures, normally worth 4 points, generally meet twice a week for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Most lectures have required weekly discussion sections. Lectures range from the very large (over 300 students) to the very small (fewer than 15). Therefore, the nature of the classroom experience will vary. Most lecture courses require a midterm and a final examination; many require one or two short papers. 1000-level lectures are broad surveys of extended historical periods; 2000-level courses are more specialized lectures. Course numbers do not represent a sequence and most courses do not require prerequisites. However, students typically find it useful to move from general to more specialized courses.

Seminars, worth 4 points, are generally smaller; most are capped at 15 students. Seminars explore narrower topics more deeply through concentrated reading in the secondary literature on a topic, primary source research, or both. These classes meet once a week for 1 hour 50 minutes. Seminars normally do not have a midterm and a final examination, but rather require more written work and a substantial final paper. Only a few seminars have prerequisites, though students who have taken lecture courses in related fields will often find themselves better prepared to address the seminar's content.

In Fall 2016, the Department will be numbering all courses according to a new system:

  • UN 1xxx - Introductory Survey Lectures (undergraduate students only)
  • UN 2xxx - Lectures (undergraduate students only)
  • UN 3xxx - Seminars (undegraduate students only)
  • GU 4xxx - Seminars open jointly to undergraduate and graduate students
  • GR 5xxx - Courses open to MAO students only
  • GR 6xxx - Survey/Core/Introductory Courses (graduate students only)
  • GR 8xxx - Graduate Colloquia and Seminars (graduate students only)
  • GR 9xxx - Graduate Independent Study Courses (graduate students only)