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The History Section began as one of the first disciplines in the School of Humanities from its inception in 1970. The Section conducts two academic programmes, namely, the Bachelor of Arts (Honours) (History), and Master’s of Arts (Southeast Asian History). The former is a three and a half year (7-semester) full-time programme whereas the latter a mixed-mode Master’s caters to both full-time (two years/four semesters) and part-time (three years/six semesters) students. Primarily the B.A. (Hons.) caters to school-leavers while the mixed-mode M.A., in line with the university's commitment to life-long education accommodates working individuals who wish to further their studies to postgraduate level. Fresh graduates may choose to pursue either the mixed-mode or a full research M.A. Postgraduate degrees through research such as the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Master’s of Arts (M.A.) are conducted under the supervision of an academic member of staff of the Section whereby candidates undertake research and fieldwork in libraries, archives, and other repositories including tapping into oral source materials to produce a thesis for examination. Both research-mode higher degrees cater to full-time or part-time study.

The undergraduate (B.A.) programme focuses on Malaysian and Southeast Asian history allowing students to examine, evaluate, and reflect on historical developments from the first millennium to the latter part of the twentieth century. In-depth knowledge on the historical past of Malaysia is emphasized to enable students’ comprehension, appreciation, and cognizance of the past vis-à-vis the contemporary situation. Local history and national history are given equal attention, likewise the contextualization of Malaysia within the Southeast Asia region. At the same time it is imperative that students be exposed to the history of the wider Asian context hence courses on South Asia, East Asia, and West Asia are conducted. Modern European history from the French Revolution (1789) to the Second World War (1941-5) complements themes such as Western imperialism and colonialism in Asia, Southeast Asia, and Malaysia.

Undergraduates, particularly those who majored in History, are introduced to theories and methods in history as an academic discipline. Students are exposed to the historian’s craft in theory as well as in practice. A course that initiates students to various types of archival documents in Malaysian history expects in a follow-up course for students themselves under the guidance of a lecturer as supervisor undertake research that utilizes primary source materials in local archives that finally leads to the writing and submission of a thesis for evaluation. Those with aspirations to pursue studies at the postgraduate level (M.A., PhD) could opt to work on a one-year/two-semester Academic Exercise with supervision of a member of the Section. The thesis produced for this Academic Exercise could be the foundation for a future higher degree.

The M.A. (Southeast Asian History) as implied by the parentheses focuses on the history of the Southeast Asian region and is complemented by Malaysian and Asian history. Candidates must complete and clear numerous courses that serve as a prerequisite to their commencement of a dissertation under a supervisor. Similar to research-mode higher degrees, mixed-mode M.A. students face a viva voce that ultimately determines their attainment of this higher degree.

The main niche areas of members of the Section range from Asian history to the history of the Western world. Areas of research tend to focus on Malaysia and Southeast Asia; however there are section members who specialise in East and West Asian history. Several section members actively conduct research in political, diplomatic, social, economic, and socio-cultural history. War studies, the history of medicine, ethnic relations, women’s history, labour history, philosophy of history, and historiography are other areas of interest. Section members have published in national, regional, and international journals such as Kajian Malaysia, Sarawak Museum Journal, Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Modern Asian Studies, and book publishers such as Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, Penerbit USM, Penerbit UKM, Oxford, ABC-Clio, Routledge, Ohio, Scarecrow. Section members have also been recipients of international grants (Toyota Foundation, Sumitomo Foundation, etc.), and held fellowships at various institutions (Australian War Memorial, International Institute of Asian Studies, Netherlands Institute for War Documentation, and others).

An appointed Programme Chairperson oversees the day-to-day running of the History Section. Nonetheless decisions are made based on consensus and collective responsibility is practised. The number of academic staff presently stands at the 11 that have been constant for the last decade. Staff renewal is through the university’s various schemes such as the assisted staff training scheme (ASTS), and academic staff higher education scheme (ASHES).

Prepared by Professor Ooi Keat Gin, Programme Chairperson, History Section, June 2012