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Learn More about why to study History

Great! So I will learn a bit more about the Pilgrims. How will that help me in college and afterwards?

Successful completion of a history degree requires the development and refinement of important fundamental skills. Honestly, a potential employer may not care if you know who won the Battle of Gettysburg, but they will be impressed by the skill set you will acquire as a history major.  History majors take a variety of classes that usually require a major research paper and often oral presentations. Upper division classes involve not only the absorption of lots of information, students engage the material, question it, and interpret the historical record.

This means you learn how to research: how to ask a question about an event or idea and look for information that may shed some light on the matter. Research skills required of a history major involve not just knowing how to use an archive or a database, but what sources of information may prove useful in answering your question, whether government records, sales reports, or the classifieds in a daily newspaper. You practice asking questions, parsing out subtle issues, finding hidden meaning, spotting patterns, causes, and effects. You develop skill at assessing relevance, materiality, and the meaning of evidence—and reading between the lines. You will come to realize that history is told not only by great events, but by the commonplace. Indeed, the historian knows how to look at the everyday with a discerning eye in looking to understand the past, as well as the present.

After researching a question, next comes interpretation and analysis. What sort of answer is indicated by your research? How may the answer vary when the evidence is seen from different perspectives or angles? Are there any potential objections to your conclusions and what response might you offer?  Did you overlook something? Studying history trains you to think critically and creatively, to delve deeply into the facts, and to craft well-supported arguments and conclusions, skills that apply to many tasks in everyday life.

Along with learning how to research and analyze, you hone your organizational and writing skills. Gathering information and interpreting it are only part of the skills you will hone as a history student. A conclusion means little if you cannot present it clearly and effectively.  The history major thus gains essential training and experience in organizing and writing a formal paper that is logical, clear in its presentation, and cogently sets out your conclusion and its evidentiary foundation. In other words, you learn how to persuade!

In sum, history majors come away with more than increased knowledge of a particular area of history; they understand the importance of critical thinking and clear communication. They gain exposure to different ideas, cultures, beliefs, peoples, and understanding of the world that enable them to think creatively about the solution to a problem or an interpretation of a set of facts. They are better writers, advocates, and problem solvers. Essentially, the successful history major comes away with set of fundamental skills will serve them well in their other classes and in their careers.

What can I do with it? Can I do something other than teach?

While teaching is an important career contributing greatly to a productive and harmonious society, there are other career paths available. Many people are surprised at the extensive variety of careers open to the history graduate because of the skills instilled and sharpened by history classes. Creative and critical thinking, solid communication skills, and research ability are assets required in a number of occupations not traditionally associated with an undergraduate history degree though that is exactly what you come away with after college. Thanks to these fundamental skills, history graduates are as prepared to go to law school or business school as any other. Moreover, career options include, as well, jobs in public service, journalism, publishing and writing, archival management, ministry, historic preservation as well as traditional teaching positions.  Increasingly medical schools are admitting more students who are not only pre-med but who also have a strong background in history because of the research and writing skills. 

 Look at the evidence! Business is well represented by the undergraduate history major. Lee Iaccoca and Martha Stewart are but two examples of history majors succeeding in the business world.  Indeed, history students are sought out by companies. A recent survey conducted by Vanderbilt University of its history graduates found that over fifty percent had jobs in either finance or law. Business schools value the training history majors receive.  Corporations find those trained in the liberal arts, such as history students, attractive recruits. Almost a quarter of the University of New Hampshire’s history graduates are employed by corporations, because history teaches you how to think, and to think in creative, non-linear ways that do not limit you to dogmatic responses.[1]

History majors find success in other areas as well: A number of presidents were history majors: Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and Woodrow Wilson to name a few. Other major figures in government, such as U.S. Senator George Mitchell and the late Senator George McGovern, received undergraduate degrees in History. Noted journalists with history degrees include Charles Kuralt and Wolf Blitzer of CNN . Rhodes Scholar and MSNBC television host Rachel Maddow described the type of job candidate she looks for in hiring staff for her show.  Maddow prefers people who have an education in the humanities including history. For Maddow, “History is kind of the king” because those candidates have learned to craft and persuasively present arguments, skills she learned in her college history and philosophy classes.[2]

And while you are at it, take a look at this:

http://www.aacu.org/leap/documents/2013_EmployerSurvey.pdf

The Bottom Line

If you enjoy exploring the past, understanding the present, and looking to the future, history is for you. If you want to learn to think outside of the box, to think creatively and critically, history is for you. If you want to persuade and to communicate clearly, history is for you. If you want your education to be well-rounded and not simply highly specialized, history is for you. If you want open doors to a diverse array of meaningful and relevant careers, history is for you.



[1] www.vanderbilt.edu/historydept/job.html (accessed April 2, 2013); www. Fordham.edu/academics/programs_at_fordham/history_department/undergraduate/opportunities/history_major_the_i_30796.asp (accessed April 2, 2013); http://cas.bethel.edu/dept/history/famous_majors (accessed April 2, 2013)

[2] http://cas.bethel.edu/dept/history/famous_majors; http:// news. Stanford.edu/news/2013/march/Rachel-maddow-speech-031913.html (accessed April 4, 2013)

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