Why Major in History?
What perspectives, insights, and skills will you learn as a history major? How will these perspectives, insights, and skills inform your life? What, practically speaking, can you do with a history degree? Is the study of history translatable to the job market?
These are important questions, with many possible answers. Below are a few articles that discuss how historical knowledge and historical thinking are translatable to realms of experience far beyond the classroom--from the job market to the exercise of citizenship. You can also read about current students' experiences as history majors, and why they chose this major, on our student blog.
"History: The King of Majors," by Rachel Maddow
In a recent address to students at her alma mater, Stanford, the MSNBC television host insists that an education in the humanities is a crucial asset in today's job market, illustrating with her own story how the ability to make good arguments and write well powered her career in advocacy, activism and the national media.
"Recalling What We Do: Some Habits of Mind Historians Keep Hidden,” by Kenneth Pomeranz
“When asked why history is important, we often focus on background knowledge: Students should know why privacy is a particularly touchy issue for many Germans, why a nice-sounding phrase like “urban renewal” doesn’t make everybody happy, or why differences between Shi’a and Sunni Islam matter politically. And we often stress how history develops general skills that we share with other humanities and interpretive social sciences: close reading, critical thinking, communication skills, and so on. I endorse those claims, but also believe we sell ourselves short if we don’t give equal emphasis to skills and knowledge more particular to history….”
The author goes on to suggest how particular dimensions of historical thinking--from contextual reading, to the juxtaposition of different forms of evidence, to “thinking about time scales”-- constitute “immensely valuable ‘real world’ skills” that translate into many other pursuits.
“Why Study History?” by Peter Stearns
Why study history? The answer is because we virtually must, to gain access to the laboratory of human experience. When we study it reasonably well, and so acquire some usable habits of mind, as well as some basic data about the forces that affect our own lives, we emerge with relevant skills and an enhanced capacity for informed citizenship, critical thinking, and simple awareness…
“To Understand Science, Study History,” by Alejandra Dubcovsky
“Teaching history to students who plan to be doctors, scientists, or engineers forces them to lift their heads beyond the lab bench or the clipboard and realize the greater social, economic, and racial contexts in which their training plays out. It gives them a sensitivity that only the humanities can teach….”
“History for Dollars,” by David Brooks
The conservative NYT columnist offers a case for studying the humanities.
“Why Major in History?” by Katharine Brooks
A career counselor considers the traits of a successful history major and why employers might value those very traits.
"Habits of Mind," by Anthony Grafton and James Grossman
Why college students who do serious historical research become independent, analytical thinkers.
"Humanities offer marketability in a competitive world," by Matthew DeShaw
According to this Harvard College student, his humanities education will enable him to succeed in many areas.