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Why More People Should Major in History



I get a lot of questions about what I plan on doing with my history PhD and what can be done with a history degree more generally. I am surprised how undervalued history degrees are. Despite what you might think, history isn't about memorizing dates and names. History teaches you how to read effectively, think critically, write, research, and analyze and interpret data. All very useful skill sets in a wide variety of fields.

While it is true that becoming a tenure-track professor in the current market is a next-to-impossible goal, this doesn't mean that history degrees are not valuable. I think we have to move beyond the mindset that employers are looking for specific degrees. While specific degrees are required for some careers, more often then not, employers are looking for certain skill sets.

I constantly hear from my friends and family in corporate settings and technological industries that their biggest issue with hiring employees is finding someone who can read and write. It seems so simple, but with higher education's current emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and technical training, I think we are not giving students the reading comprehension and writing skills they need to succeed in any field/life.

I realize history isn't for everyone, but if you do enjoy history, I encourage you not to dismiss it (or the humanities more generally) because it is perceived as being useless or not leading to a specific career. Both couldn't be further from the truth. History degrees are wonderful for preparing students for law school, government employment, and museum work. And the skills acquired from a history degree will teach you how to adapt ideas, explain & interpret events and ideas, summarize information, compare and compile reports, developed world views and understand interrelatedness, offer new perspectives, develop new agendas for old problems, problem solve in general, present information using written and spoken media, and the biggest one, write effectively. I could go on and on, but all of these are essential skills almost every employer is looking for.

So before you dismiss history, think about taking a course, minoring, or even majoring in history. You might be surprised just how useful it is. And on a final note, I leave you with this amazing poster from the University of Utah's Humanities Department:


If you are thinking of applying to grad school for history, you can read my tips for applying here. And if you want more history, here are the five history books that have had the greatest impact on me as a historian.

Buon Weekend!

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Ashley B
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10 comments:

  1. I absolutely love this post, and I couldn't agree more with your ideas on our STEM-focused society. Being a high schooler, I'm made very aware of which degrees are "good" and which are not; unfortunately, the only degrees that make the "good" cut are ones in fields like engineering and physics. Hope that idea changes soon!

    Tori A. from Prep For A Day

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  2. I'm a history major and love every minute of it. Granted I haven't gone the route you have and gotten my PhD in it (although I have been reading your blog for about a year now and am super jealous that you have been able to do some amazing things with said history degree!) I love being a history teacher. I teach 8th grade US History and it pains me how often my students say, "Why does this matter" "History is so boring". I adore and am thinking about getting my Masters in History too. This is a great post and explains why a history degree isn't a waste. So thanks! :)

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  3. Preach it! I'm headed for a one-year Master's in Western Literature, and then *fingers crossed* a one-year Master in Ancient History, both in Europe. Friends and family keep asking what I'll "do" with the degrees afterwards. To which I respond "Be a well rounded human being!"

    (Also, I need that poster in my life!)

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  4. I found that your post really resonated with me. In less than a month I will graduate with my bachelors degree with double major of History and Classical Studies, and I am currently working on my honours degree in Classical Studies, with hopes to continue to a Masters next year ... it's rather disheartening when people (especially family and friends) feel the need to undermine my course of study. Education is about so much more than having a strict career path; education ought to open multiple doors, not leave you with only one exit!

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  5. I completed a major in Science and Technology Studies during my BA, which is a very humanitarian study of the STEM field and included a lot of history of science. I completely agree with you that history is important and produces well rounded people who are much better qualified for positions that involve tasks like reading and writing and using critical thinking skills. I do think it's important not to completely dismiss STEM studies however, as our world is very much driven by those industries in this day and age. What we really need is an overhaul of our current education systems because thinking about the arts and STEM as two completely different and distinct streams is not working (not to mention that it's a relatively recent idea in human history).

    I was always asked what I was going to do with my degree, when friends of mine in the STEM field were rarely asked the same question. I'm currently completing a Museum Studies program with the hopes of working within a science museum to help promote the idea that science isn't an identity separate from the arts. While I am completing further studies to increase my chances of being employable with my educational background, all of my friends with science degrees have also had to complete additional schooling to get jobs.

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    1. I love this! My fiance works with the Department of Marine Fisheries and received a very science heavy degree...but integrates this with the arts and humanities to make it relate-able to a more general public (like with your goals of a science museum!) The both of us together make a great team, and we try to tell people that you can't have one without the other. Good luck in your program!! :)

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  6. Absolutely loved this! I'm just preparing to start a PhD in medieval history. It's really sad how many people are enthusiastic about medieval history in books and on TV but think that studying it 'isn't useful' compared to business or marketing, which is what a lot of my friends went into. It's funny how much of our culture is focused on history, directly or indirectly, yet people are still dismissive of the academic discipline.

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  7. Fantastic post, and I couldn't agree more!
    I'm finishing up my Masters in Public History, of which so many people have questions about because it is a fairly new sub-field of history! But with my degree, and the skills learned from my BA in history, I have such a range of opportunities to choose from. My fiance is a Marine Biology masters student, but deals with public relations and policy. He is interested in history and dabbled in some classes (at my prodding!) and always says that the skills he learned there help him in his field as well.
    Thanks for helping to get the message across that history should not be discounted so quickly!

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  8. I got my master's degree in US History from USF a few years ago (I think our paths might have crossed once or twice!). Now I'm an executive secretary at a mortuary. Dr. Berglund said that there are no non-academic jobs, only post-academic jobs and I repeat that e at ever interview or review. My degree taught me so many great skills, I do not regret it for a minute.

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  9. As an architectural historian (history + cool old buildings = good times!), I was so delighted to stumble across your blog!

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