Why Study History?
Has history always seemed boring or irrelevant to you? Unfortunately, many students assume that studying history is about little more than memorizing names, dates, and facts. But the study of history is not just about what happened in the past. It's about why things happened in the past. It's about how we got to the present. And it's about where we are going in the future. Attempting to answer these questions is not always an easy task, but it is a fascinating one that can take you down a number of paths. College-level history will encourage you to explore new questions and connections, and think differently about the world in which we are all living.
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What can you do with a history degree?
The key to remember is that if you study history that does not automatically mean you are only prepared to become a professional historian or teacher. Far from it! Studying history (whether as a major, a minor, or as something you are interested in) teaches students a number of important transferable skills that are extremely useful for today's world. These include research and reasoning, writing, and critical thinking. In history classes, students are exposed to a wide array of historical questions to try to answer. You will be challenged to seek out relevant sources, assess these sources, contextualize them, and make an argument based on the evidence presented in those sources. You will learn how to convince others that your interpretation has value and merit. You will also, crucially, learn how to articulate your argument through writing as an effective communication tool. In other words, you learn how to acquire and assess information, contextualize it, organize it, and present it to a wider audience. These are extraordinarily useful skills that an increasing number of professions require, including technology, medicine, public policy, law, communications, and business. In addition, having the experience of writing papers based on original research can help you stand out when applying for jobs and professional schools.
Another important thing you learn when studying history is that the past and present are filled with ambiguities. There are rarely easy and quick answers to big social, political, or economic questions, and learning how to think historically will help you better understand these uncertainties and how to deal with them. In history classes, you learn how to articulate that uncertainty and propose possible interpretations and solutions to big problems. These are skills absolutely essential for today's interconnected global economy.
There is also an important argument to be made for the value of historical study in and of itself. Yes, you learn a number of practical skills studying history, but you also are doing something inherently important. When you learn to think historically, you have a better understanding of human societies and why they work the way they do. Knowledge of history, and understanding the complexities of why things happened the way they did, helps our society function.
What are you waiting for? Sign up for a history class today!
For further reading:
Los Angeles Times Op-Ed: "History isn't a 'useless' major. It teaches critical thinking, something America needs plenty more of," by James Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Association: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-grossman-history-major-in-decline-20160525-snap-story.html
On civic engagement and the humanities and social sciences: https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/05/31/campus-voting-behavior-varies-widely-across-college-majors-regions
On history and the liberal arts and their usefulness in the tech industry: http://blogs.wsj.com/experts/2016/06/01/why-i-was-wrong-about-liberal-arts-majors/