History

Why History?

WHY HISTORY?

Dr. James Sefton
[Dr. Sefton has been teaching at Northridge since 1965]

Some years ago the Department offered a General Education course by that name.  It did not focus on a specific country or time period.  Instead, the course dealt with History as a discipline, and the intellectual, cultural, and political benefits achieved by studying it.

History is the record of human achievement, without limitation as to time and place.  We are products of our past.  And so History provides a resource to help us understand many questions about our past, and many issues about our present.  We cannot participate meaningfully in a debate about modern immigration policy without understanding how that issue developed over the last century.  We cannot understand issues of race without understanding the causes and results of the Civil War.  We cannot understand 2lst century foreign policy without understanding the progress and aftermath of World War II.

It is not necessary to major in History in order to profit from studying it.  While the study of History does provide useful and interesting factual information, the real benefits result from the intellectual process – the development of critical reading, writing, and speaking abilities.  How to find information, how to figure out what it means, and how to know what to do with it are all intellectual values that mark the university-educated person, and that strengthen the person’s contributions to society.

WHAT CAN I DO WITH A HISTORY MAJOR?

Frequent question.  Wrong question.  Your major is not the product of your university education.  You are.  No one hires your major.  They hire you.  So the question should be, what can I do with myself after college?

History is two kinds of a major – a stuff major and a skills major.  Some people teach, or become librarians, or architects, or curators, or tour guides, or people who write history for corporations or government agencies.  These are people who use the content of History in their daily working lives.

History is also a skills major.  Students learn to do research, locate and use on-line sources, identify questions and issues, assemble evidence and evaluate its sources and reliability, conduct interviews, and write clear reports and policy recommendations for public agencies.  History majors teach, go to law school, pursue a military career, become librarians and curators, become rangers and tour guides, or engage in any other employment that stresses the ability to read, write, think, and articulate clearly and effectively.

WHAT HAPPENS IN A HISTORY CLASS?

The University classifies most History courses as “lecture-discussion.”  This means that for part of the time, professors lecture on material that may or may not be related to your reading, and for part of the time, you are expected to be able to discuss assigned reading that you have already prepared.  Within those two broad categories there is a lot of individual variation.  Some professors show a lot of films.  Some assign oral reports.  Some have role-playing situations in which students adopt the personas of historical figures to discuss a particular issue.  Some have students work with original documents.  Some have oral history projects.  Some assign novels, others use the music of the period as cultural history.  The Department puts a heavy emphasis on the importance of good quality writing and provides continuous opportunity for students to improve their writing skills.