Why Major in History?
As one of the core disciplines of the liberal arts, history provides a classic mode of learning that has been around for more than 2,000 years. By studying the past, history majors learn to think rigorously and creatively, analyze problems carefully and completely, interpret complex events, write with clarity and precision, and organize and assess evidence. In short, they learn to read, write, and think!
Second, history is interesting. It deals with real people and events. Studying history provides access to the whole world – and not just to the past, but to the present that grew out of the past. It offers unlimited variety for selecting topics and pursuing personal interests. Everything has a history: nations, wars, ethnic groups, sexuality, music, food, even postage stamps. History is also visible everywhere: at Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm; on television; in film; and in public debates (about school curriculum, about health care, even about the very principles upon which the United States was founded). One of the best reasons to major in history is because you enjoy it and can continue to enjoy it after you graduate. History combines the excitement of exploration and discovery with the sense of reward born of successfully confronting and making sense of complex and challenging problems.
Third, historical knowledge is important and historical ignorance is dangerous. As George Orwell famously wrote in 1984, “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” While it may not be true that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," as George Santayana observed, if we don't know where we’ve come from, we can't know who we are or where we should be going. There are numerous examples of historical ignorance or willful distortion of the past being closely linked to wars and catastrophic miscalculations. Ironically, studying history can also free us from its grip, which explains why many modern social movements demanding change – racial and ethnic minorities, women, gays and lesbians – have turned to history to find a usable past.
Finally, as a history major, you can go on to almost any career that you choose! Becoming a history major can lead you to a rewarding career in a number of different areas:
As a Teacher:
- Elementary schools
- Secondary schools
- Community colleges and universities
- Historic sites and museums
As a Researcher:
- Museums and historical organizations
- Librarians and Archivists
- Historic preservation
- Public Policy Think Tanks
As a writer / communicator:
- Documentary editor
- Producer of multimedia content
- Information manager
As an Advocate:
- Lawyer or paralegal
- Legislative staff work
- Diplomatic and Civil Service
- Policy Analysis
- Urban planning and Historic Preservation
Employers – whether in business, government, education, or any other field – are desperate for employees who can read carefully, write clearly, think logically, learn independently, and analyze an array of problems against a broad background of information and experience. They in turn will provide training in particular job specific skills, whether in law, finance, sales, foreign service, journalism, or marketing. Moreover, in our modern economy, individuals may need to learn half a dozen different jobs in their lifetime, putting a premium on those people who possess critical thinking skills and can process and analyze information. This global economy will increasingly reward those who have the general skills of literacy and analysis over training in particular job categories.
See also three excellent essays on the subject: