Dispelling Myths About The History Major

I just found this post on the website of the Boston University History Department.  It does an outstanding job of dispelling three myths about majoring in history.  They are:

1.  “History is boring”

2.  “I don’t want to teach so I shouldn’t major in history.”

3.  “History is just old-fashioned liberal arts.  I need ‘real world’ skills.  I should major in something ‘sensible’ even if it’s not what I’m really excited about.”

I encourage you to read the entire post.  Here is a taste;

major study, the Collegiate Learning Assessment, recently tested college students nationwide at the start of their freshman year and then again after two years of study to gauge how well they were learning.  It asked students to read a series of documents on a political or business problem and then write a memo about how to respond to it.  Liberal arts majors consistently outperformed their peers in business, communications, and other newer “practical” majors.

Studying liberal arts teaches you critical thinking as well as imagination, empathy, and resourcefulness.  It teaches you to research, evaluate evidence, communicate, and problem solve. Rather than train you narrowly for today’s job world (which will be obsolete twenty years from now), it teaches you how to learn for a lifetime. It teaches you not what to think (which will one day be outdated) but rather how to think.

History offers a particularly rigorous liberal arts education.  A new report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce shows that history majors earn higher median salaries than all other humanities majors and earn the same or more than those who majored in education, communications, or international relations. Twenty percent of those history graduates were employed in management positions.

Remember, companies want to hire smart, creative people and often value those with educational backgrounds that set them apart from the crowd.  At a recent Stanford University event, students asked the popular television host and bestselling author Rachel Maddow to name the kind of major she looks for in a successful job candidate.  Without hesitation, she endorsed study in the humanities.  “And really,” she added, “History is kind of the king.” “We need people who are good at explaining facts, who are good at editing, and who can visualize things in creative ways. We need good artists and we need good writers,” she explained.  Maddow attributed her own success to her education in the humanities, which taught her how to write and present an effective argument, and which brought a nuanced historical sensibility to her advocacy and activism.

Joining a program just because it seems pre-professional will not help you make the most of your intellectual potential. Law schools, medical schools, business schools, and graduate programs, like employers, are looking for applicants who graduated at the top of their classes with interesting things to say.  Study what you are passionate about, because your interest will be reflected in your grades and your work.

8 thoughts on “Dispelling Myths About The History Major

  1. Exactly.


    One Response to “Obligatory comment on this week’s outrage that broke the internets.”

    Perry Deess on 03 Feb 2015 at 11:15 am #

    As an experiment I tapped my own diverse network and posted contrary opinions on left leaning and right leaning pages. To the extent possible, I was equally contrarian on both types of sites.

    With an N of 40 for both left and right, 60% of the left leaning sites either politely asked me to stop posting or banned me outright. Strangely, none of the right leaning sites did.I got flamed and insulted by them but never banned and, remarkably, never asked to stop posting even when I tested fairly extreme left-wing or atheistic positions. As a dedicated Progressive who has run numerous political campaigns for Progressive candidates I found the results deeply disturbing.


  2. If you don't like what is said about your insipid comments and partisan attacks on things you have little knowledge of, then my suggestion is that you get a tougher skin. Barring that, maybe you should actually learn something instead of attacking it because you do not like it.

    Education has benefits. It is not the problem. The issue is that we have people who want to restrict education to an elite class and deny it to others. Other countries use a different educational model and pay for their citizen's education. It works.

    Also, you neglected to explore the issue about the lack of validity in the CLA's instrumentation.

    Finally, an old saying: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!


  3. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/nov/24/our-universities-why-are-they-failing/

    For the lucky ones. For the rest,

    Their results are sobering. The Collegiate Learning Assessment reveals that some 45 percent of students in the sample had made effectively no progress in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing in their first two years.

    Americans, as Malcolm Harris recently pointed out, now owe almost a trillion dollars in student loans, more than they owe in credit card debt. Student debt, he explained, “is an exceptionally punishing kind to have. Not only is it inescapable through bankruptcy, but student loans have no expiration date and collectors can garnish wages, social security payments, and even unemployment benefits.” The burden is distributed by the reverse of the Matthew principle: to him who hath not, no one gives anything. Poor students and students of color borrow more than white students.

    All this to pay for an education that—as we have already seen—means little, intellectually, to many of those who are courting debtors’ prison to pay for it.


Comments are closed.