Christopher Brooks’s piece in the February 2015 Perspectives on History is one of the best things I have read on the old “So What Can You Do With a History Major?” question as it relates to business. Brooks teaches history at East Stroudsburg University in Pennsylvania and he has also worked in the corporate world. Here is a taste of his essay:
What most young historians lack are accounting and statistics course work and experience and exposure to advanced software functions. These are the keys to the entry level in many businesses, which is why we must encourage students to enroll in at least a general course in statistics and perhaps a general accounting course, to master Excel, and to take internships that broaden their perspectives. A minor in business could also fill the void.
A 2011 study showed that 16 percent of social science majors end up working in the finance sector, and many more work in areas providing professional services (e.g., accountancy, appraisal, business consultancy, development management, underwriting, public relations, recruiting, and translation). Even more surprising is that 40 percent of graduates with an American history undergraduate degree end up working in management or sales. For general history BAs, the number was 29 percent for the same sectors.
Given these facts, faculty members must work to convey the connection between business, other practical areas, and the academic sphere. Most history students who ended up working in business had to connect the dots for themselves, probably with some frustration, and we could mitigate that by helping them along throughout their college careers. We must take the time to make these connections clearer to our students, even if doing so digs into our research time. Why? There is no academy without students. If we don’t address their practical needs, they could fall prey to the danger of the narrowing of their academic curriculum, often due to the demands of misinformed (though well-intentioned) parents.
A 2010 Association of American Colleges and Universities board of directors statement explains that the “narrow training—the kind currently offered in far too many degree and certificate programs—will actually limit human talent and opportunity for better jobs in today’s knowledge economy.”The narrow thinker who works, machine-like, off a book’s script makes for an ineffective problem solver—yet another reason to strengthen the reciprocal relationship between corporate needs and academic teachings
By doing this, we can better equip our students to utilize what we teach them. And if they are asked, “Why bother with a history degree?” they can reply, “Why do you not ask why so many with history degrees are succeeding in a corporate environment?” Academics can teach our students to connect the dots in order to fully demonstrate the transferability of the skills the discipline offers them.