So What CAN You Do With a History Major–Part 53

Cali Pitchel drawing

Cali Pitchel

Work as a Director of Marketing at a digital analytics consultancy.

Cali Pitchel is putting her history training–at Messiah College, Penn State, and Arizona State–to good use. Here is how she describes herself on her website:

I’m a trained historian. That means I spent eight of the past 10 years studying history—from early American settlements and the pulpits of the American Revolution to kitchens of the 1960s and the 20th century urban landscape. History taught me how to research. History taught me how to write. Most importantly, history taught me empathy.These skills are necessary for the marketing professional, and they’ve served me well as a copywriter, content strategist, and now as a Director of Marketing. 

The website of a Monomyth, a “collaborative branding and interactive studio” based in Phoenix, is running an interview with Cali.  Here is a taste:

How did you get into copywriting and content strategy. What interested you in content strategy as a career?

I spent most of the last 10 years thinking I wanted to be a history professor. After two years of coursework in a PhD program in urban history, I took a one-semester leave for a much-needed mental break. I (miraculously) landed at Moses Anshell, and that was my first exposure to advertising outside of AMC’sMad Men. My one-semester leave turned into an indefinite leave when I realized just how well my history education prepared me for a career in copywriting and content strategy.     

How has a degree in the humanities given you an advantage in your career?

In so many ways! But it took me a long time to articulate that advantage. I let momentum, and in some ways the expectations of others, keep me from seeing the possibilities available to me as a humanities student. I bought into the narrative that the most acceptable place for a history major (or any other humanities student for that matter) was the classroom, the library, or the archives.

But I had sharpened very important skills as a history student, ones that applied outside the classroom. I could read. I could research. I could write. I could tell stories — stories marked by empathy and stories that accounted for context. In essence, I had the most practical education possible: I could listen to, interpret, and understand other people. And these weren’t just any people, they were people from the past. They didn’t look like me, think like me, or act like me — but my discipline required that I learn to understand them.

Studying the past was essentially a proving ground for how to relate to everyone around me, not just historical actors. From the back-of-house in a restaurant to the boardroom or corner office, empathy and an ability to communicate clearly are requirements for any job.

What interests you about data analysis?

I see a lot of similarities between data analysis and the study of history. A historian requires a posture of curiosity, an open mindset, and also a strong sense of humility. You have to arrive at the text without all the answers. The sources can (and almost always will) challenge your assumptions.

Is this not true for data? All too often we see data as a capital T truth—hard numbers, fact, science. But even data is meaningless without interpretation, and because so much depends on that interpretation, data analysis demands the same integrity required of a historian.

I recently asked a college professor of mine, Dr. John Fea, about truth, data, and analysis. He suggested that, “Data means nothing until it becomes part of the story that the analyst wants to tell. This does not mean that the facts are not important. If the story that the analyst tells is not based on evidence, it will be a bad story and irresponsible analysis.”

In the discipline of history, you’d be hard pressed to find a historian who believes in an objective interpretation of the past. It’s impossible to capture a historical event or actor and call it truth. Data is much the same. There is indeed an objective truth in data, as there are certain objective truths in history. “But [a] historical fact is only useful when we explore what it means. And it is possible that two different historians might come up with two different, even contradictory, stories about what this fact means.” We have to keep this in mind when we look at the analysis of data. I think our industry will be better for it.

Read the entire interview here.