I am convinced that the culture of college history departments need to change. History majors have a lot to offer society and the marketplace in a variety of fields, yet the faculty in history departments honor and celebrate those students who go to graduate school in history, largely because these students aspire to be just like us. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. So faculty think of these students as feathers in their caps–evidence that we are educating them in the right way.
I am not so sure that this approach is healthy. It is time that history faculty develop a different kind of culture in their departments–a culture in which the model students are the ones who go into nonhistory or nonacademic fields where they can find meaningful and fulfilling work.
What would happen if we celebrated our graduates who get jobs in the corporate or nonprofit world in the same way we celebrate those who have been accepted to graduate schools at Ivy League universities?
(This post is adapted from Chapter 8 of my book Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past).