The Next Step in the Humanities “Counterattack” is “Translation”


In my book Why Study History: A Historical Introduction I wrote:

But there are also larger issues that history teachers and professors, and school and college administrators, must confront if they want to be effective career counselors.  For example, we must equip students to be confident in the skills that they have acquired as history majors….Rather than apologizing to potential employers about being history majors, our students should enter job interviews boldly, discussing their abilities to write, communicate, construct narratives out of small details, listen, empathize, analyze, and think critically.  As Stanton Green, a humanities administrator notes, “People find jobs where they look for jobs.”  We need to instill our students with confidence.  The ability to do this must somehow be embedded in a history department curriculum.

Over at Inside Higher Ed, University of North Carolina-Greensboro  Emily Levine and Nicole Hall describe this process as “translation.”  Here is a taste of their piece:

After years of being on the back foot, the humanities have launched a counterattack. A shelf of new books, including Scott Hartley’s The Fuzzy and the Techie: Why the Liberal Arts Will Rule the Digital World (Houghton Mifflin, 2017) and Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro’s Cents and Sensibility: What Economics Can Learn From the Humanities (Princeton, 2017), attest to the usefulness of the humanities for the 21st-century job market. Their fresh message makes the old creed that the humanities are a “mistake” or not “relevant” seem out of touch. Surveying these works in the July-August 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review, J. M. Olejarz dubs this countermovement “the revenge of the film, history and philosophy nerds….”

But where we go from here requires the hard work of identifying just what is the common denominator being learned in the humanities and how to parlay that knowledge and those skills into professional success. How do you apply Virginia Woolf to write better code or marshal your skills conjugating Latin verbs to execute an IPO?

At the University of North Carolina Greensboro, we have taken the next step of improving career outcomes for our students in the humanities by implementing the Liberal Arts Advantage, a strategy that articulates the value of the humanities to students, their parents and the community.

Directors of career development are realizing that they can’t do this work alone. They must engage faculty as their partners.

Jeremy Podany, founder, CEO, and senior consultant of the Career Leadership Collective, a global solutions group and network of innovators inside and near to university career services, says that helping faculty teach career development is part of the job. “I actually think we need to go to the faculty and say, ‘Let me teach you how to have a great career conversation,’” said Podany. The relationship between faculty members and career development offices — experts in the humanities and careers — is essential to preparing students for the job market.

Why? Because the central issue in realizing a long-term strategy for student career development is translation. That is, how students translate the skills they learn in the classroom into workplace success. This is particularly true in the case of the metacognitive skills that professors in the humanities can, and should, help contribute in their students.

Read the entire piece here.

“I get twitchy when a presenter starts talking about ‘negotiating’ and ‘complicating’ and ‘constructing’.”


Check out Katy Lasdow‘s interview with Peggy Bendroth, Executive Director of the Congregational Library & Archives in Boston.  It is part of the Junto’s series on “Where Historian’s Work.”

Here is my favorite part of the interview:

JUNTO: When we spoke, you stressed the importance of storytelling as a means of getting a variety of people interested in history. How does storytelling factor into the work that you do? How does it connect to your research and writing?

BENDROTH: I invite a lot of academics to give talks at the Library—we have a monthly “History Matters” series that brings in a mix of people in our downtown area. I get twitchy when a presenter starts talking about “negotiating” and “complicating” and “constructing.”  It’s not that these words are bad—they’re great at academic conferences and I love most of them dearly. But (and I’m overstating a bit) the people in our audience profoundly do not care. It’s not that they can’t understand the concepts—I’m sure most of them could—but that’s not why there are there. I think that, like most human beings, they are looking for connection. They want to hear about other human beings, other lives, stories that make someone from the past both totally foreign and utterly familiar.

We should never forget that. I’m not saying that every historian has to be David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin—would that we could sell that many books! But if we can’t explain our ideas in clear simple language that the average person, they we don’t really understand them ourselves.

JUNTO: Any other thoughts on career diversity for Early Americanists?

BENDROTH: I do have a word of caution. Combining the life of the mind with lots of administrative responsibilities is not for beginners!  If you do not already have a scholarly agenda, a network of friends, and some solid achievements on your resume, the job will devour you. It is so much easier to answer an email or plan a meeting than it is to think and write. My day is full of 10 to 20 minute slots where I’m waiting for a phone call or between meetings, and I used to think I could (or should) switch over to some more academic intellectual task. It took me way too long to realize that this is ineffective and ultimately exhausting—you can only care about so many things at once. Thinking and writing requires days at a time, a place apart from your office and computer. It sometimes means going for a walk, “wasting” time staring out windows. Scholarly work also means having the support of a visionary board and regular explanations to your staff that “working at home” is not a euphemism for goofing off.

Read the entire interview here.

Thinking About Careers in History: Join Us!

One of my favorite annual events sponsored by the Messiah College History Department is “Career Night.” Each year we bring back two of our alums to talk to history majors and anyone else who wants to attend about how the study of history has offered a solid foundation to their career and vocational pursuits.

The format of the event is a public Q&A hosted by your truly. It is followed by questions from the audience.

This year our speakers are Justin Bollinger (’06) and Katie Garland (’12).

After a stellar career at Messiah College and Penn State-Dickinson Law School, Justin currently works as a lawyer with a central Pennsylvania firm.  He was also one of the first students I ever taught as a new Messiah professor in 2002.

Katie Garland had an equally stellar career at Messiah and then went on to pursue an M.A. in Public History with a certificate in Arts Management from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.  She is currently loving her work as a fund development coordinator for the Girls Scouts of America.

The event is open to the public. If you are the parent of a high school student interested in studying history, a history teacher, a student at Messiah College considering a major or minor in history, or just someone in the area who wants to have their mind stimulated for an hour on a Tuesday afternoon, please join us.

The event will be held at 4:00pm in Boyer Hall, room 237.  Light refreshments will be provided.   See you there!


Where John Kasich Is Wrong About Job Preparation


In last night’s CNN GOP Town Hall meeting, John Kasich had some advice for young people preparing for the work force.  Here is what he said:

And one final thing: workforce development.  We have got to begin to teach our kids in K through 12 and also in the community college and the four-year schools to be getting an education for a job that exists.  Don’t get educated in a vacuum.  Make sure you know what you want to do, and look for an education that can lead you to a real job.

Kasich could not be more wrong here.  Here was what I tweeted last night:

For a candidate who talks so much about community, moral philosophy, social healing, and what it means to be human, Kasich has bought into the rhetoric of vocational training often associated with advocates of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and politicians such as Marco Rubio, Rick Scott, Barack Obama, and Jeb Bush.

Kasich misses what most career professionals have been saying and writing about for more than a decade.  Namely, many of today’s students will one day work at jobs that do not yet exist. Students–especially college students–are better off training broadly and generally in the liberal arts and the humanities.  This will allow them to obtain the skills needed to adjust and adapt toa  constantly changing marketplace.

My tweet solicited a few responses along these lines:






James Grossman: History for Patriotism

Jim Grossman

In this month’s Perspectives on History, AHA Executive Director James Grossman describes why he thinks history education in the United States should be “patriotic.”  I love his answer.  Here is a taste:

Whether history education should be “patriotic”…begins with reflection on the purpose of history education itself. The AHA has participated in conversations at both the K–12 and postsecondary levels that have generally moved in similar directions: the role of historical thinking and historical knowledge in preparing students for citizenship, career, and self-understanding. What can be more patriotic than building communities of informed, employed, active citizens confident in their ability to make decisions and interact effectively with others?…

Though hardly the only discipline where such learning takes place, history is an ideal venue for the education of citizens. Our students learn about the relationship between structure, culture, and agency in the shaping and direction of change. They learn that imputations of inevitability need always be tempered by consideration of the contingency of human actions, even those with unintended consequences. They learn that history doesn’t just “happen.”

All fine and good, say the proponents of a different kind of patriotic preparation, one that celebrates the institutions within which all of this human agency takes place and the heroic figures whose agency stands at the center of the evolution of those institutions.

But to celebrate change, we must appreciate its necessity: Neither democratic institutions nor individual great men and women emerged fully formed. They evolved. And one cannot comprehend that evolution without understanding its context. If students don’t study the hierarchical nature of New England towns and the worldviews of Virginia slaveholders, they can’t understand the ideological origins of the American Revolution. If they don’t learn about the actual dynamics of chattel slavery, the buying and selling of human beings, then Lincoln’s warning in his Second Inaugural that “every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword” reads as mere rhetoric.

I will continue to disagree with thoughtful colleagues who consider celebration and exceptionalism the cornerstones of a patriotic history education. But that disagreement is not over whether history education ought to be patriotic; it is about what constitutes patriotism in a nation founded on dissent and notable (even if not quite exceptional) for its deep and vibrant traditions of activism and debate from every corner of the country and the political spectrum.

Read the entire piece here.

What is Life Like After the History Major?

Christine Giamattei, a 2010 graduate of Holy Cross and a history major, nails it! She followed her burning passion for history and eventually found the study of history prepared her well for a life of work.

Here is a taste from her 2013 post at Levo League:

Unlike the decision of what to actually do with my history degree, the decision of declaring the major was an easy one. I declared history as my major even before I went to orientation at Holy Cross. It was a bold move, but a sure thing.

It had become apparent to me that history was really the only thing I was truly interested in studying. The only thing I wanted to learn, to read, to write, and to discover in college. It had been the same growing up too. My love for it is something that makes me, me.

And history turned out to be the best thing for me to study in college because I had an innate, unquestionable, burning passion for it.

But once second semester senior year rolled around, I realized that I would be blasting stereotypes, as I would not be venturing off to law school or applying for a teaching job with a fresh history degree.

I really had no idea what I wanted to do and who I should contact about jobs that would be a good fit for the major on my degree. I didn’t know if interviewers and companies would see my degree as vague and limiting and unspecified and without practical training.

How would my passion for and knowledge of Gilded Age America translate into work at a future job that wasn’t being a teacher, librarian or historian?

I eventually came to believe that my major prepared me well for life and work in the professional world. For any kind of job, really. It wasn’t what I learned/loved… every bit of 19th century America… or didn’t learn/hated in college… calculus and plant biology… but how I learned it and what I walked away with… besides being able to talk anyone’s ear off about the significance of the construction and opening day of the Brooklyn Bridge on May 24, 1883.

I’ll spare you that oration.

Instead, I am here to tell you — all of you — that all of the papers and tests and group projects and office hours and presentations (that seem completely bullshit at the time) are worth it. These experiences will be put to good use after you earn the diploma. You will use the skills you picked up along the way, whether you’re conscious of them at the time or not.

In the end, it didn’t matter what major I graduated with. I’d been on a holy grail and back in order to graduate with indispensable professional (and life) skills and passions, and that is what I believe will take me far in my career.

So what the heck are these famed skills and passions that can help earn you success and gain you notoriety among your co-workers?

I’ll tell ya.

Read the rest here.

More Good Stuff on Careers and the History Major

Chris Gehrz, the chair of the History Department at Bethel University in St. Paul and the author of The Pietist Schoolman blog, is doing a lot of good thinking on career paths and destinations for history majors.

His recent post, “Majoring in History, Thriving in Business” tells the story of several Bethel History Department alums who are using their history major in the business world.  Here is a taste:

Enter Brandon Raatikka (’03) and Tim Goddard (’04). A decade out from their History education at Bethel, they’re thriving in the business world:
Tim studied history, biology, and writing at Bethel, worked on a political campaign, wrote a novel, taught science in Brazil, and built from an early interest in web design and blogging into employment with software startups. He’s now vice president of marketing for a group that facilitates mergers between software companies.• Brandon went to law school at the University of Minnesota, wrote for the law review, and parlayed his J.D. into a position as a research analyst for a small company providing due diligence for investments like commercial real estate. He’s now the vice president in charge of risk assessment for that company.
Despite taking such different routes, Tim and Brandon came to some of the same conclusions when asked how a History degree prepared them for careers in business. Both emphasized the skills they’d learned from their undergraduate studies, and that their abilities to think critically, research, and write well very much set them apart in the business world:
(Brandon) …the biggest things I took away from my education at Bethel were how to think more critically about situations where the right “answer” isn’t always apparent, and how to write well (as you get a lot of practice writing in history classes). Apart from certain financial and accounting aspects of it, business is largely a “soft” science. Training in history and other humanities gets one comfortable dealing with ambiguities. It helps you assess the significance of facts and order their importance relative to other facts. Being able to focus on the big picture, while still knowing how the small details relate to that big picture, is a huge advantage in business, and something that studies in history can train one to do. Also, history courses are an important element of a well-rounded, liberal arts education — and especially in the context of a small business, where one inevitably wears many hats, a “generalist” mindset is valuable.

(Tim) …the ability to write well is incredibly valuable across all disciplines, I’ve found. It was certainly true in my history courses, as well as the rest of my Bethel experience and beyond…. Writing skillfully, accurately, and with a touch of flair is an even more significant advantage in the job field now than I think it was a decade ago…. History majors are perhaps a bit more prevalent in the corporate world than you would think. The habits of research, writing and critical thinking that a history degree can build are vital in any field. The ability to critically evaluate sources is particularly valuable…

Great stuff, Chris.  Thanks for sharing these stories from your former students!  Chris gives a nice plug to the work we are doing here at the blog and in Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  For more on what you can do with a history major, check out our ongoing series on the subject.

Liberal Arts Graduates Earn a Pretty Good Living

A recent report shows that by their mid-50s liberal arts majors make more money than those who studied in professional and pre-professional fields.  The Association of American Colleges and Universities just released “Liberal Arts Graduates and Employment: Setting the Record Straight.”  Here are some of the findings:

  • 4 out of 5 employers want students to study the liberal arts
  • 93% of employers want candidates who can think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems.  This is more important than the undergraduate major
  • Employers want broad knowledge and specific skills
  • The top 15 professions of liberal arts graduates include: teaching, law, legislators, business, social work, sales, clergy, accounting, and marketing.
  • Liberal arts graduates in the humanities and social science have an average salary of $26,271 directly out of college and $66,185 at the age of 56. 
  • Students who major in pre-professional or professional programs have an average salary of $31,183 directly out of college and $64,149 at the age of 56.
  • Liberal arts majors attain advanced degrees at a higher level than students who majored in pre-professional or professional progams
Here is a taste of an article on the report at Inside Higher Ed:

Liberal arts majors may start off slower than others when it comes to the postgraduate career path, but they close much of the salary and unemployment gap over time, a new report shows.
By their mid-50s, liberal arts majors with an advanced or undergraduate degree are on average making more money those who studied in professional and pre-professional fields, and are employed at similar rates. But that’s just one part of the paper’s overall argument that concerns about the value of a liberal arts degree “are unfounded and should be put to rest.”
“That’s a myth out there – that somehow if you major in humanities, you’re doomed to be unemployed for the rest of your life. This suggests otherwise,” said Debra Humphreys, a co-author of the report and vice president for policy and public engagement at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. “That sort of journey to professional success is more of a marathon than a sprint.”

AHA Career Fair

I love this idea.  The American Historical Association is planning a career fair for students and job candidates in history.  Yesterday they put out a call for professionals who use their training in history in their jobs.  Here is the announcement:

Were you trained in history and use that training in your job?  Do you work in business, education, nonprofits, government, archives, libraries, publishing, or another area?  If you’ll be in Washington, DC, om the afternoon of January 4, please come to the Marriott Wardman Park and share your experiences with students and job candidates who are attending the AHA annual meeting.

We’re looking for people willing to volunteer anytime between 1-5pm on January 4.  You can find a sign-up form on the AHA website.  Mentors will be stationed at tables where students and job candidates can browse.  Feel free to bring literature about your field or employer, but there won’t be room for extensive displays.  Help expand the horizons for history majors, and let them know about all the myriad options for them to use their skills and knowledge!

The AHA jobs website notes that “Mentors have already signed up from independent schools, community colleges, historical societies, government and publishing.”

Rachel Maddow: "History is kind of the king"

In a recent speech at Stanford University, television personality and political pundit Rachel Maddow urged students to master the “art of argument” and learn to write well by studying the humanities and liberal arts.  When asked what kind of major she looks for in a successful job candidate, Maddow said: “I look for people who have done mathematics. Philosophy. Languages. And really…History is kind of the king.”

Here is a taste of an article on Maddow’s appearance from the Stanford website:

Maddow, who noted that she likes “techies,” sees great value in an education in technology and engineering.

But she also insisted that an education in the humanities is equally, if not more, important. “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.”

Above all, she said, we need people who can create things, who can come up with new content.

“It’s not to say that technological innovation is not a creative enterprise,” she added. “Google changed the world, absolutely. But it didn’t make the world. It organized it.

“And that’s great, but if you’re not creating things, and all you do is organize other people’s stuff, then you’re Wikipedia. And Wikipedia is awesome, but who is going to write the stuff that goes into Wikipedia?”

Nonetheless, Maddow praised technology for revolutionizing the way people can access content and locate facts: “The landscape for new cultural creation has never been richer because of technological and organizational advances.”

In the end, however, content creators win the day. “I need good writers rather than good web designers. And they are much harder to find.”

Why Framing College as a Return on Investment is "Wrongheaded"

Gene Block, the chancellor of UCLA, criticizes Barack Obama’s “College Scorecard” and Marco Rubio and Ron Weyden’s Students Right to Know Before You Go Act.  While post-college salaries are important, they do not account for college graduates who want to use their lives to serve society, regardless of salary.

 A taste:

Last year, 3.1 million college students performed 118 million hours of service across the United States — a contribution valued at $2.5 billion. Here in Los Angeles, students from English classes helped high schoolers with college essays; German classes interviewed Holocaust victims for oral history projects; environmental engineering classes taught K-12 kids about climate change and water quality.

That service ideal stays with them after graduation. Each year, thousands of students will find jobs in nonprofits that assist people throughout the nation and the world. And they choose to do it — based on the critical thinking skills they developed at our campus. It’s true they will bring down the average salary of recent college graduates, but their dedication and sacrifice will also inspire many more.

Calculating the value of higher education will inevitably exclude factors critical to society. We should not let what’s measurable determine what is meaningful.

We need the next generation to ask questions grander than “How much money will I make?” That’s an important question, but it cannot be the only one.

They, and we, deserve better. “What barrier will I break?” or “How can I change the world?” These are the questions we must inspire every student to ask.

History Majors and the "Downfall of Man"

If we believe some of our politicians, a liberal arts education is useless because it does not lead directly to a job.  I disagree.  As I have argued before, and will argue again in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past, the study of the liberal arts, and the humanities especially, is absolutely essential to the preservation of American democracy.

I am not the only one saying this, as evidenced from this article at Times Higher Education.  Here is a taste:

The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) is aggressively advocating the importance of imparting “broad knowledge and transferable skills”. And the Council of Independent Colleges has established a Campaign for the Liberal Arts that will provide research and data to dispel stereotypes about the discipline.

“There is a new and heightened perception driving this trend that associations and organisations need to help the public better understand the value of the liberal arts,” said Laura Wilcox, the council’s spokeswoman.

The organisations contend that what employers really want from universities is not job training but graduates who can think critically, write and speak well, and solve problems.
“[Employers] say, ‘I want an engineer who can talk to people. I want an engineer who can write a memo. I want an engineer who doesn’t act like a goof.’ Everybody rolls their eyes when [employers] do that, but the data says they’re right,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

An AAC&U survey of corporate executives found that nearly 90 per cent want workers with verbal and written communication skills, 75 per cent are looking for graduates who understand ethical decision-making, and 70 per cent say they need innovative and creative employees.

“None of this is to [criticise] the disciplines of science and engineering and technology, but we also need to train people in the art of understanding the world around them, where they fit into society and all of those sorts of things,” said Norman Goda, a history professor at the University of Florida who has helped to organise a petition against the governor’s proposal to charge lower fees for “strategic” majors in high workplace demand and more for “non-strategic” – largely humanities – majors, such as history.

“I can’t predict the downfall of man if there are fewer history majors but the cumulative effect over decades would surely not be a good one,” he added.