Episode 51: Temples of the Marketplace

PodcastWhen people think of the melding of faith and business, companies like Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A usually come to mind. However, like all things, the history of this type of partnership has a deeper history. Host John Fea reaches into early America to discuss the complicated integration of faith and business among Philadelphia’s Quakers. They are joined by historian Nicole Kirk (@Prof_in_Chicago), author of Wanamaker’s Temple: The Business of Religion in an Iconic Department Store.

Sponsored by the Lyndhurst Group (lyndhurstgroup.org) and Jennings College Consulting (drj4college.com).

Is History a Useless Major?


Today we recorded episode 21 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  The episode will drop soon. We are not yet ready to announce the topic of the episode but I will say that our guest is a venture capitalist and a great defender of the liberal arts.

After the recording I came home and found Paul Sturtevant’s article in the April issue of Perspectives on History: History is Not a Useless Major.”  This is the kind of article that should be placed in the history department information folders that are given to prospective or undeclared students at open houses and campus visits.  It does a wonderful job, using data, of debunking three common myths:

  1. History major are underemployed
  2. A history major does not prepare you for gainful employment
  3.  History majors are underpaid.

Here is a taste:

In advising students, talking to parents, and listening to the priorities articulated by state legislatures, we continue to encounter widespread myths about the lives of people who graduate with history BAs. These myths are largely based on misinformation about the prospective lives of those who major in history. They paint life with a degree in history as a wasteland of unemployment and underemployment—that careful study of Asoka’s conquests or the Industrial Revolution leads to a life of “Would you like fries with that?”

A potent way to combat these myths is with concrete data. Thankfully, a massive repository of data, the American Community Survey (ACS), tells us much about the lives of history majors. Conducted by the US Census Bureau each year since 2000, the ACS is a statistical survey of 3.5 million American households. It includes questions on a wide range of topics, from demographic details like age and race/ethnicity to situational data like housing and employment status. Most usefully for us, it also records individuals’ undergraduate majors. These data are then compiled and aggregated into one-, three-, and five-year estimates.

From the ACS, we know that over the years 2010–14, some 29.7 percent of all American adults over 25 completed a bachelor’s degree or higher. Of those, 2.21 percent received a bachelor’s in history or US history. The ACS data offer us a snapshot of these history majors across the country and at different phases of life: from recent graduates to those in retirement.

Overall, the ACS data suggest that the picture for history majors is far brighter than critics of the humanities would have you believe, even those who think the sole purpose of a college degree is to achieve a well-paying job.

Read the entire post, with graphs and charts, here.

Dispatches from the History Major: "The Benefits of Jousting"

I hope you are enjoying “Dispatches from the History Major.” Here is the next installment from Messiah College sophomore history major James Mueller.  –JF

I had never met these strangers before. We were a mixed group of four students and four adults, and the eight of us did our best to keep the awkward silence at bay by introducing ourselves. It was my turn. After I said my piece, the middle-aged women sitting across the dinner table began the attack: “Ahh, you’re a history major, huh? Interesting….” I sighed and started mentally preparing myself for the verbal joust I knew would follow. “So, what will you do with your history major?” she interrogated.

I started my charge, “Oh, I plan on translating in the future. I’ve studied both Latin and French at Messiah College, and I’m studying abroad in Paris next semester. When I come back I’ll be bilingual and have a minor in French language.”

She lowered and aimed her lance, “Mmm. I see. But where does the history major come in to play? I don’t see the connection.”

I hesitated. Wasn’t it obvious? When I study a primary source I have to understand what it’s trying to convey. I have to explicitly listen (understand what the author is saying) and implicitly listen (understand the genre of the source, the bias of the author, and any cultural references which could confuse the chronologically and socially removed modern reader).

Then I have to write about what the source tells me. I analyze pieces of a foreign past, construct an argument, and present that argument to an audience who may be completely unfamiliar with this part of the past. Isn’t this sort of listening, people reading, and interpreting exactly what translators do every day?

I wasn’t quick enough on my horse, and these weren’t the words that came out of my mouth. Instead, I half-confidently muttered something about the connection between history and people, and how studying history helps me to better understand the human condition.

She politely smiled, nodded her head, and changed the subject. I fell off of my figurative horse into the mud and cursed myself for letting such a great opportunity to defend my discipline slip away.

If I were a STEM major, I could avoid the work, frustration, and self-reflection these jousts cause. But even though they can sometimes feel defeating and shameful, I’m glad I have to participate in these jousts. Instead of coasting through my college career due to guaranteed job-security, I have to constantly think of new ways to combat the popular stigma that history majors can only be teachers, librarians, or hobos once they graduate.

This constant tension helps me to develop the creativity and conviction I know will be necessary to convince future employers that my historical skills are valuable assets. This constant tension helped me to come up with a better answer for the next time someone asks me how history relates to translating.

I look forward to my next battle, because jousting is teaching me how to be a better salesmen as well as a better historian.

Marketing Historical Societies By Changing Their Names

In April I wrote a post about my visit to Lancaster.org, the former Lancaster (PA) Historical Society. Lancaster.Org is both a website and a “brick and mortar” county historical society.  It is one example of the way that state and county historical societies are re-branding themselves with new names.  The Ohio Historical Society is now the Ohio History Connection.  The Colorado Historical Society is now History Colorado.

Here is a taste of a New York Times article discussing this recent trend:

In June, the Chester County Historical Society in Pennsylvania announced a grant-funded
project to examine the marketing of its name as well as the names of its buildings and other spaces. “For years, we have been hearing — mostly anecdotally — that our name hindered our ability to reach new audiences,” Robert Lukens, the president, said.

The society would simply like to get the word out to a greater variety of people about all the historical stuff it has, like one of the youngest images of Frederick Douglass that he gave to Susan B. Anthony and a rifle that was used on Robert Peary’s expedition to the Arctic in his quest for the North Pole

“We need to change the image of our organization,” Mr. Lukens said. “We want to make sure that the excitement that our programs and our collection bring to people is accurately reflected in what we call ourselves.”

In addition to trying to bolster its annual attendance of 32,000 — the society would like to break 40,000 in two years — the organization is experimenting with programs like “History on Tap,” where speakers discuss historic topics at local bars and restaurants. The website promoted a recent one at Molly Maguire’s Irish Restaurant and Pub, noting that the event would “provide a brief history of the Irish in Phoenixville starting from the first immigrants in the 1810s to boxing in the 1950s.”

Perhaps academic institutions could learn a lesson here.  How might we re-brand the humanities so that they are more attractive to perspective students?  What about “The Human Experience Connection?”