Out of the Zoo: “Listening Ears”

Saturday Serve

gracespring Bible Church students pour coffee for Kalamazoo’s homeless population

Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this column she writes about her experience working with the homeless and how it connects with her study of history.  Enjoy! –JF

When I was in high school, my youth group went into Kalamazoo every month or so to serve our community’s homeless population. We would meet at gracespring Bible Church  bright and early on a Saturday morning, pray together, and head into the city armed with coffee, notebooks, and sometimes a pot of chili or a garbage bag full of winter clothes. When we got downtown we would set up camp next to the railroad tracks between The Kalamazoo Gospel Mission and Ministry With Community, pulling a tent and table from the back of one leader’s truck and loading it up with the supplies we brought from church. Some students stayed at the tent to serve coffee by the railroad tracks, while others split off in satellite groups and wandered down the streets with a pitcher, to pour a cup for any of the homeless men and women who remained scattered throughout the city.

We didn’t usually have much more than a cup of coffee to give the people we met on those cold Saturday mornings. Sometimes we had chili or doughnuts to offer, but we usually ran out pretty quickly. Other times we brought donations of warm clothes to give out, but those didn’t last much longer. We did have coffee though, and lots of it, a notebook to write down prayer requests, and several listening ears.

My youth pastor Kenneth Price taught me a lot through high school, but I’ll always remember his emphasis on learning people’s stories and learning their names. He showed me that the most important part of our interaction with the homeless isn’t the food we serve them or the clothes we offer them, but rather the conversations we have with them. Kenneth challenged us to not only learn the names of our homeless brothers and sisters, but to say them and remember them. We were not there to make ourselves look good or even to save fellow Kalamazooans from poverty, but rather to hear voices that aren’t often heard. By our listening, we offered the dignity, respect, and love inherent in being sincerely listened to.

I know a cup of coffee probably won’t change someone’s life, no matter how I wish it could. As believers, though, I think we are obligated to do what we can to hear people’s stories and to learn their names, no matter what they’ve done or who they are.

As historians I think we’re compelled to do the same thing. No, we don’t serve coffee or hand out warm gloves, but we do go out of our way to hear people’s stories, whether they’re still living or they died centuries ago. We learn their names, and we do our best to remember them. We listen to voices that have been ignored for years, and dig up others that were buried for years. We make eye contact with the ones some might choose to avoid, and uncover parts of our past that others would rather forget. Good historians are good listeners; they don’t have an agenda or some ulterior motive, they aren’t there to save lives or to make themselves look good. They listen.

Out of the Zoo: “National History Day”

Kalamazoo Gals NHD

One of my three National History Day exhibits. This one is from my junior year in high school

Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this column she writes about her experience as a National History Day judge.  Enjoy! –JF

Hundreds of students, teachers, and parents ventured onto Messiah College’s campus on Saturday for one of Pennsylvania’s regional National History Day (NHD) contests. NHD is a country-wide organization that allows grade school students to research a historical topic and connect it to an annual theme.  Once they complete their research they assemble a project from their findings and bring it to a competition. Students learn how to find and analyze sources, and are given the chance to share what they learned in the format of a paper, exhibit, website,  documentary, or performance.

It’s somewhat difficult to describe a National History Day competition to someone who hasn’t attended one. Picture a science fair, but instead of looking at model volcanoes or potato alarm clocks, you see kids bringing in boards about the assassination of John F. Kennedy or showing home-made documentaries about the Little Rock Nine. I like to think of NHD as a giant pep rally for history nerds of all ages.

On Saturday Boyer Hall and the High Center buzzed with kids anxious to show off their work in competition. This year’s theme, “Triumph and Tragedy in History,” brought in projects of all shapes and sizes, covering many different subjects from a wide variety of time periods. Students swept out the most distant corners of the past; some introduced us to new stories and others developed narratives that were already familiar.

To aid in the ambitious undertaking of hosting a NHD competition, several Messiah students, professors, alumni, and community members were recruited to serve as judges. Assigned to a specific category and age level, the task of the NHD judge is to evaluate students’ projects, chat with them about their topic, ask questions about their research process, and ultimately decide who gets to move on to compete at the state level. I was placed on a team with Derek Fissel, a local middle school teacher, and together we judged a portion of the junior group exhibit category. We got to talk with five different pairs of middle schoolers about the projects they’ve toiled over for the past several months.

My AP US History teacher introduced me to NHD during my sophomore year of high school.  That year I learned basic research skills that remain a foundation for my scholarship today.  NHD revealed my passion for uncovering stories and sharing them with my community. I participated in NHD for two more years in the exhibit category, so judging displays proved very familiar, and almost nostalgic.

I could not speak more highly of National History Day. As a history major and future educator I know I’m biased, but I think something really special happens when kids participate in NHD. They’re given the chance to learn about something they’re interested in, make new discoveries, and show off their findings. No matter how far they proceed in the competition, they’re given the chance to develop practical research skills, pursue curiosity, and channel their creativity to produce a final result. I fully plan on encouraging my future students to participate in NHD and I look forward to coming alongside them as they make their first historical discoveries.

Out of the Zoo: “In Search of Knights, Peasants, and Bandits”

kalamazoo-valley-museum

The mummy exhibit at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum

Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this column she writes about Medieval history and a museum she visited as a child.  Enjoy! –JF

A considerable portion of my childhood was spent inside the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, a three story establishment filled to the brim with free entertainment and learning tailored to our community. On the first floor there’s a planetarium and a weather exhibit. One half of the second floor is filled with interactive displays that teach physics principles, and the other half contains a life-size timeline of Kalamazoo’s history. The third floor, though, was my favorite–it housed a real Egyptian mummy and had a massive space that was renovated every few months for visiting displays. It was hard to predict what wonders the third floor would contain when we went on our regular visits.

One morning my mom made the 45-minute trek from my house to the museum with her three children in tow. We spent a while visiting our favorite spots; my brother Nate liked building rubber band cars, while my sister and I enjoyed seeing our silhouettes on the thermal camera. None of these compared, though, to the adventure that awaited us on the third floor.

The third flight of stairs opened up to a massive recreation of a Medieval castle and village, complete with costumes and props. It seemed as if half of the kids in Kalamazoo were at the museum that day, immersed in an elaborate game of pretend. Some kids put on heavy aprons and imagined they were blacksmiths, others hoisted swords and served as knights, while still more set tables in the miniature great hall with plastic plates and play food. I can’t say we learned anything about Medieval England that day (most of us were too young to read the plaques) but we were given the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a culture that was foreign to us, and had a little fun along the way.

It’s easy for me to forget that the Medieval time period existed outside the walls of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum or popular fairy tales. Perhaps it’s because many of the books I read and movies I watched as a child were fantasy stories saturated with images of brave knights and fair maidens, but for the longest time this unique period in history just didn’t seem real to me.

A few weeks ago, however, I started taking a class called “Knights, Peasants, and Bandits: A Social History of Medieval England” here at Messiah College. Since then I’ve begun to learn that knights, lords, and ladies were real people who stayed in real castles and faced real hardships. They existed outside of fairy tales, and had lives of their own. The class is helping me come to terms with the strangeness of the past too–I mean, how else would you describe a time period during which nobles hunted with falcons and people built siege engines? However, I’m finding familiarity in my studies as well; I’m discovering the little ways I’m similar to men and women who lived in Medieval England, despite the fact that they walked the earth hundreds of years ago. It’s the job of the historian to reside in this tension between familiarity and strangeness–seeing past fairy tales, empathizing with real people, and accepting the past for what it really was.

Out of the Zoo: “Finding a Calling in the History Classroom”

annie

Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. In this column she reflects on how she brings together her passion for history and her passion for ministry. Enjoy! –JF

Like many other college freshmen, when I started attending Messiah College last fall I had lots of doubts–concerning my major, my future career path, and my calling in general. For my first semester I was enrolled as a history major with a concentration in public history. I knew history was something I enjoyed, and something I was relatively good at. I pictured myself working at the Smithsonian or a national historic site someday, doing research or designing displays or preserving artifacts.  However, fresh from a year serving as an intern for my youth group and a summer working as a counselor at a Christian day camp, I wondered if perhaps I would be better suited for ministry.

So what did I choose? Well, by the description of this column you can probably infer that I haven’t switched my major to ministry, but it turns out I didn’t stick with the public history track either. I actually turned down a different path entirely and decided to add a teaching certificate into the mix.

Despite the numerous times adults have asked me if I’m planning to teach with my history major, until this year I never once pictured myself going into education. As a high school student, I was ready to get out of grade school and run away as fast as my legs could carry me. I didn’t think I had enough patience to teach. I convinced myself I would never be captivating enough to hold the attention of 20-30 kids for an extended period of time.

Sometime after high school, though, the walls I had built against any aspirations to become an educator began to fall. Working with kids all summer and learning to keep their attention tore down a few bricks. Being told by several peers that I would make a great teacher destroyed a few more. What made them all come tumbling down, though, was my realization that becoming a teacher had the potential to combine both my passions–history and ministry.

If you’ve read the first installment of this column, you know that one of my favorite things about history is its ability to make the past come to life; by choosing history education over public history, I would still be doing that–except I would be bringing the past to life for kids in a classroom, rather than the general public in a museum. Pursuing a career in education will also allow me to practice ministry. No, I won’t be able to read scripture in class or evangelize from behind my desk (especially because I want to work in public schools) but I will be given the opportunity to represent Christ to my students, their parents, and my coworkers as well and as often as I can. I am a firm believer in the idea that ministry isn’t about the title–it’s about God’s love. If your goal is to show God’s accepting, forgiving, never-ending love to the people you work with, anyone can be a minister, no matter what their profession.

The History Major is in Decline, but not at Yale

57453-yale2bdept-2bof2bhistory

Last week we reported on an American Historical Association study that revealed a 33% decline in the number of history majors in United States colleges and universities.  But this is not the case at Yale.  Here is a taste of Carly Wanna’s piece at Yale News:

Despite national trends, Yale’s undergraduate program remains one of the five most popular majors at Yale, with 129 students declared in the class of 2019 alone.

According to department chair Joanne Meyerowitz, Yale’s Department of History plans to add as many as 11 new professors of history, six of which would focus on non-American and non-European history.

“Yale has a long tradition of a robust history major, and the college places emphasis on the importance of the liberal arts,” Meyerowitz said. “Over the past few years, we’ve made a concerted effort to hire more faculty in African-, Asian- and Latin American history and, more generally, in international and transnational history.”

Read the entire piece here.

Here is my quick take:  Yale graduates get jobs regardless of major simply because of the Yale name and alumni base.  Yale students are thus able to take more risks in choosing a major.  Thoughts?

What Happened to the History Major?

9288b-historymajorAccording to a recent report from the American Historical Association, the undergraduate history major is in steep decline.  In the last six years, the number of history majors in American colleges and universities has dropped by about 33%, more than any other discipline.   And this is in a period when university enrollments have grown.  Here is a taste of the report:

Optimists may look at the last year’s line in these charts and note that the rate of decline appears to have slowed. It is reasonable to hope that the trends of the last decade will eventually bottom out, perhaps even in the next year or two. At this point, though, it would take several unprecedented years of growth in history majors to return to mid-2000s numbers; departments should not expect a rapid rebound. While there are anecdotal accounts of students seeking out history in the current political climate, leading indicators of student interest are at best mixed; most notably, the AHA’s survey of course enrollments in a number of departments for the 2016–17 academic year found continued declines in credit hours. (Editor’s note: results of the AHA enrollments survey for 2017–18 will be published in the January issue of Perspectives.)

Those enrollment numbers suggest one possible long-term trend: that history departments will become more oriented toward introductory-level courses. Although I am not aware of good data on credit hours for the critical period 2010–12, it seems that the declines in enrollments since then may have been gentler than the drops in majors. Students still take history courses—but more often, apparently, as electives, as requirements for other majors, or as general education requirements. If major numbers do not recover, each of these areas will become more important. One common plan, for joint or hybrid majors, is peripherally tracked in the IPEDS data through reporting of second majors. These numbers capture students who major in fields like “Political science and history” where any other field might occupy the first position. They do not seem to offer great consolation; history’s share of second majors mirrors its overall trend in the last decade.

Ultimately, whether through majors or course enrollments, the long-term state of the discipline will rest on how it adapts to a cohort of students—and their parents—who are much less receptive to arguments for the liberal arts than previous generations have been. Many departments and organizations have worked out useful ways to articulate the purpose of the major. These are undoubtedly helping attract and retain students today. (The institutions that made up AHA’s Tuning project, an initiative to this end, are among those on the front lines; the first set of Tuning departments reported marginally better enrollments from 2014 to 2017, though not so strongly that I am confident in their statistical significance.) As the 2008 crisis moves farther into the past, we should attempt to identify departments that have had the most notable successes.

Read the entire report here.

No commentary yet.  I need to think through this report a bit more.

Historian Nathan Hatch is the Highest Paid College President in the U.S.

f53b9-hatchWhat can you do with a history major?  Earn $4 million a year as a college president.

Many readers of this blog know Nathan Hatch for his award-winning The Democratization of American Christianity.  But did you know that he was pulling in $4,004,617 as president of Wake Forest University? Wow!

Learn more here.

It’s also worth noting that Jerry Falwell Jr. makes $958,021 as president of Liberty University.

A Day with the History Department at Kean University

Liberty Hall Kean

Liberty Hall at Kean University.  Liberty Hall was the home of William Livingston, the first governor of the state of New Jersey. 

As I posted earlier this week, I spent the day on Tuesday with the History Department at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.  I am working with Kean as a “public humanities consultant” for their National Endowment for the Humanities program “William Livingston’s World.

First, was very impressed with the Kean History Department and the hospitality I received during my visit.  Special thanks to Jonathan Mercantini (Acting Dean of the College of Liberty Arts) and Elizabeth Hyde (Department Chair).

In the morning, I talked about public engagement with the faculty and campus archives staff.  We had a spirited discussion about whether or not our public engagement as historians should be more political and activist-oriented than our classroom teaching.  I think it is fair to say that we were divided on this question.

In the afternoon, I met with four honors students who wrote papers and created websites on William Livingston.  During this session we watched the “director’s cut” of the Liberty Hall 360 re-enactment of the Susannah Livingston-John Jay wedding.  Several of the students worked on the script.  It was fun chatting with undergraduates who have traveled to archives with Livingston collections, read Livingston’s letters, and tried to make sense of the political, intellectual, and religious life of this New Jersey founding father.

One of these students approached me after the session with a signed copy of Why Study History?  My inscription read: “Caleb, keep studying history and I hope you do so at Messiah College.”  It was dated 2014.  Needless to say, we did not land Caleb at Messiah, but he certainly had a wonderful undergraduate career at Kean.  Caleb asked me to sign the book again with an inscription that began “four years later….”  It was a great encounter with a big undergraduate fish I was unable to land!  🙂

Finally, I met with five adjunct faculty members who teach the department’s general education course: “HIST 1062: Modern World Civilizations: Crises of the Contemporary World.”  We had a great discussion about how to teach historical thinking skills to non-history majors.

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and hope to return soon to continue consulting on the William Livingston project.  As I noted in my previous post, I think this is a model grant for any history department interested in merging public history, public humanities, career preparation, and the undergraduate history curriculum.

What Does a Humanities Professor Do When a College Cuts the Humanities?

Holy Names

Check out Nina Handler‘s moving piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education.  Handler teaches English at Holy Names University, in Oakland, California.  The college recently cut several humanities majors, including English and History.  It’s website currently features a student playing golf.

Holy Names claims to be a a university “rooted in Catholic intellectual and spiritual traditions.”  The Catholic college has also cut majors in Intercultural Peace and Justice, Latin American Studies, Music, Philosophy, and Religious Studies.

Here is a taste of Handler’s “Facing My Own Extinction“:

Disturbingly, after our English major was eliminated, I discovered in conversations that several of my colleagues didn’t realize that there was a distinction between the freshman-writing program and the English major.

Times change, and institutions of higher education must change along with them. If no one wants to study a particular field, if it’s not filling a niche, it will die a natural death. This is evolution in action. I have no choice but to accept that the vast majority of students at my university don’t want to major in English. They don’t want what I have to offer. Instead, they want degrees in the health sciences.

Of course, my students and their worldviews don’t exist in a vacuum. They live in a culture that tells them in every way that STEM fields are where the money’s at and consequently are the only fields worth studying. They want to know — for the return on the gargantuan investment they and their families have made in a college education — that they will be able to get a well-paid job tied directly to their major.

Once education is viewed as a hoop to be jumped through to get somewhere else, people start assigning value to it in a way that privileges direct connections to prosperity and jobs they can easily see. With no sense that being an English major leads to any job but being an English teacher, students are “voting with their feet,” as my provost said when she canceled the major. Social Darwinism speaks of “survival of the fittest,” a victim-blaming phrase that has been distorted to justify socially constructed imbalances of wealth and power. If you can’t make it, it’s your own fault — or it’s just nature taking its bloody course.

Read the entire piece here.

Is Trump Saving the History Major?

Trump Jackson Tomb

Trump at Andrew Jackson’s tomb in Tennessee

Check out Amy X. Wang‘s piece at Quartz: “Donald Trump’s presidency is saving the history degree.”  She brings together a lot of stuff we have been writing about here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.

Here is a taste:

Stagnant and predictable, the history major had been slowly dying. American college students were turning to fast-paced and dynamic fields like engineering or economics—and ones with a guaranteed salary payoff at the end. In March 2016, the National Center for Education Statistics found that the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in history was in dramatic decline, falling as much as 9.1% from a year earlier in 2014. The explosive growth of lucrative, forward-leaping Silicon Valley in the last decade seems to have rendered the history major, a curriculum focused on immutable events of decades ago, all the less relevant.

Then came Trump—whose November election brought upon frantic Google searches such as “How did this happen?

Trump’s win has broken through an apathy barrier of sorts. People who’d become disengaged with politics suddenly started paying attention again. It has spilled over into education: search data reveals a surge of interest in studying history in the latter half of 2016 (with a peak and crash-dip in late December, likely due to that being the deadline for US college applications).

Read the rest here.  Thanks to reader James King (@eloryjetson) for bringing this piece to my attention.

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?–Part 56

simi_valley_badgeBe a police chief.

David Livingstone is pursuing a Ph.D in history at the University of California, San Diego. He is also the police chief of Simi Valley, California.

Over at History News Network, Frank Biess, Livingtone’s dissertation adviser, explains how his student uses his history degree to “save lives.”

David was chosen as chief of police not despite but because of his Ph.D. The skills that he acquired as a history graduate student proved essential to his success. His instinct as a historian has kicked in while managing the investigation of cold case murders. Because of his experience in historical archives, he has helped homicide detectives to follow paper trails and discover new evidence. When a young man was put in jail, the same historian’s skills allowed him to get him out by proving investigative missteps and errors in the testimony of a key witness. The boy’s parents, the Superior Court judge and local civil liberties groups commended him for his work. Like many graduate students, David also taught in an introductory course on the history of the world. His knowledge about the history of Islam now comes in handy in establishing relations with Simi Valley’s Muslim community.

If David’s experience in the ivory tower has followed him on the beat, his lived experience as police officer has, in turn, enriched his research. His dissertation asks a big question: What is the role of the police in a democratic society? David is writing a history of the West German Federal Border Guard, a paramilitary unit that was founded in 1950 and existed until 2005. His thesis reveals shocking continuities across 1945, with many former Nazis continuing their police careers in the postwar Federal Republic. But he also shows how the institution and the people within them slowly adapted to the different values of a democratic society. This process is one reason why today’s Germany has 1/100th the number of fatal police shootings as the United States — 10 versus approximately 1,000 in 2015.

Read the entire piece here.

Some of you may remember a similar interview we did with Colorado Springs police officer Brad Hart.

23 Jobs for History Majors

3DCoverI just came across a really interesting website titled “Sell Out Your Soul: A Career Guide for Lost Humanities Majors”  It is run by James Mulvey, a former English student who now works at a global software company.  He started the site to “inspire others to run from the culture of fear, isolation, and single-mindedness that keeps many graduate students from finding employment outside of academia.”

Here is a taste of a post titled “23 of the Best Jobs for History Majors“:

If you’re wondering what careers are available for History majors, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve collected 23 of the best jobs for History majors—careers that pay well, complement the skills taught in History departments and have long-term growth.

Despite the lies you’ve been told from the annoying Engineering major or clueless Business major, History majors end up in a variety of interesting places.

So pour yourself a beer. Roll up your sleeves. And let’s take a fast tour of the best careers for History majors.

The point of the list isn’t to tell you the exact steps to get these careers. That would be a long post and I cover that in my book. Use this list to decide on a general direction. Then go and search those careers on the following sites: Glassdoor, LinkedIn advanced search, Twitter advanced search, and Reddit. This will give you a realistic view of what your day-to-day would be like and whether this career would be a good match for you.

The jobs include Exhibit Designer, Content Creator, Customer Success Manager, Business Analyst, Growth Hacker, Product Marketing, PR Manager, Internal Communications, Content Strategist, Web Developer, Journalist, Project Manager, Social Media Manager, Content Editor, Research Analyst at Think Tanks, Political Campaign Manager, Government work.

Read how James connects the skills of history majors to these jobs.

Is History a Useless Major?

Declare

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.

How is the History Major Doing at Your Institution?

Declare

On Friday I posted about the revival of the history major at Yale University.  I linked to an article in the Yale Daily News that reported on the growing popularity of this major at the prestigious Ivy-League institution of higher learning.

The article quotes Alan Mikhail, the History Director of Undergraduate Studies at Yale. He writes:

“I think our current historical moment is also drawing students to history,” Mikhail said. “Both economic and political modeling failed to predict and then address the financial crisis of a few years ago and to forecast the outcome of the election of 2016. The tools of historians are better suited to the work of understanding the world.”

I am intrigued by Mikhail’s statement.  I am curious to see if the “historical moment” in which we live is prompting more high school and college students to pursue the study of history.  Since I posted this piece on Friday several college and university history faculty have contact me to tell me that the number of history majors are rising at their institutions.

How about you?  Are you seeing an rise in history majors?  Does this revival extend beyond the hallowed halls of Yale?

The Revival of the History Major at Yale

Yale History

According to this article in the Yale Daily News, history is the most popular major among the class of 2019.

Here is a taste:

History is the most popular major among members of the class of 2019 who have already declared, signaling a potential return for what was once Yale’s most popular program of study.

Until the early 2000s, the history major was the largest at Yale before its popularity began to wane, which History Director of Undergraduate Studies Alan Mikhail said was consistent with a national trend. History is the third-most popular major in the classes of 2017 and 2018, trailing behind economics and political science. Students who are not majoring in science, technology, engineering and math fields are required to declare their major no later than the start of their junior year, while students in STEM fields are expected to do so during their sophomore year.

“In enrollments, majors and faculty, Yale History has historically been one of the largest departments at Yale,” Mikhail said. “It is one of the most renowned history departments anywhere. Our faculty publish books that change the profession and sometimes even the world.”

The recent revival of interest in history stands in contrast to a trend among undergraduates nationwide away from the humanities and toward STEM fields. According to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the number of bachelor’s degrees that American universities conferred in the humanities has been declining steadily every year, with one report noting an 8.7 percent drop from 2012 to 2014.

Mikhail attributed history’s increased ranking to the department’s efforts in restructuring the major to allow students to focus on a specific topic. The department also revamped its course offerings, hired new faculty and sponsored campuswide events to engage the entire Yale community in matters of historical inquiry and thought, he added.

“I think our current historical moment is also drawing students to history,” Mikhail said. “Both economic and political modeling failed to predict and then address the financial crisis of a few years ago and to forecast the outcome of the election of 2016. The tools of historians are better suited to the work of understanding the world.”

Read the rest here. Let’s hope that this is the start of a trend.

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?

got-historyThis year I am hoping to do some more interviews in our  “So What CAN You Do With a History Major?”  series.

Were you a history major in college? If so, what are you doing today? How have you put your history major to use in the marketplace? I am interested in hearing from history majors who have used their college history training, and the skills acquired from such training,  in a variety of fields and jobs.

NOTE: If we have already featured a post on a person doing something similar to you feel free to send in your story anyway. All of our vocational pilgrimages are different, even when we end up in relatively the same place. In other words, our readers can learn something from you!

The History Majors We Celebrate

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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).

Is It “Stupid” to Take Out a Student Loan to Major in History?

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I don’t know the story behind the woman who just called Dave Ramsey‘s show, but Ramsey has decided to take whatever she said and apply it to everyone who is “stupid” enough to major in history or let their kids major in history.  In the midst of his ranting, raving, and name-calling he advances a very “stupid” and uninformed and ignorant argument about the value of a history major.

What saddens me is Ramsey’s complete ignorance of the many ways the study of college-level history prepares young people to contribute to our democratic society.  For him, history is little more than a fun hobby that is not useful to society unless it can provide someone with a comfortable middle-class income.  Ramsey offers a vision of the good life informed by economic determinism.  I have never listened to Ramsey, but I am guessing that he gives reasonably good economic advice.  Too bad it is at the expense of strengthening democratic life and perhaps even the life of the church.

But even if you do think a nice middle-class income and all the accoutrements that come with it are important, studies show that history majors do just as well in the long run as those who majored in other subjects and disciplines.  Ramsey is buying into a false narrative, one that we have debunked over and over and over again here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home in our  “So What CAN You Do With a History Major?” series and in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past? He also assumes that history is a “career” and not a course of study that contributes to ways of thinking that can be useful in all kinds of fields.

Majoring in history is not only a wise decision if you are interested in making the world a better place, but it is also a good economic decision, even if you need to take out a student loan.

There other implications to Ramsey’s tirade.  Most of Ramsey’s listeners are evangelical Christians.  By telling parents not to let their kids leave the state or attend a private institution, Ramsey undercuts evangelical Christian colleges.  In essence, he is saying that a Christian college is not worth it if you cannot pay the full tuition.  If this logic were to be put into practice Christian colleges would close.  Most students do not pay full tuition.  Parents who send their kids to these schools believe that it is worth taking out a loan for their children to get a faith-based education. In his next episode, I want Ramsey to be more specific and tell his audience that it is “stupid” if they send their kids to an evangelical college unless they can pay for it.

Ramsey also unwittingly undercuts the religious liberty arguments made by California Christian colleges in the face of the proposed bill (which has now been tabled) that would not have allowed students who attend Christian colleges to receive state loans because these colleges take traditional views on marriage and homosexuality.  In response to this bill the presidents of California Christian colleges argued that struggling poor and lower-middle class families could not receive a Christian education without these loans.  The premise behind this argument was that a Christian college education has benefits that go beyond student debt and economic considerations.

Sadly, a lot of evangelical Christians think all of Ramsey’s financial advice came down from Mount Sinai.