The History Major is in Decline, but not at Yale

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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?

Watch:

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.

Meet the Parents: History Edition

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I am sure many of you have seen the 2000 Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro comedy Meet the Parents.  The plot is pretty straightforward.  Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Stiller) is a nurse who tries to win the approval of his fiance’s father Jack Byrnes (De Niro), an overprotective retired CIA intelligence officer.

In one of the story lines, Greg is mocked by Jack and his friends for pursuing a career in nursing instead of a career in medicine.  Greg, however, likes nursing.  It is a career that allows him to be more involved in patient care than the average doctor.  Greg followed his passion and his love of service into nursing instead of pursuing a medical career that would probably have made him more money.

The analogy is by no means perfect, but I thought about Jack’s response to Greg’s decision to pursue nursing when I read Steven Perlstein‘s article in yesterday Washington Post.  The article is titled “Meet the Parents Who Won’t Let Their Children Study Literature.”  The subtitle is also revealing: “Forcing college kids to ignore the liberal arts won’t help them in a competitive economy.”  It is one of the best popular pieces I have read on the value of the liberal arts and the parents who will not let their kids study them.  I do not meet these parents very often, but I do hear their thoughts about liberal arts education through what their kids tell me.  Just yesterday, for example, I talked to a first-year student who was torn between his love of history and his parents’ desire that he pursue a professional major.

This article adds to what I have been trying to do for years here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and in my book Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  Pearlstein, a Post business writer and public affairs professor at George Mason University, shatters the myth that liberal arts and humanities majors cannot succeed on the job market.

Here is a taste:

When I assigned an 800-page biography of Andrew Carnegie for a new undergraduate course on wealth and poverty at George Mason University a few years ago, I wasn’t sure the students would actually read it. Not only did most of them make it to the end, however, but many thanked me for giving them the chance to read a popular work of history. Curious, I inquired how many were history majors. Of the 24 honors students in the seminar, there were none. English? Philosophy? Fine arts? Only one. How was this possible? I asked. Almost in unison, half a dozen replied: “Our parents wouldn’t let us.”

The results were similar when I surveyed freshmen in another honors seminar this spring. This 352e0-whystudyhistorytime, I asked how many would have been humanities majors if the only criteria were what they were interested in and what they were good at. Ten of the 24 raised their hands.

I was aware, of course, of the drift toward pre-professionalism on college campuses, of widespreadconcern over student debt, of stories about college-educated baristas living in basements, of governors threatening to cut off state funding for French literature and anthropology. Even so, I found it shocking that some of the brightest students in Virginia had been misled — by parents, the media, politicians and, alas, each other — into thinking that choosing English or history as a major would doom them to lives as impecunious schoolteachers.

And it’s not just at state schools like Mason. Harvard University professor Jill Lepore recalled hosting an information session at her home for undergraduates interested in a program she directs on history and literature. One student who attended, Lepore told the New York Times, kept getting text messages from her parents ordering her to leave the meeting immediately.

“I have heard from many different colleges that there is now a considerable — and disturbing — amount of parental pressure against the liberal arts,” reports Debra Humphreys, a senior vice president at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. One reason for the “explosion” of double majors — as high as 40 percent of students at some elite schools — is that students want one major to satisfy Mom and Dad and another to satisfy their own interests, she says.

Parents are becoming more deeply engaged in nearly every aspect of their children’s lives, and it’s carrying over even to their choice of major. “A lot of our students feel parental pressure to go into business, economics, medicine,” says Christy Buchanan, who heads the office of academic advising at North Carolina’s Wake Forest University, a traditional liberal arts college that recently announced new programs in biomedical sciences and engineering. Buchanan, a psychology professor who studies the role of families in adolescent development, says this is what “helicopter parenting” has come to.

Read the entire article here.  I particularly liked this part of the piece:

For me, there’s nothing more depressing than meeting incoming freshmen at Mason who have declared themselves as accounting majors. They’re 18 years old, they haven’t had a chance to take a course in Shakespeare or evolutionary biology or the history of economic thought, and already they’ve decided to devote the rest of their lives to accountancy.

The Training of History Teachers: A Twitterstorm

I wrote this tweet in the midst of a great discussion with history teachers (K-16) that spontaneously broke out last night on Twitter.  Much of the discussion revolved around how colleges and universities train history teachers and whether or not they are doing it effectively.  By my account we had over 50 teachers participate.

For those of you who are interested, we collected all (or most) of the tweets using Storify. You can read them all here.

Julie Guthrie, a New Jersey middle-school history teacher who I had the privilege of getting to know last week during our Gilder-Lehrman Princeton Seminar, has suggested that the conversation continue at #historyteacherchat  I will try to jump in at this hashtag whenever I get the chance.

History Isn’t a “Useless Major”

keep-calm-and-study-history-36Glad to see Jim Grossman, Executive Director of the American Historical Association, take to the pages of the Los Angeles Times to defend the history major today.

Here is a taste of his op-ed:

Yes, in the first few years after graduation, STEM and business majors have more obvious job prospects — especially in engineering and computer science. And in our recession-scarred economic context, of course students are concerned with landing that first job.

Over the long run, however, graduates in history and other humanities disciplines do well financially. Rubio would be surprised to learn that after 15 years, those philosophy majors have more lucrative careers than college graduates with business degrees. History majors’ mid-career salaries are on par with those holding business bachelor’s degrees. Notably these salary findings exclude those who went on to attain a law or other graduate degree.

The utility of disciplines that prepare critical thinkers escapes personnel offices, pundits and  politicians (some of whom perhaps would prefer that colleges graduate more followers and fewer leaders). But it shouldn’t. Labor markets in the United States and other countries are unstable and unpredictable. In this environment — especially given the expectation of career changes — the most useful degrees are those that can open multiple doors, and those that prepare one to learn rather than do some specific thing.

All liberal arts degrees demand that kind of learning, as well as the oft-invoked virtues of critical thinking and clear communication skills. History students, in particular, sift through substantial amounts of information, organize it, and make sense of it. In the process they learn how to infer what drives and motivates human behavior from elections to social movements to board rooms.

Employers interested in recruiting future managers should understand (and many do) that historical thinking prepares one for leadership because history is about change — envisioning it, planning for it, making it last. In an election season we are reminded regularly that success often goes to whoever can articulate the most compelling narrative. History majors learn to do that.

Read the entire piece here.

Why Historical Thinking Matters

If you still need to be convinced why the study of history is absolutely essential to American democracy, check out Mark Oppenheim‘s interview with Jim Grossman.

Oppenheim runs m/Oppenheim Associates.  He has a 30-year organizational consulting and search track record that includes managing transformation service groups for the Child Welfare Administration of New York City, Ernst & Young, Price Waterhouse, Oppenheim CMP, and the Oracle Corporation.

Grossman is Executive Director of the American Historical Association.

The business world and the world of historical thinking collide.  As they should.

If you want to hear more from Grossman, check out Episode 1 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.