So What CAN You Do With a History Major?–Part 59

You can be the President of the United States.

Six former presidents have studied history in college or graduate school. They are Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, George W. Bush, and now Joe Biden. (Some websites say Eisenhower and Kennedy majored in history, but I can’t find any evidence to back this up. Kennedy actually majored in government).

Biden graduated from the University Delaware in 1965 with with a double major in history and political science. He is also the first president to graduate with a history major from a public university. Here is historian Sarah Lipton, a historian who arrived at SUNY-Stony Brook (my Ph.D. Alma mater) just as I was leaving:

Read this entire series here or, in part, in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?–Part 58


You can lead the country through the coronavirus pandemic just like Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.  (OK–he was technically a classics major at the College of the Holy Cross–close enough!).

Here is a taste of a piece on Fauci at the Holy Cross Magazine:

Anthony Stephen Fauci was born in New York City on Christmas Eve 1940, the second of Stephen and Eugenia Fauci’s two children. His parents, both the children of immigrants, met as students at Brooklyn’s New Utrecht High School and married when they were just 18. He grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, where his father, a Columbia University educated pharmacist, owned a neighborhood drugstore, at 13th Ave. and 83rd St. The family lived in an apartment above the store, and all pitched in when needed—his father in the back, his mother and older sister, Denise, at the register.

“I was delivering prescriptions from the time I was old enough to ride a bike,” Fauci recalls.

Routinely cited in recent decades for the length of his work day and the peripatetic nature of his job, Fauci took on these habits early and came to them naturally. He was that kind of kid, too.

He grew up surrounded by disparate influences that he seems to have enjoyed and that seem to have benefited him: There was his pharmacist father, known as “Doc” in the neighborhood—whom he describes as “laid back”—and his mother, also college educated, whom he describes as “goal oriented.” There was an attraction to medicine and science fostered from an early age, and a commitment to the humanities nourished by premedical studies at Holy Cross that also encompassed the study of Latin, Greek and philosophy.

And there is early evidence, as well, that Fauci had a streak in him that was something between puckish and perverse—a stubborn adherence to his own values and interests in the face of local prejudice that had to have been fierce. Growing up in post-war Brooklyn, playing baseball in Dyker Heights Park, on Gravesend Bay, in the era of Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese, Fauci was a Yankees fan. Among his heroes were Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, which, he says, made him something of a sports outcast among his friends, Brooklyn Dodgers fans all.

If he had been a sports outcast, he was an athletic one. In a 1989 interview with the NIH Historical Office, he remembers, “We used to play basketball from the beginning of basketball season to the end, baseball through the spring and summer, and then basketball and football again in the winter.” When he was younger, he played CYO basketball in the neighborhood; in high school, he captained the basketball team. Today, he’s a daily runner who has completed the New York and Marine Corps marathons.

He attended Regis High School, a Jesuit school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. And the distance he had to travel to get there is difficult to explain, for reasons of time or geography and also for reasons of culture. Time and geography matter, of course, in multiple ways: the trip took 75 to 80 minutes each way, a bus and three subways during rush hour in both directions. By rough calculation, all the time he spent commuting during his four years at Regis, it cost him more than 70 days. And he didn’t just let the time go: then, as now, he was focused and organized. He was the kid on the subway—packed up against the other passengers, elbows against his body, wrists and forearms folded inward, a book almost on top his face, reading—in his case, probably Ignatius Loyola, at some point or other, and likely in Latin.

Time and geography also matter because Brooklyn was further away from Manhattan in the 1940s and 1950s than it is today, and Bensonhurst is deep Brooklyn, just a short three or four miles—a few stops on what was then the BMT Seabeach local line—from Coney Island and the beach. New York is New York, but it’s also five boroughs and a million neighborhoods. And working class, Italian and Jewish Bensonhurst, might as well have been 15 light years away from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, then, as now, one of the country’s most affluent zip codes.

In his commencement address this past May, U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins ’63—whose time at Holy Cross overlapped with Fauci’s, although they didn’t know each other—spoke with some nostalgia of the 10 o’clock dorm curfew of that era, and how students learned to “black out” their rooms with towels, newspapers and tin foil.

“It was behind these drawn shades,” Collins said, “that we indulged in the nefarious act of reading.”

Fauci came to Holy Cross in the fall of 1958. He played intramural sports when he had the time, but his days of more organized competition were over. He had entertained the vague idea that he might make the basketball team as a walk on, but the competition was fierce, and he didn’t quite have the height. Always a fully engaged student, moreover, he took to his premedical studies with gusto; “the nefarious act of reading” didn’t leave him a lot of spare time.

“There was a certain spirit of scholarship up there,” he remembers, “that was not matched in anything that I’d experienced. The idea of seriousness of purpose—I don’t mean nerdish seriousness of purpose—I mean the importance of personal development, scholarly development and the high standard of integrity and principles that became a part of everyday life at Holy Cross. And that, I think, was passed down from the Jesuits and from the lay faculty to the students.”

The premed program covered enough science to get the students into medical school, but also stressed the humanities—a continuation, in some ways, of what he had been taught in high school. Fauci often credits part of his professional success to the inculcation of Jesuit intellectual rigor that was a core part of his education: an emphasis on organization and logic, on succinctness and clarity of expression. Arguably, the twinning of science and the humanities has proved useful in his dual roles as physician and researcher as well.

 Read the entire piece here.

HT: John Schmalzbauer on Facebook.

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?–Part 57


Photo Credit: AHA Today

Work in corporate finance.

Over at AHA Today, Cliff Manko, the Chief Financial Officer at Beacon Press, tells his story.

Here is a taste:

When I interviewed for a job in corporate finance at Houghton Mifflin in 1992, the publishing firm’s CEO was far more interested in my history degree than my CPA. He grilled me about what I’d studied and how the history courses I’d taken had been taught. To this day, I believe that my passion for what I’d studied in college was the tipping point in getting what I consider to be the most important job in my life. I’ve remained in the publishing industry ever since. And my history degree helped me get there…

The publishing industry and the content industry in general is a great place for history majors to pursue careers. Both at Houghton Mifflin and Beacon Press, the editorial, production, sales, and marketing departments are full of liberal arts majors. In recent years, there has been an explosion of data and content, mainly packaged for online use, although print still has a life. A history degree provides a great background for anyone interested in the content industry, including at firms that create reference databases for professionals in business, science, and the government. (These firms have armies of people analyzing and organizing vast quantities of data, essentially using the same skills as historians.) If you haven’t already, consider content industries in your career planning. Also, positions that involve writing and dealing with scholars are another natural segue for history majors. At Beacon Press, our editors and production team work closely with scholars and authors. The passion our team has for the topics our authors write about is a key reason authors sign on with a small publisher like Beacon Press. 

Read the entire post here.


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.

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?–Part 55

watsonWork as a financial analyst.

Here is our interview with Drew Watson, a Louisiana Tech University history major who currently works as a Financial Analyst for Acquisition Management Group LLC in Macon, Georgia.

JF: Why did you decide to major in history in college?

DW: I originally wanted to be an archaeologist (a big part of me still wants to go dig in the future) and watched Indiana Jones a few too many times.  The next best option was History, so that is what I jumped into at Louisiana Tech University.

JF: What is your current job/vocation?

DW: Financial Analyst and Account Manager for a commercial debt purchasing firm.  We are a company who purchases delinquent debt from creditors and seek to work out settlements with debtors that the other creditors are unwilling or unable to make.  I research the debtors’ information who owe delinquent commercial bank debts and determine what kind of settlement we can obtain for our company.  I also negotiate with debtors on such accounts for repayment.

JF: Can you suggest some tangible connections between your current job and your history training?

DW: Primarily what I use are the raw research skills I learned from history.  I look through the data available on a particular debtor – financial histories, assets, work history, etc.  I take state, locality, nationality, and even religion at times into consideration.  Most of what I do is not detailed accounting work, but finding and compiling information and looking at the big picture as to what kind of deal we may be able to make with someone.  I also have to be able to write well and do some legal investigations at times, particularly on bankruptcy matters.

JF: What advice would you provide to current or future history majors about making the most of their studies and degree?  

DW: Look not into the specific information that you are being taught, but take a step back and look at the skills you are learning.  Learning what questions to ask is a far better skill than learning what answers to give.

Take classes from professors with whom you may conflict philosophically.  I am fairly conservative, so finding conflicting viewpoints in college was not hard.  A couple of my favorite professors were stoutly liberal, and respected well-articulated views of students with whom they disagreed.

Learn how to research well, and learn how to write well.  Knowing how to find the answers and communicate them is better than being able to answer the questions on a test.  Those two skills put you in a good position for success down the road.

Focus on those courses which convey life skills.  Looking back, there are several classes that I am glad I took (technical writing, creative writing, ballroom dancing) and classes that I should have taken (more basic business classes, statistics, and a logic/philosophy course).  EVERYONE should also take personal finance courses – I am a natural penny-pincher, but with student debt so out of control now, learning how to handle money is essential.

While you are in school, or when you get out, do not limit yourself because of your degree.  I got my job simply because I had an MA.  Get a job.  Be willing to move.  Be willing to step outside your boundaries.  Stick with it – do not let pride or ego limit you from getting your hands dirty – you may trip into something you like!

Thanks, Drew!

For more interviews like this one click here.

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!

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


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.

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?–Part 54

rosie-the-nurse-_-https___www-pinterest-com_gregmercer601_nurses-women-history_Be a nurse.

Over at AHA Today, David Glenn, an oncology nurse in Maryland, describes how his history degree has made him a better nurse.

Here is a taste:

Twenty seven years ago, I was a newly declared sophomore history major. I’d fallen hard for labor history. I wanted to study the American workplace as a site of both solidarity and alienation, a place where people can sometimes break free of the chains of class, caste, and gender, while at the same time falling prey to other kinds of oppression. I wanted to write books like Christine Stansell’s City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789–1860 (1986) or Walter Licht’s Working for the Railroad: The Organization of Work in the Nineteenth Century (1983).

It turned out that I don’t have the discipline to sift through archives without getting distracted. (I thankfully realized that early, and never applied to grad school.) Instead, I found an internship at a political magazine, freelanced for several years, and then was offered a job as a reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education. Eventually I got sick of sitting in a cubicle and decided to find an exit.

Today I’m a nurse. I work 12-hour shifts on an oncology unit. I spend my time double-checking chemotherapy orders, taking vital signs, managing Foley catheters, comforting family members, paging pharmacists and physical therapists, changing central-line dressings, and listening to patients’ stories. I love this work. I wish I’d started it 20 years earlier. Sometimes I think that if I could live my life again, at age 18 I’d go straight into nursing school (at Hunter College; this is a very specific daydream). But then I catch myself—I wouldn’t be the nurse I am if I hadn’t spent four formative years as an ambitious-but-undistinguished history student.

Every day at work I draw on skills and habits of mind that I absorbed in my undergraduate history program. I start each shift at 0700 by synthesizing data: Spoken handoff reports from the night shift, lab numbers from the morning blood draw, physicians’ progress notes. That task isn’t so far removed from what I was asked to do in 1989: weave together credible interpretations of 19th-century newspapers, diaries, and census data.

The history major also taught me how errors and fables can take on the mantle of fact through sheer repetition. Just as a sloppy or sensationalized newspaper account of a military battle can feed decades of popular myth, a single inaccurate note in a medical record can propagate itself hundreds of times over. This is especially true in the emerging era of highly integrated electronic medical record systems. If someone at one hospital erroneously charts that you have diabetes or schizophrenia, your primary care physician a thousand miles away might still be fed that “fact” six years later. When I write nursing notes, I try to create reliable artifacts.

Read the entire post here.

Are you a former history major who is using your historical training and thinking skills in unique ways?  We would love to consider you for this series! Perhaps Part 55 can focus on YOUR story!

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.

#Whystudyhistory Invades the World of Marketing

market-analystsDo you want to be an effective marketing analyst?

Then study history.

If you are a longtime reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home you know about Cali Pitchel.  She has written a lot for the blog and has been featured in at least three different So What CAN You Do With a History Major? posts.

Cali is the Director of Marketing at Analytics Pros, a digital analytics consultancy in Seattle, WA. She studied history as an undergraduate at Messiah College, received her M.A. in American Studies at Penn State, and spent two years working on a Ph.D in American history at Arizona State before dropping out to “channel her inner Peggy Olson.”

Cali does a lot of writing about how her study of history has made her a better marketing analyst.  In her most recent piece, which appears at LiftOff blog, she urges her fellow marketers to “approach your data like a historian.”  Her study of history has taught her important lessons about humility, empathy, and  interpretation that she uses every day in her current work.

Here is a taste:

I’m a trained historian. I spent the better part of the past 10 years studying the past, collecting some graduate degrees, and thinking I wanted to be a history professor. After two years of coursework in a PhD program, I took a one-semester leave for a much-needed mental break. Almost four years after what was supposed to be a brief respite, I’m the Director of Marketing at a digital analytics consultancy.

This might not seem like a natural career move. What does the humanities have to do with web and mobile app analytics? At first the transition felt a bit awkward. I had never taken a business class, let alone looked at a Google Analytics dashboard. But what I’ve learned in the past 12 months is that historians and growth marketers have a lot to learn from one another.

Here are three things I think historians can teach marketers who make data-driven decisions:

1. Be humble.

A historian requires a posture of curiosity, an open mindset, and also a strong sense of humility. You have to arrive at the text without all the answers. The sources can—and almost always will—challenge your assumptions.

Is this not true for data? All too often we see data as a capital T truth—hard numbers, fact, science. But even data is meaningless without interpretation, and because so much depends on that interpretation, data analysis demands the same integrity required of an historian. If you think you know all the answers when you approach the data, it’s likely you’ll confirm your bias. (This is a very human thing to do, by the way.)

When asked about truth, data, and analysis, Historian John Fea suggested that, “Data means Why Study History Covernothing until it becomes part of the story that the analyst wants to tell. This does not mean that the facts are not important. If the story that the analyst tells is not based on evidence, it will be a bad story and irresponsible analysis.”

A growth marketer must first acknowledge his or her position and then meet the data appropriately—fully aware of the bias that is just part of being human. It’s trite, but true: knowledge is power. And just knowing your subjectivity can (and should) come to bear on the interpretation of data.

It’s easy to choose pride over humility, especially as a marketer prized for your acumen and industry expertise. But pride and relying on your instinct can have negative implications for your users’ experience. One way to combat this and ensure you’re creating a good (and high-converting) online experience, is to create a culture of testing. Testing not only allows you to optimize a user’s experience, it can substantiate and challenge your assumptions. When you trust the data—and not just your gut—you can pivot and respond to the needs of your audience, creating a cost savings or generating more revenue. In other words, humility is good business.

2. Empathy is everything.

One of the greatest lessons I learned as a historian was the importance of empathy. The Dictionary defines empathy as “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” Studying the past was essentially a proving ground for how to relate to everyone around me, not just historical actors.

One of the difficult tasks of the historian, according to Fea, is to get rid of his or her “contemporary understanding of the world and [try] to see the world from another perspective—the perspective of someone living in what many historians refer to as the ‘foreign country’ of the past. Historians empathize with dead people and in the process we learn how to empathize in our contemporary lives as well.”

Empathy must also inform the way in which we interpret data. In its simplest form, the goal of empathy is understanding. And understanding a client—their challenges, their objectives, their business—is essential to any engagement.

Read her entire post here.

It is very rewarding to see the themes of Why Study History? find their way into the business world.  My goal is to make Why Study History? required reading in all college and university marketing classes!  🙂

Thanks, Cali.

So What CAN You Do With a History Major–Part 53

Cali Pitchel drawing

Cali Pitchel

Work as a Director of Marketing at a digital analytics consultancy.

Cali Pitchel is putting her history training–at Messiah College, Penn State, and Arizona State–to good use. Here is how she describes herself on her website:

I’m a trained historian. That means I spent eight of the past 10 years studying history—from early American settlements and the pulpits of the American Revolution to kitchens of the 1960s and the 20th century urban landscape. History taught me how to research. History taught me how to write. Most importantly, history taught me empathy.These skills are necessary for the marketing professional, and they’ve served me well as a copywriter, content strategist, and now as a Director of Marketing. 

The website of a Monomyth, a “collaborative branding and interactive studio” based in Phoenix, is running an interview with Cali.  Here is a taste:

How did you get into copywriting and content strategy. What interested you in content strategy as a career?

I spent most of the last 10 years thinking I wanted to be a history professor. After two years of coursework in a PhD program in urban history, I took a one-semester leave for a much-needed mental break. I (miraculously) landed at Moses Anshell, and that was my first exposure to advertising outside of AMC’sMad Men. My one-semester leave turned into an indefinite leave when I realized just how well my history education prepared me for a career in copywriting and content strategy.     

How has a degree in the humanities given you an advantage in your career?

In so many ways! But it took me a long time to articulate that advantage. I let momentum, and in some ways the expectations of others, keep me from seeing the possibilities available to me as a humanities student. I bought into the narrative that the most acceptable place for a history major (or any other humanities student for that matter) was the classroom, the library, or the archives.

But I had sharpened very important skills as a history student, ones that applied outside the classroom. I could read. I could research. I could write. I could tell stories — stories marked by empathy and stories that accounted for context. In essence, I had the most practical education possible: I could listen to, interpret, and understand other people. And these weren’t just any people, they were people from the past. They didn’t look like me, think like me, or act like me — but my discipline required that I learn to understand them.

Studying the past was essentially a proving ground for how to relate to everyone around me, not just historical actors. From the back-of-house in a restaurant to the boardroom or corner office, empathy and an ability to communicate clearly are requirements for any job.

What interests you about data analysis?

I see a lot of similarities between data analysis and the study of history. A historian requires a posture of curiosity, an open mindset, and also a strong sense of humility. You have to arrive at the text without all the answers. The sources can (and almost always will) challenge your assumptions.

Is this not true for data? All too often we see data as a capital T truth—hard numbers, fact, science. But even data is meaningless without interpretation, and because so much depends on that interpretation, data analysis demands the same integrity required of a historian.

I recently asked a college professor of mine, Dr. John Fea, about truth, data, and analysis. He suggested that, “Data means nothing until it becomes part of the story that the analyst wants to tell. This does not mean that the facts are not important. If the story that the analyst tells is not based on evidence, it will be a bad story and irresponsible analysis.”

In the discipline of history, you’d be hard pressed to find a historian who believes in an objective interpretation of the past. It’s impossible to capture a historical event or actor and call it truth. Data is much the same. There is indeed an objective truth in data, as there are certain objective truths in history. “But [a] historical fact is only useful when we explore what it means. And it is possible that two different historians might come up with two different, even contradictory, stories about what this fact means.” We have to keep this in mind when we look at the analysis of data. I think our industry will be better for it.

Read the entire interview here.

Sarah Imboden is Elected to the Red Hook, New York Town Board

Congratulations to Sarah Imboden, Messiah College history major, who just won a seat on the Town Board of Red Hook, New York.

Here is a short biography of the new council member:

Hi, my name is Sarah Imboden and I’m running for Town Board in Red Hook.

I am proud to be a Red Hook resident and I want to represent Red Hook families in town government.  I believe strongly in open government, solid community relationships and continued fiscal responsibility.

My family and I have lived here for five years and during that time I’ve been a dedicated town volunteer, a local reporter and newspaper editor, and, above all, a mom involved in her community.

My husband, Jonathan, and I, chose Red Hook for its winning combination of rural beauty, healthy small farms, vibrant villages and great public schools. We both work locally and believe in supporting the local economy. We volunteer and participate in local groups because we recognize that Red Hook is a great place to live and raise a family when we all work together.

I grew up in the Town of White Creek in rural Rensselaer County and went to Hoosick Falls Central School.  I have a BA in history from Messiah College (Grantham, PA) and an MA in public policy from SUNY Albany (2009), with a focus on history and environmental policy. As part of that degree, I studied public budgeting and finance, political ethics, and much more.

After taking some time to stay at home with our two children, Isaac, now 5, and Edith, who is 3, I put my public policy skills to work at The Observer newspaper, which at its height served five towns, three villages and three school districts.  As managing editor, I became well-versed in the issues that matter most to residents in Red Hook and in our local area.  I also built relationships with local government officials and am proud to say I developed a reputation for integrity, fairness and an ability to communicate local issues effectively.

I also began volunteering with Red Hook’s Conservation Advisory Council in 2010, where I continue to work on environmental issues, including recycling and waste policy, reviewing planning projects, and advising the town board on related subjects.  We are proud of our regional reputation for protecting Red Hook’s natural resources and actively encouraging the town government to consider environmentally sound policies and projects.

I currently work part-time at the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park as an editor and researcher.  In my spare time, I enjoy knitting, gardening and reading and, most of all, spending time with my family.  I coach our son’s soccer team with the Red Hook Soccer Club and we are active parishioners at St. Christopher’s Catholic Church.  We try to take full advantage of all our region has to offer, so the weekend usually finds us somewhere outdoors.

I look forward to meeting you and I thank you for your support.  

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?–Part 52


Jonathan Lewis

Work as a supply chain engineer for a major US baking company.   

Jonathan Lewis graduated from Stony Brook University (my Ph.D alma mater) in 2011 with a major in history. Over at the blog of the American Historical Association, Lewis describes how he uses his degree in his current work as an engineer.  He writes, “The skills I developed in four years as a history major ended up being useful in both getting hired and performing my current job.”  
Here is a taste of his post:
…Chances are if you have purchased bagged bread, cakes, or bagels at a grocery store, I, or one of my colleagues, determined exactly how that product traveled from the production line to your hand. I majored in history with a concentration in European and American foreign relations. Going into a math-heavy career like logistics may seem like a pretty big shift from humanities, but my history degree armed me with a variety of skills that prepared me well for it. Logisticians spend a lot of time pouring over maps and negotiating with labor representatives. My love of geography and political intrigue is what motivated me to pursue a history degree in the first place, and I found an outlet for both at my job….Proving that my history degree had equipped me for a career in logistics involved a lot of hard work and some creativity…
Selling a Degree in History on Job Applications 
I approached my applications as I would a paper for class. My thesis statement was, conveniently, always the same: “I am the best candidate for this job.” My prompts? The job postings, each of which detailed exactly what the position entailed. My sources? A stack of papers, presentations, and extra-curricular projects I had completed during the course of my undergrad career. For instance, if a job posting listed Excel skills as a requirement, my body paragraph might say, “Utilizing over 20 Excel charts and graphs, I successfully defended my senior thesis on population growth of Icelandic urban centers in the 19th century.” If requirements included “works well with others” I could mention my time working as a writing tutor for ESL students. Or, if the employer sought a candidate who could “handle sensitive information,” I could point to my experience entering final grades into our university’s student portal, a sensitive task usually reserved for the tenured professors. Depending on your area of focus, a history degree can involve developing familiarity with a wide variety of disciplines, and is limited only by your imagination. Politics, economics, statistics, and even meteorological data played big roles in my own studies. I found it useful to spend a day digging through my papers and listing on my resume specific skills I had developed while completing my assignments. When applying for my current job, one of the requirements listed was “able to manipulate data and provide graphical representation of sales trends.” In one class, I had compared the unemployment rates of weak and strong Eurozone economies, including a before and after chart to demonstrate the effect of the global recession in 2008. I brought a copy of this chart to my interview to show that I had the skills necessary to complete my work tasks. (As a supply-chain engineer, the trend graph is the most effective tool I have when proving that changes must be made to the supply chain. A sales area that shows consistent growth over a decade will need to have truck routes added to meet demand and keep drivers from being overworked.) Coming to the interview prepared and organized showed that I had the motivation and talent to learn specific job skills, and that my attitude would be a boon to the department. 
History Skills on the Job 
A major is not meant to lock you into a specific career path, even if this does sometimes feel like the conventional wisdom. My liberal arts degree ultimately allowed me to approach problems with a different perspective than my colleagues who were hired from sales or delivery positions. 
Many of my history skills have been useful at work. All the late hours I spent on research papers pays off every time I am asked to review presentations for my colleagues, usually with a focus on editing their written slides. The baking business is also one that has much reverence for tradition. Every bakery my company owns displays prominently in the lobby an exhibit on the origins of the brand, and the transition that brand made from local delicacy to national prominence. This culture has occasionally caused negotiations with drivers and local management to stall. On one of my first projects, a major concern about the changes I had made to a supply chain was “this is not how we’ve been doing it for the last 75 years.” I learned that certain runs were passed from father to son for three or more generations. Because I had some experience conducting oral history interviews during my undergraduate career, I was able to establish a personal connection with the driving team, which helped smooth the process of labor negotiation better than any set of sales numbers could….
Read the entire piece here.
Are you doing something interesting with your history degree?  If so, we would love to talk to you about our So What CAN You Do With a History Major? series at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Contact us!

Connecting Your Past and Future: Charting a Career in History

Today I have been following the Twitter feed–#PhDCareer–of a one-day conference in Washington D.C. on careers in history.  This looks like a great event.  It is sponsored by the National Council for Public History, the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, and the Smithsonian Institution.

While many of the tweeters have Ph.Ds in history, a lot of the advice also applies to undergraduates and masters-level students who want to use their history majors and degrees in work outside of the academy. Unfortunately, the link to the program and speakers seems to be broken.

Here are just a few of my retweets so far:

Data On Career Prospects for History Majors

Over at AHA Today, Rob Townsend offers some online resources “that can help you and your students in thinking about their potential careers and financial prospects.”

Here is a taste:

The prevailing question from students and parents these days seems to be about how salaries for history majors compare to other fields. A new report from the Humanities Indicators finds median annual earnings were $55,000 for workers who majored in US history and $50,000 for those who majored in another area of history (with only a bachelor’s degree). Both numbers compare favorably to $42,000 for the average American aged 25 to 64 (including all those who have not earned degrees), but lag a bit behind the average for graduates from all fields ($57,000). Those numbers can provide a baseline for general discussions with parents and administrators. For a one-on-one conversation with a student, however, PayScale offers a nice visualization of history’s relationship to other degrees. The visualization is very accessible for the average reader, but needs to be read with caution, since it relies only on self-reported data. 

Read more here.

And for more anecdotal evidence check out our series So What CAN You Do With a History Major?

Historians Are Long-Term Thinkers

Long-term thinking in a short-term world.  This is yet another valuable skill that people trained in history can bring to life outside of academia.

Fiona Whelan reminds us of this with a post at her blog, Beyond the Doctorate.

Here is a taste:

A few weeks ago I attended a conference for administrators/support staff at the University of Oxford and was treated to a fascinating Plenary Lecture by Sir Jonathan Phillips, Warden of Keble College.

What resonated with me was his perspective on the value of being a historian while working outside of academia. He talked about his time as a civil servant, and the transient nature of government. Governments seek only to look towards the next election, and so invariably think in a short term.

But that is anathema to the historian. We think in the long term, and while we mostly look backwards, we also have the foresight to think further into the future. We think about the long-term in both directions.

Thinking about my own role in university administration, I have realised that this idea of short-term and long-term thinkers is equally applicable. Vice-Chancellors and Pro-Vice-Chancellors are frequently elected to their positions for fixed terms. As support staff, we effectively act as the civil servants to the university governance. Yet, with the Higher Education landscape looking more and more uncertain with government funding cuts and student visa issues etc., the value of the historian is to think of the university in the long-term. Not only should we appreciate the long history of the institution (although I do have almost 900 years of history to contend with!!), we also need to think beyond the next 5-10 years. 

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?–Part 51

cali-in-greenwichWhat can you do with a history major?  Work as a Director of Marketing at a digital analytics consultancy.

Its been almost a decade since Cali Pitchel walked into my course on the history of the American Revolution. After a few false starts, today she is putting her history major to use every day.

Here is a taste of a piece she wrote at her blog:

I entered college as an “Undecided” freshman. Admissions assigned a well meaning but under-qualified Residence Director as my guidance counselor. Under her guidance direction I decided to take twelve credit hours my first semester — a hapless decision that would come back to haunt me during the first of a few eighteen credit hour semesters.

During the second semester of my sophomore year, I found myself sitting in the front row of “History of the American Revolution,” a small and rigorous upper-level history course. It was in this lecture hall where I would fall in love with the study of history and meet the faculty member who would have the most profound impact on my intellectual growth. Enthralled and stimulated in ways I hadn’t been during the first two years of college (and a full academic year behind on the Social Studies Certification), I declared myself a History major.

While my roommates studied for their state boards and MCATs, I took research trips to Greenwich, New Jersey and pored over Revolution-era documents at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia.

As we neared graduation I got nervous. My friends headed onto medical school, Big Five accounting firms, and full-time positions as RNs. When I chose history, I didn’t choose a career. Next to their narrow, yet practical paths, mine looked roomy and indulgent. But at the same time my choices seemed limited. I had dropped the Social Studies Certificate, so I couldn’t get a job as a teacher. Did I want to do research? Become an archivist? None of the “traditional” paths appealed.

To buy myself time — two years to be precise — I went back to school for American Studies. I wrote about post-war America, industrial design, and what Rachael Ray’s success can teach us about nostalgia. It was fun. But again, seemingly indulgent.

Fast forward to summer of 2012. I’m wrapping up my second year of coursework in a PhD History program. The PhD felt like the natural choice after the MA. But I was burned out, unsettled, and agitated. I decided to take a leave from the program. Just one semester. That’s all I needed — a respite from the intensity of the program, and more importantly time to evaluate what I really wanted to do.

Teach? Research? Back to the archives? I was yet to imagine a professional life outside academia. I had bought into the narrative that the most acceptable place for a history major (or any other humanities student for that matter) was the classroom, the library, or the archives.

But I had sharpened very important skills as a history student, ones that applied outside the classroom. I could read. I could research. I could write. I could tell stories — stories marked by empathy and stories that accounted for context. In essence, I had the most practical education possible: I could listen to, interpret, and understand other people. And these weren’t just any people, they were people from the past. They didn’t look like me, think like me, or act like me — but my discipline required that I learn to understand them.

The Dictionary defines empathy as “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” Studying the past was essentially a proving ground for how to relate to everyone around me, not just historical actors. From the back-of-house in a restaurant to the boardroom or corner office, empathy and an ability to communicate clearly are requirements for any job.

John Fea, Professor of American History at Messiah College, has a lot to say about historical empathy and the employability of history grads. (He’s even written a book about it.)

While perusing his blog, I came across a article from 2014 that demonstrates the importance of “intellectual humility” (i.e., empathy) in Google’s hiring practices:

It took me five years (and a few detours) after I graduated from college to learn how to articulate the value of my humanities education. My degree didn’t read “Marketing,” so I lacked the confidence necessary to apply for jobs that I truly found interesting. Instead I continued down the obvious raod that was indeed productive, but not necessary to get me onto my current career path.

Today I’m the Director of Marketing at a digital analytics consultancy in Seattle, Washington. If you asked me in 2007, while I donned my cap and graduation gown, where I’d be in five to ten years, I would have told you a classroom somewhere. I hadn’t left any room for possibility. I hadn’t begun to imagine how well-suited I was not only for a job outside of academia, but a job in marketing and advertising that demands you understand your audience, their behavior, and their wants and needs. My current role requires all the things I learned while I studied history — especially empathy.

I’ll end on this: If you studied history and you can’t seem to find the words to express your value in the workplace, email me. I want to help. If you’re an employer, I urge you to consider “nontraditional” applicants, those without the typical Communications, Marketing, or Business degrees. Your workplace will be better for it.

How Should I Tell My Parents That I Want to Major in History?

I have been trying to answer this question for a long time. I started exploring career options for history majors in an ongoing series of posts on this blog entitled “So What CAN You Do With a History Major?”  Then I wrote a chapter in my book Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past entitled “So What Can You Do With a History Major?”

I am glad that history professors at other colleges and universities have found my work in this area helpful.  One of those historians is Jay Case of Malone College.  Here is a taste of his post at The Circuit Reader:

If you read this blog, chances are either you have some appreciation for history, or you are really desperate for a few bad jokes and some cheap snark. If it is the latter, somebody may need to have a long conversation with you about your priorities.

Of course, there are many people who would say that if is the former, you may need to have a long conversation with someone about your priorities. History may be nice if you need a hobby, like collecting snow globes, but beyond that, what’s the point?

I’ve been dealing with this way of thinking throughout my professional career. For instance, I occasionally run into a student who doesn’t understand why they are required to take a history class. And by “occasionally,” I mean a couple dozen students every semester since 1983.

But then, sometimes I get a student who not only loves history, but actually wants to major in history in college. Last month, for instance, I talked to a student who was seriously thinking about becoming a history major. She was thoughtful, did some research on the question, and had very good reasons for thinking about history as a major.  Cool.

“But I’m not sure what I will tell my parents,” she said.

Ah. Parents.

Yes, what self-respecting parent would want their child to go off to college to major in history, particularly if they aren’t going to teach? That seems about as productive as collecting snow globes. Only you have to pay a hefty tuition fee to do it.

I understand the concern. History does not seem to be practical. It does not seem to lead to any clear jobs, other than teaching history to students who don’t know why they should be taking a history class.

You might guess that I have a lot to say about this. It is hard, however, to unpack it all in a blog post. So let me tell you what I told my student: read Why Study History? by John Fea, a historian at Messiah College.

He describes many reasons for studying history.  He explains what goes into the academic study of history. And he has a wonderful little chapter for college students and parents alike, entitled “So What Can You Do With a History Major?”

What can you do with a history major? Here is a hint: Fea discusses a former student of his who is working in a hospital in Malawi, explaining she is an agent of change who got her job “because and not in spite of the fact that she was a history major in college.” Is that strange? No. I see this in many of my former students: a good history education can actually make you better at your calling, whatever it may be.

Read the entire post here.