A Degree in History: Your Ticket to the Unpredictable Future

As a liberal arts major, the world is your oyster. CHASS Dean Jeff Braden put it welll: "What do you do with a degree in humanities or social sciences? Anything you want!" [Graduation, 14 May 2011] You can consider and/or create a multitude of careers and paths.
  • How to Major in History *** How to Minor in History
  • Advice to corporations from the Harvard Business Review--hire humanities majors. Here's what you'll get:
    • Complexity and ambiguity. Any great work of art, whether literary, philosophical, psychological or visual, challenges a humanist to be curious, to ask open-ended questions, see the big picture. This kind of thinking is just what you need if you are facing a murky future or dealing with tricky, incipient problems.
    • Innovation. If you want out-of-the-box thinking, you need to free up people's inherent creativity. Humanists are trained to be creative and are uniquely adapted to leading creative teams. (A case in point: Steve Jobs, who openly acknowledges how studying the beautiful art of calligraphy led him to design the Macintosh interface.)
    • Communication and presentation. Liberal arts graduates are well-trained in writing and presenting, making them natural fits for marketing, training, and research. A focus on writing (which you need for degrees in history, literature, philosophy, and rhetoric) helps people develop persuasive arguments, and a background in performance (such as theater or music) gives people great presentation skills. And an understanding of history is indispensable if you want to understand the broader competitive arena and global markets.
    • Customer and employee satisfaction. The ability to "get under the skin" of customers and employees to discover their real needs and concerns demands something other than surveys, which yield superficial information. Instead, you need keen powers of observation and psychology, the stuff of poets and novelists. Get more info at Want Innovative Thinking? Hire from the Humanities, by Tony Golsby-Smith, HBR, March 31, 2011.
  • A broad base means a productive life. "The humanities remind us where we have been and help us envision where we are going. Emphasizing critical perspective and imaginative response, the humanities foster creativity, appreciation of our commonalities and our differences, and knowledge of all kinds. The social sciences reveal patterns in our lives, over time and in the present moment. Employing the observational and experimental methods of the natural sciences, the social sciences examine and predict behavioral and organizational processes. Together, they help us understand what it means to be human and connect us with our global community." The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences June 2013 report.
  • Evidence of the need for more than simply business courses from the Wall Street Journal, Apr 5, 2012. The article is titled "Wealth or Waste? Rethinking the Value of a Business Major." Excerpt: "The biggest complaint (from employers): The undergraduate degrees focus too much on the nuts and bolts of finance and accounting and don't develop enough critical thinking and problem-solving skills through long essays, in-class debates and other hallmarks of liberal-arts courses. Companies say they need flexible thinkers with innovative ideas and a broad knowledge base derived from exposure to multiple disciplines."

    What you learn by studying history

    Thoughts on "The Possibilities of Pedagogy," forum, May 2012 issue of Perspectives on History, American Historical Association

    INQUIRY-GUIDED LEARNING! We have come to appreciate the importance of an inquiry-based instruction whose primary goal is to cultivate in our students what Sam Wineburg has called the "unnatural act" of historical thinking. The new paradigm for teaching history recognizes the active nature of the learning process, as we help students formulate meaningful, open-ended questions and develop the skills to sift through evidence, analyze conflicting perspectives, and form reasoned conclusions. The best history teachers, we are coming to understand, do not tell students seamless stories about what happened and why, but model the investigative process used by historians: reading closely and critically, thinking interpretively, and writing analytically. History education develops students' grasp of such difficult concepts as motivation and agency, causality and contingency, and provides students with lifetime skills for challenging assumptions and using evidence to support their ideas. The Current State of History Education: "One Big School House" By Karen Halttunen

    ACTIVE LEARNING Influenced by cognitive psychology and its insights into the active nature of the learning process, history educators have articulated a model of learning that emphasizes student "inquiry" and the critical thinking skills distinctive to the professional disciplines of history and the social sciences: significance, causation, continuity and change, and other conceptual skills. History educators have increasingly turned to primary sources, even with younger elementary students, to help them engage in disciplinary work. In examining the "raw material" of the past, students learn to read critically and skeptically. Some teachers introduce students to conflicting secondary accounts to help them grapple with the contested nature of studying the past. Rather than simply memorizing facts, students marshal facts as evidence in constructing responses to open-ended historical questions. "The State of K–12 History Teaching: Challenges to Innovation" By Lisa Hutton, Tim Keirn, and Dave Neumann

    BENEFITS OF HISTORICAL STUDY: studying history improves a student's ability to read analytically, think critically, and write effectively. Moreover, the discipline of history prepares students to take part in a pluralistic democracy by requiring them to consider multiple perspectives, analyze and interpret information, and draw conclusions from evidence. "A New Blueprint for History Education" By Tuyen Tran and Beth Slutsky

    DECLINE OF HISTORY IN K-12: NCLB (and its deprioritization of history education) seems the more likely principal culprit. To be sure, close to half of the 50 states do test in history, but only a handful measure history achievement at the elementary level. . . . most elementary teachers know very little history and perhaps even less about how to teach it well. This might explain why the "holiday curriculum as history instruction" remains entrenched in elementary schools as a flimsy substitute for the more robust approach eliminated by the press on reading and mathematics. "The End of History Education in Elementary Schools?" By Bruce VanSledright, Kimberly Reddy, and Brie Walsh

    Additional Info Links

  • What employers want and how history delivers
  • Learn How History, Social Sciences & Humanities Prepare Students for Medical Careers
  • Q&A with Dr. Slatta about how and why to major in history
  • Sampler of Jobs Done by History Majors
  • What Can I Do With a History Major? Extensive list of careers compiments of The University of Tennessee
  • NCSU Career Development Center