Colleges

Learning From the Past: Majoring in History

If you fall asleep to the History Channel and look forward to learning about ancient times in your social studies classes, you might want to check out the possibility of being a history major. In this course of study, you’ll not only research and learn about what’s happened in the past (not just in the US, but all over the world), but also how to interpret and analyze those happenings and even how to apply them to the present day. You’ll scour old texts, photos, and artifacts to build upon whatever foundation you already gained in high school, learning about different periods, places, and people and how they’ve changed over time.

What do history majors work on in school?

Expect to receive both a broad liberal-arts education and an in-depth schooling in all different types of history. In addition to general courses that touch on historical research methods and criticism, you’ll likely dive deep into American and European history; ancient history (such as the cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt); history that focuses on race, gender, or socioeconomics; globalization and world history; and wars and other battles fought over the centuries. You’ll also likely find electives in nearly every other genre, depending on the school you attend: art, science, medicine, pop culture, health—whatever your interest, there’s sure to be a class or two that especially piques it.

So what winding road will a history major lead you down?

You won’t be compelled to be a history teacher.

That is, unless you want to—because chances are if you picked this major, being a history teacher, either on the secondary or college level, is probably a job you wouldn’t object to. But there are so many other career paths you can take with this degree, including:

• Documentary filmmaker

• Writer or literary agent

• Print or broadcast journalist

• Historian for a museum, government archives, historical group, or research firm

• Attorney

• Librarian or information services expert

• Lobbyist

• Policy analyst

You’ll get paid well for your knowledge of all things past and present.

Obviously, what you earn will depend on what career path you venture down, but even just sticking with straight-up history-themed job offers promising earnings potential. Historians (which often require at least a master’s degree to maximize your paycheck) made a median annual salary of $55,000 or so in 2016, while the median annual salary for postsecondary history instructors in 2016 was just over $71,000.

Even if you veer into a career that’s not exactly history oriented, the skills you gain as a history major are invaluable.

Because you’ll often be knee-deep in historical analysis (and writing papers about what you’ve discovered), you’ll be honing interdisciplinary skills that are transferable and desirable to practically any employer. Job candidates who can organize their thoughts into clear, organized writing, apply their reasoning and logic skills, and obsessively examine how problems were addressed in the past to come up with better solutions for the present and future will be an asset to any company.

It’s a fascinating major.

If you’re drawn to this degree, it’s likely because you’re intrigued by how the people of yesteryear lived, worked, played, and loved. It can be riveting to hear how different life was in ancient times—or even as recently as a generation ago—and to see how different countries, cultures, and societies have intertwined over the years. And because there’s a history for, well, everything, you can let your interests lead you into whatever history field you’re most drawn to, ensuring you’ll stay interested throughout your studies.

It’s also a vital one.

You’ve likely heard philosopher George Santayana’s axiom “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The world needs people who are in the know about what happened in the past and on the lookout for how what’s going on in the world now could one day lead to a repeat performance—for better or for worse. When history is ignored, avoidable mistakes might be made; ignorance of the past is almost never an asset. Via your history studies, you might start to spot patterns that have played out in different parts of the world over time, and even to anticipate how those patterns might crop up again.

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