I Majored in History, Now What?

Posted on November 7th, 2009 by

What can you do with a History major?  The answer may surprise you.  What would you like to do? 

The History program at Gustavus prepares its majors to think historically.  Historical thinking involves skills that are crucial to thriving in our rapidly-changing global environment.  Among those skills are analysis of trends and causes-effects over time; interpretation of evidence using both logic and informed imagination; understanding the past transnationally and cross-culturally; grasping the role of and relationship between human agency and its constraints; understanding times, places, peoples, and beliefs that might at first seem strange; understanding the relationship between past, present, and future; and communicating effectively–clearly, concisely, persuasively–both orally and in writing.  Together with knowledge about the past, such skills prepare one for an interesting, productive, and rewarding life in the “real world” beyond the hill.

In fact, History and Humanities majors often find that they have precisely the skills set employers value and expect.  Moreover, no prospective employer will tell an impressive candidate during an interview, “You have everything we are looking for to fill this position–you think and write well, you know how to analyze data and evidence over time, you dress sharply, your manners are impeccable, and you would be an interesting colleague.  Too bad you majored in history.”

The track record of Gustavus History alums reveals an impressive range of career choices and paths: 

Some choose to pursue graduate study in History or a related field, at  schools like Stanford University, Harvard University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Iowa, George Mason University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to name just a few.

Some attend law school, like the alum who is currently clerking for the Minnesota Supreme Court and has an offer from a top Twin Cities law firm.

Some become professors themselves, teaching courses and publishing scholarship at both universities and liberal arts colleges like Gustavus (or even at Gustavus itself, as  in the case of the History Department’s newest colleague, Glenn Kranking, who once edited The Weekly!).

Some go into the world of public history, working at a historical society, archive, or history museum.

Some go into business for themselves, like the graduate who, having earned a Master’s  in Public Policy from the London School of Economics several years ago, returned to the Twin Cities and started her own consulting business.

Some who double-majored are now in fields that combine the two, like the History Honors-Biology double major who holds a recently awarded Doctorate in Marine Biology with a specialty in the historical feeding habits of right whales.

Many secure employment in the private sector, where they daily draw on the skills they learned as History majors.

Majoring in History at Gustavus, in short, is not only rewarding at the time but following graduation as well. 

Boston University historian Bruce Schulman has noted, “Alone among the disciplines, history encounters the full range of experience; it isolates no particular endeavor (be it politics, culture, economics, religion, or science), region or era” (News of the History Department at Boston University, Nov. 2009, p.1).  This helps to explain why majoring in history not only prepares one to cope and excel in a diverse and complex world, but also, no less important, lays the intellectual groundwork for an interesting and satisfying life.

When I lived in St. Peter, my physician was an internal medicine “Top Doc” at the nearby Mankato Clinic.  Once during a routine visit he asked me what Gustavus History majors do following graduation.  I answered with pride along the lines above and then decided to ask what his own major had been.  Philosophy, at the University of Minnesota.  I love to cite his answer because it gives the lie to the stereotype of (supposed) dead-end majors in the Humanities.  And it reminds us that a fine liberal arts education, with a major in a Humanities discipline one has a passion for, is no barrier (far from it!) to a career that may at first blush seem an unlikely outcome of a major like Philosophy or History.  In fact, even as I type, a History graduate from a few years ago is applying to medical schools in the region and beyond.

Members of the History Department would be happy to share more information  with you about the major and its possibilities.  Just ask!

And remember: The next time someone asks what can you do with a History major, reply confidently, with a smile, “whatever I would like!”

History Alums in the News: Ian Grant (also Art History), owner of the retail store Bjorling & Grant in St. Louis Park, MN, whose show “The Relic Hunter with Ian Grant” premiered on the Travel Channel in October; and Margaret Anderson Kelliher (also Political Science), Speaker of the Minnesota House and candidate for the state’s 2010 gubernatorial election.


One Comment

  1. Heyward Sease says:

    My daughter is a student at Gustavus, and I majored in History at the University of Florida. Do you ever allow someone to audit a history class, or attend lectures? Do you have MN history classes?