To some students, majoring in history sounds appealing, but they worry about what kinds of jobs await history majors after graduation. They realize that few “Historian Wanted” job listings ever appear in daily newspapers. Of course, the same can be said of many other occupations; for example, “Wildlife Photographer Wanted” and “Civilian Advisor to the Pentagon Wanted” are also rare job listings, but they are nonetheless extremely worthwhile occupations. But for those interested in history, the key question is “what can I do with a history major?”
The answer is that the proper study of history develops the basic intellectual skills that employers seek: the ability to read and comprehend what you are reading, to make sense out of a vast amount of data, to perceive ideas and flaws in arguments, and to express your ideas so that others can understand you. The importance of these skills becomes apparent when considering that, for you, the future holds at least forty years of employment. There are few technical skills you can master as an undergraduate that will not have become outmoded within a decade, let alone four decades. But if you have those skills that can come from the study of history, you will be able to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
Many of our majors move directly into private business (banks, real estate, and insurance) or government service (National Parks Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, historic sites, and legislative staffs). Various nonprofit organizations, such as historical associations and societies, also employ history majors.
Other history majors pursue careers in elementary or secondary education. Although the majority of these majors find teaching positions in public or private schools, a few become teachers for the Department of Defense (DOD). As DOD employees, they teach on US military bases around the world.
Some history majors go on to specialized professional training in graduate schools around the country. Our majors have competed successfully in such programs as law, business administration, library science, social work, and public administration. They have been successful because they planned their undergraduate program carefully, developing not only their basic intellectual skills, but also acquiring the technical knowledge which is a prerequisite for most professional degree programs.
A few of our history majors pursue graduate training in history in order to obtain positions in the private or public sectors. Private businesses employ history majors in a number of ways. For example, large and medium-size corporations with record centers often employ archivists and assistant archivists to oversee records management. Some large corporations, such as Eli Lilly, Corning, and Coca-Cola, build and manage their own museums, so they regularly employ curators, assistant curators, and site managers.
A history major will not guarantee you the skills and success described above. You will develop intellectual skills by seeking challenging courses, not avoiding them. You will gain breadth of knowledge by taking courses in areas where you are weak, not concentrating your course work in familiar fields. You will acquire the prerequisites for graduate training by knowing what they are and taking the proper courses. You need to plan your undergraduate program with care!
- Read a miniguide on Careers for History Majors from the American Historical Association
The study of History: One Student’s Perspective
Mandy Hughett, honors history major from the class of ’08, was the recipient of the Top History Undergraduate Student prize in 2007-2008, as well as a UT Collegiate Scholar. Mandy and another history major from ’08, Sarah el-Ghazaly, were two of only twenty-six students honored as Collegiate Scholars from the College of Arts and Sciences. At our annual departmental awards banquet on April 9, 2008, Mandy gave the following address about her experience as a history major at UT and why she values the study of history. Read Mandy’s talk here.