I get a lot of questions about what I plan on doing with my history PhD and what can be done with a history degree more generally. I am surprised how undervalued history degrees are. Despite what you might think, history isn’t about memorizing dates and names. History teaches you how to read effectively, think critically, write, research, and analyze and interpret data. All very useful skill sets in a wide variety of fields.
While it is true that becoming a tenure-track professor in the current market is a next-to-impossible goal, this doesn’t mean that history degrees are not valuable. I think we have to move beyond the mindset that employers are looking for specific degrees. While specific degrees are required for some careers, more often then not, employers are looking for certain skill sets.
I constantly hear from my friends and family in corporate settings and technological industries that their biggest issue with hiring employees is finding someone who can read and write. It seems so simple, but with higher education’s current emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and technical training, I think we are not giving students the reading comprehension and writing skills they need to succeed in any field/life.
I realize history isn’t for everyone, but if you do enjoy history, I encourage you not to dismiss it (or the humanities more generally) because it is perceived as being useless or not leading to a specific career. Both couldn’t be further from the truth. History degrees are wonderful for preparing students for law school, government employment, and museum work. And the skills acquired from a history degree will teach you how to adapt ideas, explain & interpret events and ideas, summarize information, compare and compile reports, developed world views and understand interrelatedness, offer new perspectives, develop new agendas for old problems, problem solve in general, present information using written and spoken media, and the biggest one, write effectively. I could go on and on, but all of these are essential skills almost every employer is looking for.
So before you dismiss history, think about taking a course, minoring, or even majoring in history. You might be surprised just how useful it is. And on a final note, I leave you with this amazing poster from the University of Utah’s Humanities Department:
If you are thinking of applying to grad school for history, you can read my tips for applying here. And if you want more history, here are the five history books that have had the greatest impact on me as a historian.