By Mark Speltz
Twenty-five years have passed since I chose to pursue a history degree. Amazingly, it is one decision I have never regretted or second guessed. Yet it would be a lie to suggest to prospective history majors or young historians that I knew just where my degree would take me. Being personable, intellectually curious, and open to new opportunities has served me and my history degree well.
By James Rick
While attending a panel on “the Culture Wars” in American history at the 2016 annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta, I was struck by something a fellow attendee said. As someone interested in cultural history, his comment, which concerned the influence of anthropological conceptions of culture on the way historians understand and employ the concept, felt important and worth wrestling with to me. I am now a graduate student, and this question, along with others that I encountered at the annual meeting, has stuck with me and often come up in the courses I am now taking.
By Rachel Snyder
Applying for college is stressful enough without having to pick a major. That is why after writing a personal statement, answering philosophical questions in less than 500 words, and providing character references, I wasn’t ready to click a box declaring my plan of study for the next four plus years. The decision seemed binding and final—I clicked “undecided.”
By David Glenn
Twenty seven years ago, I was a newly declared sophomore history major. I’d fallen hard for labor history. I wanted to study the American workplace as a site of both solidarity and alienation, a place where people can sometimes break free of the chains of class, caste, and gender, while at the same time falling prey to other kinds of oppression. I wanted to write books like Christine Stansell’s City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789–1860 (1986) or Walter Licht’s Working for the Railroad: The Organization of Work in the Nineteenth Century (1983).
By Kamarin Takahara
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Because I spent most of my time surrounded by teachers, I answered this question when I was young with: “Well, I want to be a teacher.” As I grew up and experienced new things, however, that question took on a greater significance.
The seeming irrevocability of the answer scared me—like in a final exam, you make a choice, turn it in, and because you can never change the answer, you are stuck with your decision forever.
A recent report from Humanities Indicators, a project of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, showed that less than a quarter of Americans aged 18 years or older visited a historical park or monument in 2012—a 13 percentage point drop from 1982. As a student from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Utah, I traveled to Washington, DC, in January to intern with the American Historical Association for the spring semester. Having taken advantage of opportunities to explore the city’s many historic sites and museums, the report made me wonder about the nation’s declining interest in visiting historical sites.
By Jason Steinhauer
In February I had the privilege of visiting a public university in the Midwest and meeting with students from its graduate history program, both masters and PhD candidates. I left very impressed: the department chair was dedicated and forward-thinking, the faculty were excellent, and the students were remarkably bright. One was researching the intersection of African American history with health and medicine. Another was working on a topic connected to LGBT history. A third was doing work connected to public policy.
By Jacob Anbinder
It’s no secret that many departments use job prospects to lure undergraduates trying to pick a major. History departments in particular tend to tout their alumni’s diverse array of career paths in an attempt to answer the inevitable question: “But what will you do with that?” Among college majors, it seems, history is considered just “useful” enough to have to justify itself, but not so useful that students would flock to it anyway. Studying history, however, gives graduates tremendous flexibility in the job market.