Tuesday, July 2, 2013

We Need to Hear the Voices of Humanities Majors

As regular readers of this blog know, I have been recording the stories of history majors who have used their degrees in a variety of fields unrelated to the discipline of history.  When these men and women are asked if they would major in history again, knowing what they now know about their current fields of employment, they have answered with an overwhelming "yes."  You can read their stories at our "So What CAN You Do With a History Major" series here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  (I have also included a chapter on this subject in my forthcoming Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past).

As Tony Grafton and James Grossman note in their recent article in The Chronicle of Education, we need to hear more stories like the ones I have collected.  These are stories about classics majors who become military surgeons, employers who want potential employees to know something about the company history, and neurologists who learned to do research by writing a senior thesis on the history of the death of Captain Cook.

Here is a taste of their piece:

...We also need to hear the voices of those whose lives are touched by these humanities majors after college, whether at the workplace or in the community.

What makes some students believe that being humanists will make them better doctors, better lawyers, better advertising experts? What do they find, in their courses, to keep them in departments of English and history and Romance languages? How are we helping them to articulate what they bring to the world beyond the university, so they can tell those stories more effectively? How can we make those stories available to new undergraduates as they decide what to study?

It's not by worrying about the numbers, in the end, that we will find out what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong as teachers. Nor is it by closing our ears (not to mention our minds) to the various communities beyond the academy in which our former students live and work—and in which we live and work.

It's by listening, as humanists do best, to stories, and seeing what the narratives can teach us. Open your ears and—we promise you—you'll hear stories that don't resemble what you read in the media.

So once again, if you were a history major who is employed in a non-history-related field but who draws upon the skills you learned as a history major in your current job, we want to hear from you!  Please consider writing a piece or being interviewed for our So What CAN You Do With a History Major series.