Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How Should I Tell My Parents That I Want to Major in History?

I have been trying to answer this question for a long time. I started exploring career options for history majors in an ongoing series of posts on this blog entitled "So What CAN You Do With a History Major?"  Then I wrote a chapter in my book Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past entitled "So What Can You Do With a History Major?"

I am glad that history professors at other colleges and universities have found my work in this area helpful.  One of those historians is Jay Case of Malone College.  Here is a taste of his post at The Circuit Reader:

If you read this blog, chances are either you have some appreciation for history, or you are really desperate for a few bad jokes and some cheap snark. If it is the latter, somebody may need to have a long conversation with you about your priorities.
Of course, there are many people who would say that if is the former, you may need to have a long conversation with someone about your priorities. History may be nice if you need a hobby, like collecting snow globes, but beyond that, what’s the point?
I’ve been dealing with this way of thinking throughout my professional career. For instance, I occasionally run into a student who doesn’t understand why they are required to take a history class. And by “occasionally,” I mean a couple dozen students every semester since 1983.
But then, sometimes I get a student who not only loves history, but actually wants to major in history in college. Last month, for instance, I talked to a student who was seriously thinking about becoming a history major. She was thoughtful, did some research on the question, and had very good reasons for thinking about history as a major.  Cool.
“But I’m not sure what I will tell my parents,” she said.
Ah. Parents.
Yes, what self-respecting parent would want their child to go off to college to major in history, particularly if they aren’t going to teach? That seems about as productive as collecting snow globes. Only you have to pay a hefty tuition fee to do it.
I understand the concern. History does not seem to be practical. It does not seem to lead to any clear jobs, other than teaching history to students who don’t know why they should be taking a history class.
You might guess that I have a lot to say about this. It is hard, however, to unpack it all in a blog post. So let me tell you what I told my student: read Why Study History? by John Fea, a historian at Messiah College.
history (something that is good to consider whether or not you majored in history).  He describes many reasons for studying history.  He explains what goes into the academic study of history. And he has a wonderful little chapter for college students and parents alike, entitled “So What Can You Do With a History Major?”
What can you do with a history major? Here is a hint: Fea discusses a former student of his who is working in a hospital in Malawi, explaining she is an agent of change who got her job “because and not in spite of the fact that she was a history major in college.” Is that strange? No. I see this in many of my former students: a good history education can actually make you better at your calling, whatever it may be.
Read the entire post here.