Published Date

October 21, 2018

Resource Type

AHA Resource, Booklet, For Departments, For Professional Development, For the Classroom

AHA Topics

Academic Departmental Affairs, Career Paths, Professional Life, Teaching & Learning, The History Major, Undergraduate Education

This essay is part of the AHA’s Career for History Majors Booklet.

By Sarah Fenton

Students of history learn to reach sound judgements by reading widely and weighing evidence with care. They construct persuasive arguments based on research rather than rumor or reflex.

If you are considering joining them, the evidence collected in this book will help you make an informed decision about whether to pursue a degree in history, or even simply to sign up for that first course-maybe a seminar on ancient Egypt or a course on the history of medicine, the Zhou dynasty, or the United State in the 21rst century. Consider this little book your first assignment, though not a difficult one-there will be no exam when you’ve finished, and its contents needn’t be read in sequence.

But knowing how a book is organized can help you make use of it. If you’re a numbers person, turn to Section One, “What Can You Do with That History Degree? Exploring the Data.” Its employment figures include current occupations of former history majors as well as measurements of comparative earnings data and career satisfaction over time. Section Two, “History Discipline Core,” outlines the objectives of a history degree: the enduring knowledge and acquired skills specific to the discipline. In Section Three, “Many Paths, One Degree,” six graduates approach the question “Why study history?” from different perspectives: from the needs of potential employers to the demands of a participatory democracy, from the challenges of globalism to the pursuit of intellectual and ethical enrichment. Scattered throughout are testimonials from history majors about what they learned and how that education has affected their lives.

Taken together, the evidence collected here provides a portrait of what programs in history achieve at 21rst-century American colleges and universities. You’ll find that the reasons to study history are as varied as the people who study it. Should you wish to learn more—to ask questions or contribute thoughts about your own experience in a history course—please visit the American Historical Association’s “Why Study History?” web page.

Sarah Fenton is the editor of 30-Second New York and a contributing editor at the AHA.