Why Study History?

Why study history? The answer is because we virtually must, to gain access to the laboratory of human experience. When we study it reasonably well, and so acquire some usable habits of mind, as well as some basic data about the forces that affect our own lives, we emerge with relevant skills and an enhanced capacity for informed citizenship, critical thinking, and simple awareness. The uses of history are varied. Studying history can help us develop some literally “salable” skills, but its study must not be pinned down to the narrowest utilitarianism. Some history—that confined to personal recollections about changes and continuities in the immediate environment—is essential to function beyond childhood. Some history depends on personal taste, where one finds beauty, the joy of discovery, or intellectual challenge. Between the inescapable minimum and the pleasure of deep commitment comes the history that, through cumulative skill in interpreting the unfolding human record, provides a real grasp of how the world works.—Peter Stearns

Member Testimonial

I grew up in a village of 500 people in Delaware in the 1950s, and attended a segregated elementary school. I was curious about the social dynamics of this small place-how various social distinctions came to be and what they meant for the people who lived there. Eventually I realized that the best way to answer those questions was to study American history.

Jacqueline Jones on "Why Study History"

History Is Not a Useless Major: Fighting Myths with Data

Myths about the "usefulness" of the history major are abundant. In the April 2017 issue of Perspectives on History, Paul B. Sturtevant used concrete data to bust three of the most persistent myths, that history majors are underemployed, unprepared for gainful employment, and underpaid.

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What to Do with a BA in History?

"A Career in Corporate Finance," by Clifford Manko. May 24, 2018

"History at the Office," by Stephanie Fulbright. February 12, 2018

"From Museums to Coroporate History," by Mark Speltz. June 13, 2017

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