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Four reasons why you should study history

If you are intrigued by our past and want to learn how it will shape our future, you should consider studying history. History is a multifaceted discipline that will increase your cultural awareness and moral understanding of the world we live in.

By studying history you’ll gain a range of transferable skills, from informed citizenship and critical thinking, to research and general awareness. What’s more, the knowledge acquired through the study of history is relevant in a wide range of disciplines and can lead to diverse employment opportunities.

Here, Associate Professor of History, Dr Tony Joel, from Deakin University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences outlines four reasons why studying history can lead to a rewarding and successful career.

There’s more to history than knowing times and dates

It’s a common misperception that studying history simply involves remembering people, events, key dates, and places etc. The who, what, when and where types of questions are just the start of it. Historians are far more interested in exploring the how and why questions – that is, interpreting events to better understand how they unfolded and why they occurred. So, historians typically reach agreement on the general “facts” surrounding a historical event but then can interpret things very differently.

‘Take, for instance, the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy’, Dr Joel says.

‘Everyone knows that he was shot during a motorcade in Dallas on 22 November 1963. But was Lee Harvey Oswald the perpetrator? If so, did he act alone or was there another shooter? Or was Oswald a “patsy” as part of a cover-up? Historians spend most of their careers debating (or arguing!) with one another.’

Put your history general knowledge to the test by completing this quiz.

Studying history is more popular than you may think

Studying history is always remarkably popular. It’s one of the “traditional” disciplines in the humanities, and it’s earned a longstanding reputation as a cornerstone of the Bachelor of Arts. Today, studying history remains as popular as ever. Indeed, year after year, history ranks among the most popular disciplines for Bachelor of Arts graduates. It’s also tremendously popular as an elective option among students from across the entire university.

Dr Joel says ‘It seems that, even if they’re enrolled in engineering, nursing, science, law, commerce or something else, many students love to dabble in a little bit of history as part of their course.’

'It seems that, even if they’re enrolled in engineering, nursing, science, law, commerce or something else, many students love to dabble in a little bit of history as part of their course.'

Dr Tony Joel,
School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University

Studying history can help you land great jobs

A history major can lead to all kinds of careers. Some of the more popular options include government positions (e.g. Departments of Foreign Affairs, Immigration and Aboriginal Affairs), all kinds of NGOs, teaching, journalism and the media, tourism, heritage consultancy and planning, museums, libraries, archives, public history, and project management. Some of the world’s most influential business leaders share a common experience of studying history at university.

Prominent examples include:

  • Ken Chenault, the CEO of American Express, completed a history major at college;
  • Carly Fiorina, a former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, earned a degree in medieval history at Stanford;
  • Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, studied history at Harvard;
  • Brian Moynihan, CEO of Bank of America, studied history at Brown University;
  • Susan Wojcicki, CEO of YouTube, was a history major at Harvard; and
  • Brian Hartzer majored in European history for his Bachelor of Arts before moving into the finance sector.

Some famous celebrities and politicians with history degrees include documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux (Oxford), Prince Charles (Cambridge), George W Bush (Yale), actor Edward Norton (Yale), actor and “Borat” creator Sacha Baron Cohen (Cambridge), former British prime minister Gordon Brown, and comedian Steve Carell.

History experts can have a huge impact on the world

Whenever questions are asked about what we can learn from history, it invariably leads to philosopher George Santayana’s oft-quoted aphorism: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. S

tudying history enables us to develop better understanding of the world in which we live. Building knowledge and understanding of historical events and trends, especially over the past century, enables us to develop a much greater appreciation for current events today. And if we heed Santayana’s warning, then remembering history – and learning important lessons from it – should help us to avoid previous mistakes and prevent previous misdeeds from happening again.

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Dr Tony Joel
Dr Tony Joel

Senior Lecturer in History, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University

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