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Why Major in History?

Gain key skills, become an informed citizen, perfect critical thinking.

This page has been designed to ease the anxieties of students and parents alike. We believe that you should be able to choose a university major that speaks to you and that you think you'd truly enjoy. Unfortunately, more and more students are choosing majors because of employment projections and media misinformation. We're certain that you've read pieces like this one, entitled "The Liberal Arts Are Dead; Long Live STEM."

But for every article denouncing the study of art and humanities, many more exist that stress its socio-economic value to your own personal wellbeing and to the wellbeing of society.

For example:

"In the digital age, the much-maligned, liberal-arts degree still has deep value"

"Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous"

"Liberal arts grads earn about $10K less than science grads BUT STEM grads experience greater career volatility than broad-skilled arts grads, study finds"

We believe that having to choose between the Humanities and Social Sciences and STEM is a false dichotomy; you can certainly study both if you so wish, our program allows you that freedom.

But more importantly, we think that you should be able to study whatever you want without the pressure of your economic future weighing down your university experience. So we've put together this page for one reason: to convince you that everything will be perfectly fine.

You'll notice that it's been written in a friendly, conversational voice: this is because at one stage in our lives we were in a very similar position as you are in right now. We genuinely hope that the following helps you and your family with choosing the right university major; we hope it'll be in History at the University of Windsor.

We think the American Historical Association does a pretty good job in summing up the skills that you will pick up as a History major if you plan on working hard and taking the program seriously.

As a History major you will develop your Ability to Assess Evidence. According to the AHA, "The study of history builds experience in dealing with and assessing various kinds of evidence—the sorts of evidence historians use in shaping the most accurate pictures of the past that they can.

Learning how to interpret the statements of past political leaders—one kind of evidence—helps form the capacity to distinguish between the objective and the self-serving among statements made by present-day political leaders.

Learning how to combine different kinds of evidence—public statements, private records, numerical data, visual materials—develops the ability to make coherent arguments based on a variety of data. This skill can also be applied to information encountered in everyday life."

In addition, you'll face opportunities to Assess Conflicting Interpretations. Importantly, "Learning history means gaining some skill in sorting through diverse, often conflicting interpretations. Understanding how societies work—the central goal of historical study—is inherently imprecise, and the same certainly holds true for understanding what is going on in the present day.

Learning how to identify and evaluate conflicting interpretations is an essential citizenship skill for which history, as an often-contested laboratory of human experience, provides training. This is one area in which the full benefits of historical study sometimes clash with the narrower uses of the past to construct identity.

Experience in examining past situations provides a constructively critical sense that can be applied to partisan claims about the glories of national or group identity. The study of history in no sense undermines loyalty or commitment, but it does teach the need for assessing arguments, and it provides opportunities to engage in debate and achieve perspective."

Perhaps the two most salable skills that you will acquire throughout your degree are research and writing skills. Research skills in history allow you "to find and evaluate sources of information, and the means to identify and evaluate diverse interpretations."

Communication skills are "directly relevant to many of the analytical requirements in the public and private sectors, where the capacity to identify, assess, and explain trends is essential."

The reasons why employers are looking for these skills are not hard to identify: research and communication skills are transferable skills that can be applied in various work environments. Of course, these skills do not come naturally, and are arguably the hardest to refine, but you're not one to shy away from challenging work!

Source: American Historical Association

We really think so, but we're admittedly biased. But according to this recent study, employers are looking for candidates that are adept with many of the skillsets that we are trying to impart. Here's the top 10 skills employers are keeping an eye out for:

The ability to work well in teams—especially with people different from yourself

An understanding of science and technology and how these subjects are used in real-world settings

  1. The ability to write and speak well
  2. The ability to think clearly about complex problems
  3. The ability to analyze a problem to develop workable solutions
  4. An understanding of global context in which work is now done
  5. The ability to be creative and innovative in solving problems
  6. The ability to apply knowledge and skills in new settings
  7. The ability to understand numbers and statistics
  8. A strong sense of ethics and integrity

We've also noticed that employers are increasingly more adamant about digital literacy. As a result, we've started to develop courses that focus in on those particular skills.

Don't get us wrong, we're not a Computer Science department, and we won't force you to take coding classes (we do, however, recommend that you get your feet wet whenever possible). But we are actively trying to introduce you to how the historical discipline is changing in the face of new digital infrastructure.

If you're willing to apply yourself, you'll graduate with a serious understanding of the conventions of the English language, narrative style, and clear and concise writing. Not only will you be able to craft hard-hitting argumentative papers, but you'll figure out a way to entertain your readership as you do so. That's impressive.

You'll be able to understand the geo-political and socio-cultural developments in the contemporary world because of your historical consciousness and contextual knowledge. Not least, you'll be able to criticize based on fact, not inference, and suggest remedies for situations in varying environments. To reiterate: yes, we do think that the skills that you will learn as a History major will make you employable in today's fastpaced, globalized economy.

There are many opportunities. Traditionally, those with a History major have pursued professions in the following fields: teaching (at all levels, from kindergarten to University), law, government and public policy, politics and social justice, journalism, digital infrastructure, information science and librarianship, museum and archival work, business and management.

However, we want to stress that long gone are the days when one could graduate college and find a career that would define one's professional life until retirement. That's the reality, and while the uncertainty might seem scary, it's actually a potentially fruitful development for you.

As the statistical powerhouse FiveThirtyEight has argued elsewhere, "changing jobs is a key way for workers to make more money. That’s especially true for younger workers, who often need to move around to find the job that suits — and pays — them best."

A recent poll suggests a similar conclusion: "Gen Y changed jobs 22 per cent more often over a 12 year period than Gen X did, [holding] 3.9 jobs over their first 12 years on the job market, with a tenure of 2.7 years in each job on average." [Source]

But it's not just about the money. The same poll offered this enlightening conclusion: "the most common reasons people gave for changing career paths were discovering a new field they were passionate about (35 per cent), becoming bored/disillusioned with their original work (24 per cent), and setbacks such as lack of advancement and /or cutbacks, layoffs in a career path (19 per cent)."

We've kept this in mind as we developed (and are continuing to develop) our curriculum. As a History major you will graduate with all the tools necessary to succeed in this rapidly changing environment, training you to succeed in all the different professional roles you will hold throughout your lifetime. And as this impact survey from the AACU suggests, a History degree aligns with what employers are looking for.  Here's a snippet:

"Innovation a Priority

  • Nearly all employers surveyed (95 percent) say they give hiring preference to college graduates with skills that will enable them to contribute to innovation in the workplace.

Cross-Cutting Capacities vs. Choice of Undergraduate Major

  • Nearly all those surveyed (93 percent) say that “a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than [a candidate’s] undergraduate major.”
  • More than 9 in 10 of those surveyed say it is important that those they hire demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity; intercultural skills; and the capacity for continued new learning.
  • More than 75% of employers say they want more emphasis on 5 key areas including: critical thinking, complex problem-solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge in real-world settings.
  • Employers endorse several educational practices as potentially helpful in preparing college students for workplace success.  These include practices that require students to a) conduct research and use evidence-based analysis; b) gain in-depth knowledge in the major and analytic, problem solving and communication skills; and c) apply their learning in real-world settings.

Continued Importance of Liberal Education and the Liberal Arts

  • The majority of employers agree that having both field-specific knowledge and skills and a broad range of skills and knowledge is most important for recent college graduates to achieve long-term career success.
  • 80 percent of employers agree that, regardless of their major, all college students should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences.

A Blended Model of Liberal and Applied Learning

  • Across many areas tested, employers strongly endorse educational practices that involve students in active, effortful work—practices including collaborative problem-solving, internships, senior projects, and community engagements.  Employers consistently rank outcomes and practices that involve application of skills over acquisition of discrete bodies of knowledge.  Employers also strongly endorse practices that require students to demonstrate both acquisition of knowledge and its application."

We're putting together a list of testimonies from some of our successful graduates to give you a sense of why the History degree worked for them.

"You don’t earn a history degree because you know more historical facts at the end than you did when you started. You earn a history degree because you can implement the different ways of thinking about history, about primary and secondary sources, about the writers and time periods, about material artifacts, and you understand the importance of both historical and modern perspective taking.

Okay, yes, you will know more about what has happened in the past, but the most important thing you can take from that history degree is your ability to critically think about things that have happened in past societies, as well as, things that are happening today."

"The University of Windsor’s History Department provided me with the space and resources to excel and develop a passion for the subject. My desire to understand more about past social issues in Windsor was fulfilled through the dedication of the department and the surrounding history community. The University is now actively cultivating relationships with the wider community to better aid students with their own historical interests."