Why Become a History Major

Why take a course or two in history?

Contrary to what many students have experienced in their early schooling, university-level history is not really about the study of "names, dates, and places". When taught by our university professors, history is a dynamic subject that will not only teach you about the major events and cultural trends in world history that every college graduate should know, but it will also teach you to write well and to think analytically and creatively about policymaking and other subjects vital to a successful career. History courses will equip you with the valuable tools needed to function in business, government, education, media, and many other pursuits. Take a few minutes to read the next few paragraphs and see why so many successful people in the past and present majored in history—people as diverse as Lee Iacocca, Joe Namath, Martha Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, Chris Berman, John F. Kennedy, and others.

UNLV history majors and minors have gone on to good careers

In recent years, graduates from our program have become business executives, lawyers, government officials, museum curators, librarians, elementary and secondary school teachers, consultants, and civil servants, while many others have gone on to Ph.D. programs at UNLV, Columbia University, the University of Chicago, and other major schools.

Why do many students (including many famous people) major in history?

First of all, if your goal is to someday hold an important job, you will need to function in a much larger world than you are currently in. History will provide you with the broader education you will need to interact with other educated people at this level. You will need to know about important people, ordinary people, and all types of events in the past. History affects everyone because it's everywhere in American culture. Just think about all the films and TV shows that are based on history, including biography. History is everywhere in our entertainment. Just think about popular movies that take place in the past or about the popularity of the History Channel. It's understandable that fantasy writer Katherine Kurtz has an M.A. in history and that Terry Jones and Michael Palin of the comedy troupe Monty Python have history backgrounds.

Secondly, history shapes all of our lives, from our own personal histories (what we did yesterday as well as our families' roots) to the larger forces that impact our lives. One cannot be an informed citizen without understanding our history. Analyzing past decisions and their results helps us make better decisions today.

But how will general skills learned in history courses help one’s career?

Above all, history will give you a set of skills that can be applied to almost any career. The most general of these are reading, writing, and listening. In history classes, you will learn how to read a document or listen to a lecture analytically, to pick out the central points and distinguish them from less important material. You will learn research skills with which you can uncover diverse kinds of data and organize it into a coherent pattern. History, more than any other of the liberal arts, is interdisciplinary investigating and combining material from a wide range of fields. Finally, you will improve your writing style so you can clearly articulate your ideas and present information in a persuasive manner. These basic skills are crucial for advancement beyond the entry level in any career. They might not be necessary to work on the assembly line at Chrysler Motor Company, Sony America, or Hewlett-Packard, but the heads of these three corporations (Lee Iacocca, Howard Springer, and Carly Fiorina) were history majors.

In addition to teaching, are there careers for which course work and training in history are specifically useful?

In addition to teaching history at all different levels from elementary school to college, there are a number of other careers for which history prepares one. Majoring in history is a useful prerequisite for studying law. American law is based on precedent, on how past cases have been decided; it is very much historical. Each year, America's law schools admit thousands of history majors who, upon graduation, use their skills to research public and private archives, analyze past judicial decisions, collect oral histories for depositions, and cull through evidence to buttress arguments for use in court. Not all lawyers work for law firms or in their own practices. Many serve in government agencies, corporations, and other organizations. In addition, law provides an entrée into public service. U.S. Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush were all history majors, as were Nevada's senior U.S. Senator Harry Reid, W.E.B. DuBois (the co-founder of the NAACP), Rep. Newt Gingrich, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

A history degree will qualify you for a career in publishing. The training you get in writing and analysis prepares you for jobs in editing and copyediting as well as in evaluating manuscripts and devising marketing strategies. A related field is journalism, where reporters and magazine writers, besides having to write well, must research historical records and use oral history techniques to interview sources for stories. The number of employers who need such people is vast. In addition to newspapers, there are literally thousands of magazines; news, professional, and trade journals; and thousands of companies, foundations, and grant-funded projects seeking employees who can draft reports and executive summaries or technical writers who can translate papers written in clinical, theoretical, or otherwise complex language into plain English for evaluators, government officials, and the public. Chris Berman of ESPN says: "I majored in history. It's a great background for what I do. I advise youngsters that they don't have to study communications. They must be able to communicate. Study political science, English, or history, subjects in which you need to express yourself verbally and in writing. Other journalists who were history majors include Bryant Gumbel and Wolf Blitzer from CNN.

In short, a history degree prepares students for numerous careers. In addition to teaching, law, publishing, and journalism, these jobs include information managers, records analysts, policy analysts, and policy makers in banks, insurance companies, and many different kinds of businesses. In a manufacturing or investment company, for instance, a history major could use his or her skills to analyze market performance and financial structures, write public relations material, or handle corporate communications between offices. Utility firms that sell gas, power, water, and other services regularly hire history majors to review issues of public interest and write reports identifying major concerns and suggesting policy responses. There are no limits to what you can do with a history degree. Did you know that Joe Namath, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Katharine Hepburn, Conan O'Brien, Ellen Barkin, Jimmy Buffet, and Lauryn Hill were all history majors—and that Sting once taught history?

So, consider taking a history class or two before this fall or spring. You may even decide someday to major or minor in history.