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  • Shannon Bontrager

Why Study History?

What do Actor/Comedian Steve Carell, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard and Republican Presidential Candidate, Carly Fiorina, and Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan have in common with Satirist Sacha Baron Cohen, President John F. Kennedy, Businesswoman Martha Stewart, and Prince Charles? Easy . . . they all have degrees in history.



Many people erroneously believe that the past remains locked away in the past. Our technological world convinces many that high-paying jobs and one's pursuit of happiness lies in the tech sector or in engineering or other such STEM programs. Not exactly, says Apple CEO and co-founder Steve Jobs before his death in 2011. What makes our hearts sing is the marriage of liberal arts and technology and history plays a key role in the that marriage. Traditionally people have viewed history purely through the lens of content, this is especially true in High School history courses when teachers stress remembering names and dates to understand the past. But these can't be the skills that Steve Carell mastered to be so successful, names and dates are rarely funny or entertaining.


So were the above-mentioned high-powered individuals limited by their history degrees or empowered by them? History provides an opportunity to think critically, write effectively, practice empathy, and engage in debate. These are all skills that employers consistently say they want from their employees. STEM classes often stress the technical content of skilled tasks without asking broader contextual questions. History courses, done effectively, requires students to research and evaluate sources, condense large amounts of information, communicate effectively, and build a narrative out of data points across time and space. History thus creates an opportunity for students to practice skill sets that they will use in their future careers whether it be ruling a nation as a future King, interpreting constitutional law, making business decisions that effect thousands of employees and millions of people, or becoming a successful nurse, police officer, dental hygienist, or IT Programmer. In all of these jobs, researching effectively, interpreting data critically, and communicating persuasively are all essential skills that transcend jobs and careers. History is one of the few places where these skills are taught and practiced. Instead of having to go back to school to change careers over and over again, go to school to learn how to be a historian and then build your career out of these historical ways of thinking. Studying history is an effective way to pursue any number of career opportunities while also learning about how the past casts a long shadow on the present.



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