The Essential Guide to Pursuing a Degree in History
For most people, a degree in history doesn't provide as many opportunities as other areas in the liberal arts. Then again, history isn't a restrictive field, and it branches out into many unique career paths. With a history degree, you can opt for a teaching job or a career as a cultural worker or a preservationist. Success is very possible, so long as you put in the effort and time to develop a passion for history. There is no perfect formula for a successful career in such a broad field, but these tips should help you stay within the path you have chosen for yourself.
Start with realistic goals
It's easy to think of a history degree as a gateway to becoming a celebrity in the mold of David Christian or Timothy Snyder. The thought of earning book deals, taking part in speaking engagements around the world, and lecturing in prestigious institutions like Harvard and Cambridge are often the reasons why people are attracted to the field.
However, the world's most famous historians didn't achieve such an amount of recognition without hard work, and obtaining a degree in history doesn't guarantee instant success. You’ll have to work hard to stay on the right track once you have graduated. If celebrity status is your goal for getting an education in history, you may be better off taking up a different path.
Know your strengths
It’s not enough to identify your goals; you also need to identify what you excel at so you can zero in on a specific profession within such a broad field. If you like to engage with people and discuss ideas, you can focus on a career as a history professor or a high school social science teacher. If you prefer more analytical work that also involves going out into the field, you can start a career as a field researcher. You can even be a curator at a museum, a guide at historical landmarks, or a consultant for filmmakers who are making a biopic about an important historical figure. It’s always possible to venture outside your comfort zone and open yourself up to other opportunities. Your success will depend a lot on how eager you are to explore the field.
Develop your passion through critical reading
In order to get ahead as a history major, it’s vital to have a passion for your work. For this, try to look beyond academic textbooks and read the actual source material. For instance, if you are interested in the 1917 Russian Revolution, secondhand reference materials won’t provide much in terms of authentic information. Instead, try reading John Reed’s 10 Days that Shook the World and Leon Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution.
Being a history major, you shouldn’t limit yourself to documentaries and Wikipedia articles. You need to be critical by comparing contemporary historical works with previous material. For instance, if you are focusing on Ancient Roman history, you can read the works of Plutarch or Livy and learn more about these authors through modern historians and experts. Doing this helps you enrich your experience reading history and, more importantly, leads you towards information you may not have known. The goal of a historian is to interpret past events and uncover how relevant they are to the present. Without developing a fondness for reading, it would be difficult to get a high-value career.
Find the right institution
While it doesn't matter which college or university you are pursuing a degree in history, you still need to find an institution that provides quality education. Not all universities are alike when it comes to social sciences. As a matter of fact, there are institutions that have robust history programs. You can find these in Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Dartmouth, but they do not necessarily set the standard for history education.
Be practical and realistic when it comes to choosing a school for pursuing a history degree. You need to compare the offerings between different institutions and pick one that has all the features you are looking for. You should also consider the location and the total cost of completing your degree. In case you’re looking for a less expensive college, you can find more information here.
Contrary to popular belief, getting a degree in history opens you up to a wide array of career options. You just have to be passionate in your field and bold enough to find opportunities once you have entered the real world.