Five reasons that history can take you further than you think
History is the study of the events and actions of the past, and how they impact the present. But how does a degree like this prepare you for a bright future?
Prospects are rosier than many think. History graduates have risen to a number of prominent positions. Former world leaders Gordon Brown and George W Bush both studied the subject, and you can also count comedians and media figures such as Sacha Baron Cohen and Louis Theroux among the ranks.
There's more pressure than ever on students to pick a degree that leads to a career. So how can a history degree help you stand out?
1) It demonstrates curiosity
A history degree is certainly a good grounding for a career in academic research or teaching. But that's not the only place you'll find a history graduate.
Talented and motivated graduates apply what they've learned to a range of fields, from law to politics, media, business, and even financial services.
In an interview with student business site The Gateway, one director at Morgan Stanley said it was down to their fresh perspective.
“In a global business like ours, you need to be thinking constantly about the wider political or economic landscape and the impact it has on the markets. By definition, students of history, geography or languages are interested in what’s going on in the world.”
Many employers take the view that humanities can learn technical skills on the job, as long as they have other important attributes, such as good communication and an ability to analyse information effectively. Furthermore, an employee who has studied how societies, communities and markets evolve over time might offer a different approach to an employee with a finance or mathematics background.
The History BA degree at City, University of London challenges students to explore a variety of international and events, from the Holocaust to East Asian History and the evolution of the British left. Graduates emerge with a broad knowledge of events of history, and the political, social and cultural forces that have shaped them.
2) It hones analytical skills
Many history students pursue the subject because they’re genuinely fascinated by world events, past and present. But when it comes to career prospects, it’s not all about the facts you’ve learned. It’s more about the skills you’ve picked up along the way.
“There are skills and abilities that typically come with history”, says Estanis Bouza, a careers consultant at City, University of London. “Graduates are able to make sense of information, put together a logical argument and analyse the factors that influence any situation”.
If you can construct a solid argument from an analysis of information and events, there are several opportunities open to you. For example, politics requires a firm grasp of how communities change, and the effects of certain actions over time. And that’s not all.
Estanis Bouza says: “Because of skills graduates develop, they're frequently successful in legal professions. Some might go into politics, government, civil service, teaching in schools and academia. Because of their ability to put together a good argument, lots succeed in journalism and the media as well.”
At City, University of London, you’ll be encouraged to pursue independent research projects, thinking critically about how to interpret events in your own way.
3) It develops research skills
As a history student, you’ll absorb several different views on a single event or era. You’ll be asked to assess different interpretations, and critically evaluate a number of sources.
That’s an extremely valuable skill to the modern employer.
Diligent and intelligent research is absolutely essential in fields such as forecasting trends, analysing emerging markets, assessing risks in insurance, exploring the effects of public policy, building background information for journalism features. It could even lead in a different direction entirely. In 1966, The Economist described modern intelligence work as “the painstaking collection and analysis of fact, the exercise of judgement, and clear and quick presentation”. Doesn’t that sound like the work of a history student?
However, the modern approach to research is not just about old documents and diaries. At City, University of London, there’s a strong focus on digital technology and information. You’ll be asked to consider how society is changing society and culture, and even research itself.
That’s an ability that will be invaluable in a few emerging careers, which call for the ability to collate, analyse and visualise data effectively.
4) It’s about presenting complex topics simply
Why do media and journalism employers love what history graduates bring to the table?
A journalist with strengths in research and analysis can get to the heart of an ongoing dispute or event. They can uncover the political and social factors that lie beneath it. And they can seek out and balance several different perspectives on a single topic.
What’s more, history graduates have the ability to digest a lot of complicated (and at times conflicting) information, and present it in a compelling yet understandable way.
That skill becomes even more useful when you consider the sheer amount of ways we can tell a story nowadays. Beyond books, articles, papers, TV shows, and films, there’s a whole new world of digital approaches, from interactive exhibitions to virtual reality and podcasting. A good storyteller needs to be able to choose the right tool for the job, and mould the information to fit.
City, University of London’s History course challenges students to think about different ways of telling a story. The “living history” module encourages you to present historical events in a new light, from a video game to an online museum or a data visualisation.
5) You can shape what you learn
A history degree isn’t one-size-fits-all. When you’re considering a potential degree, feel free to think about how you want to adapt it to fit what you want to do next.
“A more useful question for students might be to ask what you want to do and how you get there from a history degree”, says Estanis Bouza.
“It’s never too early to start thinking about these things. Many will want to obtain specific skills, which can be achieved with different training and qualifications.”
The BA History course features a selection of elective modules, which can tailor the degree to a specific career path. Students are also encouraged to be active in building up interests, skills and responsibilities outside their studies.
“Our careers service takes a holistic approach, and we always encourage students to engage with us from minute one”, says Estanis. “We have lots of events such as workshops, future leader programmes, career fairs, and a volunteering service. If a student comes to us with a project, we can help them get it off the ground.
“Employers appreciate the value of humanities graduates in the workplace, but they’re looking for well-rounded individuals. It’s incredibly important”.
To find out more about the BA History programme at City, University of London, visit the course page