You can do almost anything you want to do with a major in history. The skills necessary for the study of history are highly practical and prized by graduate schools, professional schools, and employers. Hanover history majors have moved on to careers in business, law, government service, education, and social work.
Neither a history major nor any other major in the liberal arts, however, is designed as preparation for a particular profession. A liberal arts education is not vocational education. Historically, the liberal arts have been defined as the arts suited for free people, designed to encourage wisdom and virtue. The principal reason for embracing the liberal arts is to develop the knowledge, skills, and understanding essential for the pursuit of wisdom and virtue. But the liberal arts are also practical; they prepare for citizenship and career. The skills encouraged by the liberal arts in general and history in particular--the ability to articulate significant questions, find and evaluate evidence, weigh alternative methods and interpretations, appreciate complexity and ambiguity, draw sound conclusions, and articulate substantive arguments with clarity and precision--are exactly the skills that are in high demand in a wide variety of professions.
The History Department offers the following recommendations for academic and career planning.
- Pursue the liberal arts in the spirit they are intended. Develop an academic program based on academic interests. No major, no academic program, is more practical than another. To approach a liberal arts education as a preparation for a particular vocation violates the spirit and integrity of the liberal arts and risks losing the very benefits that a liberal arts education brings to professional careers. The practical benefits of a liberal arts education--the acquisition of the skills of critical thinking, problem solving, and effective communication--result from an immersion in the liberal arts for their own sake and from a serious effort to realize the objectives of the liberal arts.
- Give serious and thoughtful consideration to post-graduate career and educational opportunities. The options available to history and liberal arts graduates are so many and so varied that it may require considerable time and effort to identify career paths and objectives. Students need to begin to explore their options early with the help of their major advisers and the Career Planning and Placement Office. Students often profit from internships, summer jobs, and special programs such as the Philadelphia Center Program.
- Be able to articulate to potential employers the value of a liberal arts education. Increasingly, business leaders and employers are recognizing and publicly acknowledging the practical virtues of a liberal arts education. As the economy undergoes restructuring and institutional needs and job markets are redefined, there is a greater demand not for people with narrow technical training but rather for people who are creative and flexible, able to solve problems, make sound judgements, and communicate effectively. While the skills acquired in a liberal arts education are more publicly celebrated today, the liberal arts remain widely misunderstood in society. It is ultimately incumbent upon liberal arts students to explain to others the value of a liberal arts education. In a variety of contexts--on resumes, in interviews, and in conversation for example--students of history and the liberal arts must be able to clarify the substance behind the transcript, to identify the skills they possess, and to articulate how and why those skills are important.
Essays on History and Careers
Catherine Lavender, "What
Can I Do with a History Major?" (Since "only a small percentage
of history majors go on to be historians," this page outlines the skills
history majors develop and the career paths they follow.)
Robert Pace, "I would like to major in history, but . . . What Can I Do When I Graduate?" (friendly advice from a history professor who had a difficult time choosing a major when he was a student)
Constance Schulz et al. (for the American Historical Association), Careers for Students of History (An extended discussion of careers in history, this website includes overviews of various types of history-related jobs, discussion of the training necessary for them, comments on trends in them, and profiles of individuals now holding them.)