What is it that comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen, journalist Louis Theroux and former president George W. Bush all have in common? If it weren’t for the title above, I doubt you'll guess that they all studied history degrees at university. This just goes to show the diverse opportunities you could go on to access, if you too choose to study history.
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This extraordinarily diverse group of graduates – among which Michael Palin and Edward Norton also belong – demonstrates that the study of history can provide a foundation from which to pursue interests in many different fields, be that social politics, human behavior or even international cuisines.
At its core, however, history is the study of past human experience. This study of the past also facilitates insight into present-day situations and future possibilities, contributing to ongoing social development and conflict resolution.
The scope of regions, cultures and historical periods covered by history degrees is vast. If fact, the subject is almost unrestricted – history degree students might focus on representations of women in 19th century art, or perhaps the evolution of advertising in the West, or even the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whatever the source of your interest in studying history, there’s bound to be a history department somewhere in the world with the resources and expertise to match.
However, the core skills you gain from different history degrees should be the same. These include an ability to analyze various types of cultural artifact, challenge presumptions, identify causal links and trends, conduct independent research, and present your ideas in well-ordered and supported arguments.
History degree specializations
With so many possible periods and locations to choose from, each history course is likely to offer a different set of history specializations. While some programs will be specialized from the outset others will be broader, perhaps simply named Modern History or Ancient History. These should offer a chance to gain more general historical knowledge in the first part of your degree, and then the chance to specialize in a particular interest later on.
Often, the history specializations available are also grounded in the university’s own national or regional culture. For example, at Australia’s University of Melbourne it is possible to specialize in Australian history at the dedicated Australian Centre, while at Mexico’s Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México you can study Mesoamerican history. The available specializations will also depend on the university’s current faculty members, so if you are particularly interested in a certain area you might like to research which schools have lecturers who are experts in that field.
Whatever type of course you choose, you will at some point need to select a particular historical period or series of events on which to focus. You will then be required to conduct your own research on a particular aspect of your chosen period. This could mean focusing on the experience of a particular group of people, the growth of a certain set of ideas, or the causes leading up to a major political event.
Careers with a history degree
As with most humanities and social sciences subjects, you can access a wide range of graduate careers with a history degree. History graduates should acquire broad knowledge of past issues of human endeavour, and develop an analytical mind set in order to apply this historical knowledge to the societal problems of today. This mindset, honed with a deep insight into the political, cultural and social motivations of historical figures, events and movements, is extremely well-suited to careers that are focused on the cultural, economic, political and/or social issues present in the modern world.
Graduate careers suited to history degree graduates include:
Marketing, advertising and public relations careers
The strong analytical and communications skills developed during your history degree should leave you well-prepared for careers in marketing, advertising and public relations. Knowledge of how society and culture has been shaped throughout history will help you to identify and effectively communicate with different target audiences, continuing to develop your understanding of how people behave and respond to a variety of factors.
Media and journalism careers
History degree graduates’ strong analytical skills may also be especially valuable within media and journalism; the ability to interpret a set of facts and tell a compelling story is just as important for a good historian as for a successful reporter. As a writer, editor, broadcaster or media guru, your ability to approach political, cultural and social spheres with a critical eye could help you create some of the most memorable news stories around.
Research and heritage careers
If you have a strong specialist interest in a particular field of history, you may consider pursuing a career in research. This could be in an educational setting, perhaps as a university researcher and lecturer, or within a heritage role in a museum, gallery or archive where the focus is on preserving professional and public knowledge. Additional specialized courses may prove useful for some of these roles.
Other professional sectors where you’ll find lots of history degree graduates include law, teaching, business and finance, politics and the public sector.