The Case for the History Major

When the sophomore spring arrives for students at Centre College, the time of blissful major/minor indecision ends abruptly in classic Centre fashion: with a series of emails and quality time navigating paperwork on our school site, CentreNet. For some, this moment in the Centre experience is mostly uneventful, particularly for students that determined their major long before the deadline. For others, however, major selection is a time of disguised (or undisguised) anxiety. Yes, one may technically alter one’s major after they declare. No, the major will not define the remainder of one’s existence and/or career trajectory. However, the sense of finality of a selected major can feel dauntingly certain at a time when career goals and aspirations feel anything but.

I selected the history major last spring, and I have found it to be a fulfilling choice for my intellectual needs. It is an insightful and fulfilling major, one that has added extraordinary depth to the ways I engage with historical knowledge and topics. Below, I’ve rounded up a few of the elements I find most laudable and worthwhile about the major (though it is not an all-encompassing list).

Informed Inquiries and Narratives In my experience, history classes in high school are regularly taught in a formulaic way, held together by structured textbooks of dates, people, and events. In my first history class at Centre and in every one since, that outlook on history has been challenged and altered. While we do look at these elements, lectures and discussions regularly focus on broader historical questions and narratives. We tell the story of people and events, but we do so in a way that is conscious and careful—we acknowledge that narratives are constructed, and we consider and argue the ones we craft and adopt carefully. When we read historians’ books and academic articles, we avoid taking the perspective at face value. We ask questions: who wrote the book; why did they write it; what kind of story are they trying to tell us?

Effective and productive inquiry is a key intellectual skill I am gaining from the history major. I have learned to draw connections between historical events and people, to consider happenings from unique and critical perspectives, and to think about current events or opinions in terms of their history. Usually, there isn’t a perfect answer to our questions, but the major teaches us to allow this curiosity to spark meaningful research and sound argumentation. We learn to confidently place our conclusions and perspectives among scholarship. History is rarely straightforward, but we learn to make our ideas and arguments as sound and refined as possible.

Compelling, Informed Writing My history classes have sharpened the quality and sophistication of my writing significantly. I am learning to consult, digest, and critically assess a variety of source work, and to use the writings of others as a springboard to create and innovate well-written arguments of my own. When writing research papers, it is not enough to juggle the myriad arguments, evidences, and pieces cultivated from the research process. Effective, compelling writing that assimilates elements into a clean argument is essential to mastering the assignment. This is an important balance that the history major cultivates, generating well-rounded thinkers and writers.

Creative Engagement and Exploration The history major allows for the opportunity to both explore different regional and thematic studies and to focus in on topics that particularly interest students. Centre history major requirements are available here, should you like to see specifics.

I have found that the major requirements encourage just the right amount of exploration. Though I am expected to take some classes that fit into particular categories and thus encourage well-roundedness in regard to regional studies, I have a great deal of freedom in what those classes can look like. 

Furthermore, the major offers creative ways to engage with history in a variety of ways that are a lot of fun. Class papers regularly allow for a vast degree of flexibility in topic and perspective. We watch and analyze movies, television shows, and YouTube videos and think about the historical questions they raise. In Dr. Strauch’s American Revolution class, for example, I wrote a paper on the American Girl Felicity movie as a means of considering popular narratives about the Revolution (in my opinion, it’s a must-watch), analyzed a history meme for an assignment, and took part in a class-wide tea party. In Dr. Harney’s Popular Sport and the Modern World class, I learned to write a blog post and filmed a podcast with classmates about the use of drugs in sports throughout history. Another professor, Dr. Tubb, is known for staging costumed re-enactments with his classes, which are very popular among students. History classes allow for endless creative applications.

 

All things considered, I have found the history major an excellent fit for my intellectual interests, and I recommend it to anyone for whom writing, inquiry and curiosity, and sound analysis sound like fulfilling ventures.


If you would like to read more about the history program at Centre, click here for more information.

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