Dr Brian Sudlow, a history lecturer at Aston University, explains the benefits of studying history... 

Why study history? Isn’t it a bit narrow?

History is to the humanities as maths is to the sciences: the skills it teaches you can get you far in all corners of life.

On one level, of course it is true that history is all about the themes and topics we study in class: global history, postcolonial history, or history of technology. On another level, much of what these topics teach us is relevant to the world today where we find a multicultural, technologically sophisticated civilisation that is increasingly like a global village. If we do not know where this world has come from, can we really be sure where it is going next? Our history students at Aston get a chance to sample all these areas of history, and the paradox is that looking at history gives them a better grip on the world as it currently is.

 

 

 

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What skills would I acquire from doing a history degree?

History is about more than just history! It can train us in the skills that are needed to get on in many different professions. In fact, history outperforms pretty much all the other humanities subjects for employability. For example, the skills needed to ‘create a narrative’ and which are now widely appreciated in the business world – at management level as well as at the level of marketing and public relations - have their roots in the discipline of history. As history trains us to think in terms of continuity and change, it prepares us to think with what they call “dynamic capabilities” in the world of work.

But that’s not the only thing. Studying history also teaches us, for example, to test whether evidence is reliable. In a world of fake news and spin, the ability to test and evaluate evidence is crucial in the workplace where businesses need steady heads that won’t react to the latest scare stories or fail to adapt to new risks. Knowing the past actually helps you avoid the mistakes of the past, or to use one of my favourite history sayings: those who do not know the past are condemned to repeat its mistakes.

Another critical skill which history gives students is that of analysing complex problems. History can be complicated because life in general can be complicated; I like to tell my students that history is a study in the complexity of people and the complexity of things over time. Historians have to learn about psychological motivations, just as much as about how events can be shaped by systemic factors like ideology or injustice. Learning how these forces have combined historically is an amazing apprenticeship for understanding how they do so in our world today.

 

How do these courses help with employability?

In addition to the skills I have mentioned above, all our courses build towards solid employability after graduation. Humanities degrees exceed pretty much all humanities subjects for employability, and five years after graduation they even have a marginally better employability rate than engineering and business. The single honours History programme prepares students for work through its ‘employability spine’ of practical and applied historical project modules year on year where students get to acquire real-world skills alongside the academic ones. Single honours students also get the option of doing a placement year to deepen those skills even further. 

Meanwhile, joint honours students whose half degree does not allow space for the employability spine must do the placement year to acquire those employability skills. Both single honours and joint honours history students get the support of the Careers and Placement team throughout their course and even after graduation.

 

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What kind of jobs can you get with a history degree?

The thing about history degrees is that they get you into all kinds of places, and not just into the heritage industry (museums, archives, etc). Did you know the Governor of the Bank of England has an undergraduate degree and a doctorate in History? About half the CEOs of the FTSE 100 have degrees in history or some other humanities degree. Graduates with history degrees turn up in the law, local government, marketing, advertising, education, the military, the police: you name it, and historians are there!

And let me tell you one more thing. What employers want is changing, and it is changing really fast. Employers need people who have very adaptable skills, and that is one of the ‘superpowers’ of history graduates. As I have said above, history graduates are used to taking their skills of understanding complexity and testing evidence into a wide spectrum of different contexts. That is what makes them so good at finding a foothold in all kinds of careers.

So, get a history degree, and prepare your future!