If I had a dollar for every time that I've heard how unemployable a history degree is, I could have it paid off already. I feel like people in this field get a really bad rap and I'd like to try to set the record straight! My goal isn't to write a big boo-hoo defense of history people, but to hopefully add some perspective to the situation and air out some of my thoughts.
By now, I feel like I've heard all the jokes and opinions out there about how weird historians are and how irrelevant, outmoded, and useless their studies are. I even found this word online courtesy of Urban Dictionary:
one who knows much history, but only lets out small amounts to either (a) annoy people or (b) try to make themselves seem intellegent/funny/cool.
Now, I would be lying if I said that I haven't encountered a few individuals who fit this description (and there really is nothing more annoying). But, I think it's wrong to paint all of us with the same brush, and I believe there is a good explanation for it. I feel that the root of it is that historians are extremely lucky, and take every opportunity to demonstrate this. To pursue an education in history and then assume a position in the field is to live your dream and be able to harness your passion for your career. There aren't many other fields that allow you to take what you have read about and watched all the movies and shows possible about since you were a young child and apply that knowledge to a job, with the same enthusiasm as when you first found that piece of history that triggered your passion. At the same time, though, it is unreasonable to assume that the rest of the world will share that same passion, or even be remotely interested in it. All through school, we history students see the groups of science, engineering and math students gathered together studying and discussing their class material. Unfortunately for us, we just can't do that in the same way, and I find that the subject can be very isolating at times. Since we mostly have to write long papers on a very specific topic, we are constantly faced with a major concentration of minutely specific facts over an extremely rushed and stressful period in which to organize it into an essay. This makes it difficult to share the burden and partake in a group effort. In a professional setting, the jobs can be just as specific, which leads to the realistic assumption that history jobs are limited. I think that similar to any other field, if you love it enough, you will want to pursue it as much as possible, which ultimately makes you a more qualified prospect for the jobs that do exist.
But what about those people who decide not to make history their career, but still decide to use their free time to learn more about the past? It is absolutely possible to care about interesting events and information without making it your whole life (and without using it to annoy people). This past weekend, I had the opportunity to experience this concept while volunteering as the upstairs tour guide at the Backus-Page House's Road to Culloden event.
|A group of re-enactors at the event|
Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to encounter people from across the entire spectrum of History People. I met the die-hard re-enactors who travel far and wide to camp at events and live and act completely as though it were the 18th century. I also met a number of people from the surrounding area who have an interest in history in general and wanted to support a great event without really knowing what to expect. I can say with full honesty that there was not one single person I encountered who was anything less than cheerful, enthusiastic, and happy to be there. Nobody tried to wow me with their knowledge, not one person undermined what I was telling them, and I did not have a single closed-off or unfriendly visitor. It truly did prove wrong all of the typical perceptions of people interested in history and I was so beyond happy to be a part of it. What I wish people would know about the history field is that it is made up of a group of passionate people who are determined to keep pieces of the past alive and accessible for all of us. Yes, they may seem obsessive, but it is impossible to put together such great events without the drive to make it happen and realize the dream. As long as we have History People to care, think, write, and do, history is accessible to those who are interested. To me, that's worth it.
Thanks for reading,