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Why Study History?


You should study history if you wish to learn how and why the world and its peoples came to be as they are today.

History asks "How did things get to be this way?" There is nothing in the world that does not become more intriguing and far more mysterious - once we recognize the complicated events and causes that led to its creation.

At the same time, history also recognizes that there is far more to the past than the events that created the world we know today. As the British writer L. P. Hartley once famously remarked, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." Recognizing what we share with people in the past, while simultaneously exploring how profoundly their lives differed from our own, provides some of history's most fascinating insights.

History revels in exploring the diversity of the human experience: how profoundly people have differed in their ideas and institutions and cultural practices, how widely their experiences have varied by period and nationality and social circumstances, how much they have struggled with each other while inhabiting a shared world.

History seeks to understand past lives and societies by exploring every conceivable aspect of their reality. It takes as its field of study the entire human experience in all times and places, but does so in ways that pay very close attention to the fine-grained particularities of, and differences among, those times and places.

 StairsHistory analyzes the past, assessing the complex web of causes the help explain why particular events and phenomena occur, but it often communicates its findings in the form of narratives—stories—that make the past come alive as few things can. In this, history straddles the boundary between the sciences and the humanities. It is among the very few modern academic disciplines that can claim for itself one of the classical muses, Clio, of Greek antiquity. At its best, history is a form of literature, an art as much as a science.

As such, history is an ideal undergraduate major not just because of the extraordinary perspectives it offers on the past, present, and future of human beings on this planet. It teaches analytical skills, and is as good a place to learn the craft of fine writing as anywhere in the university. Participate actively in the seminars and small-group discussions that are an essential part of the history curriculum, and it also teaches good oral communication skills as well.

 The many skills history majors learn prepare them for an almost endless array of career opportunities. Although some go on to graduate school and become professional historians, the majority go on to careers as diverse as law, business, journalism, public service, even medicine. Because history gives us tools for analyzing and explaining problems in the past, it is an essential tool for problem-solving in the present and future. Any career that rewards clear thinking, good writing, articulate speaking, and the ability to ask and answer complicated questions about how the world works will be open to a well-trained history major.

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