Why study History?

Why be a History major or minor?

While many people enjoy history simply because it is interesting, there are a number of practical reasons for studying it. Understanding our past helps us live in the present and build the future.

Knowledge of the past provides us with a badly needed sense of continuity and order in the face of ever more rapid change. It also helps us to understand how political, economic, social, and cultural systems work and what benefits and disadvantages stem from them. Last, understanding the ways in which historical experiences have shaped our own lives and outlooks enable us to see why we think the way we do and why others may hold differing views from our own.

Students of history receive training and gain experience in analytical thinking, research, problem solving, communication, and project management skills just to name a few. These are skills that all employers seek. These are also skills that will help improve your performance in other classes and future endeavors in your career.

What Does a History Class Look Like?

History classes at FSU range from broad surveys, that cover large geographic areas over extended time spans, to more specialized or themed classes that investigate only a few decades within one country's history or one event or theme. The History major at FSU emphasizes breadth, allowing you to take courses focused on geographic areas around the world as well as covering different time periods. Click here for the History Major Map. Check the Undergraduate Bulletin for the list of courses that might be offered.

What Will You Get Out of Your History Classes?

There are three broad skill sets that you will take away from your History classes. The first is that you will learn how to collect evidence. You will learn how to act as a detective of the past – looking for clues to help you solve the research puzzle that you are investigating. Secondly, you will learn how to evaluate the relative values, significance and meaning of that evidence. You will ask how the evidence you collected was created – by whom, for what audience, for which purpose and when. And thirdly, you will learn how to present your conclusions in a persuasive way that makes them clear and convincing to your audience.

What Does it Mean to Study History?

The kind of information we use in historical research is different from the material found in other departments. In your university classes, you will use both primary and secondary sources. A secondary source is a traditional history book, film, or other document produced long after an event happened, while primary sources are historical documents from the time the event occurred. Graffiti on the walls of Pompeii, a person’s diary of their daily life in Meiji Japan, a newspaper from the Soviet Union, and a business’ financial records from post-Independence India are all primary sources. Primary sources can come from a range of media: a TV series from 1950s America, a propaganda movie from Nazi Germany, an anti-war song from the 1960s, a map of the world from the 1500s, personal photographs and drawings from 1970s China, a letter from a World War II soldier to his family as well as personal interviews with people relevant to the historical research.

Using these primary sources, you will be able to go beyond your previous experience and what you have gleaned from secondary sources to begin to construct original analysis in the way that professional historians do, interpreting the past for yourself, based on available evidence. In the end, you must present your findings to your professor and classmates in a concise, logical, and powerful way. You might be asked to write a research paper or to design a Power Point or multimedia presentation and present it to your fellow students. It is an important skill to be able to take a large amount of information, synthesize it, and present it in a concise form to an intelligent audience that is not familiar with the topic. Doing this in a persuasive manner will be invaluable in your future working life, since you might be called upon to make presentations at work to your supervisor and management team, to write grant proposals that are successful, or to persuade investors and donors to support your projects.

Moreover, working together with those of different viewpoints to arrive at even a tentative consensus, or to learn how to disagree with each other in a civilized way, will be invaluable practice for collaboration in the workplace after graduation. In short, students taking History classes learn how to think for themselves, how to solve problems, how to work with others, and how to debate and persuade. This is why History majors are so highly sought after by employers. And this is also what makes History at college exciting.


What can you do with a History degree?

While a university education is partly about broadening one’s horizons and personal enrichment, you are also probably concerned about what kind of job you will get after graduation. The cost of attendance for an in-state student is about $10,000 per year on average. Likewise, while unemployment is dropping, the jobless rate sat very high in the recent past. You and your parents both want to know that a well-paying job waits after school.

A history degree prepares undergraduates with a valuable, marketable set of skills and prepares them for gainful employment. So, what skills will you learn as a history major or minor?


Unlike a STEM degree, which teaches specific scientific skills, or journalism which focuses on a specific industry, history offers a wider range of training that can be taken into a variety of jobs. These “soft skills” are in fact in demand and employers have expressed their desire to hire candidates with the training we offer. 


It may surprise you, but only 18% of history graduates enter the education field. Many go into law, business management, and public service, among other careers. One of the skills all these fields value is the ability to answer big questions that effect an organization. You may be called on by your manager to research how the laws effecting your industry have changed over the years. You could also be asked to come up with a solution to a problem facing your company and use data and research to back up your answer. Being able to problem solve by utilizing verifiable information is something that employers look for and a skill that you will learn through research for papers and presentations. 


Being able to express yourself, both in writing and orally, is a critical skill in any job. Most business communication takes place in writing, but there is also an expectation for being able to explain complex issues verbally. If your boss wants to read or hear the results of your research above, all your efforts will be wasted unless you can accurately, concisely, and persuasively communicate your argument. Likewise, a lawyer must learn to write briefs and argue in court. A person working at a government agency may have to write applications for grants. All of these require the ability to argue a point clearly and effectively, something that managers have said they actively look for. Again, through writing research papers and presenting to your professors and classmates, you’ll practice these valuable skills. This will also help in a job interview, where you will need to communicate what makes you stand out as a candidate for a competitive job.

The Ability to Persuade

While some people find debating fun, many of us are not comfortable with arguing, let alone when we must do so with coworkers or a boss. However, knowing how to argue for your position in a calm and rational way is an important life skill. In order to advocate for change, in society or at work, you must be able to present your position in a clear way that invites debate, not conflict. A lawyer must be able to argue their position in court civilly and persuasively. A businessperson must be able to advocate for a corporate policy to management. A public servant must explain to the community why a policy is needed.  Being able to defend a position and change minds without hurting relationships is a skill that you can take into any industry with great effect. Indeed, employers openly desire people who can deal with information critically and have the ability to communicate effectively to change minds.

What about jobs?

A history degree imparts all these skills, but how many graduates make a good living?


Only about 2% of undergraduates receive a history degree. This means that the skill set offered here is not common. You will stand out among fifty candidates, being the only one that can answer that you bring this set of unique skills to your prospective workplace. Likewise, if you want to move on to graduate school as about 50% of history majors do, these skills will also serve you well in the competition to be admitted to postgraduate programs. These abilities are also valuable if you seek a position in the legal field, where 11% of history graduates gain employment.


So, how many history majors land a job at all? Data from 2013 shows that while the general population had an unemployment rate of 7.7%, history majors sat far lower at 4.6%. Even when one adds in in demand jobs like nursing and STEM fields, the general unemployment rate for someone with a bachelor’s degree was only 4.1%. History majors, on average, enjoy low unemployment. A comprehensive study conducted in the United Kingdom, examining all university majors, also demonstrates that history majors do well in comparison to other fields.


Because the careers one can go into are so diverse, pay data varies widely. If you choose to use a history degree to pursue a career like teaching, you might make around $50,000, while pursuing the law could see you start in the low six figures and move up from there. History does not constrain you on a certain path with a certain amount of pay. It leaves the door open to a variety of options for you to pursue your passion while keeping a high paying position within reach. In short, history does not close off paths; it opens them up for you to have a variety of options even later in life.