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 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.