This archived article was written by: Nathaniel Woodward
Recently some new college students asked me “What does it mean to embark on a degree in history?” Having been through the experience myself I wanted to impart, if at all possible, the endeavor as holistically as possible to attempt to express just what you would be in for. Now, understand my experience is not the experience of everyone, every person is different. What may be easy for one person could be incredibly difficult for another.
What makes studying history such an exciting endeavor is simple, history is everything. Every achievement in the world whether it scientific, political, in sports or entertainment all fall under the umbrella of history. The second I type these words, they are themselves history. Since history is so encompassing it will be important, as you advance to try and narrow down specifically what you want to study.
Recently a university in Washington D.C. stopped requiring it’s history majors to take courses in U.S. history which caused a significant amount of outrage from a relatively minor group of people. This is a classic example of Americans overstating our importance in the world, so listen up and listen close, we are not the center of the universe, the vast majority of history has absolutely nothing to do with U.S. history. So naturally, if someone was studying the history of medieval China why in the world would they need to study colonial America? This brings up my first point of what getting a degree in history will do to you, it will help you see the enormity of the human experience, that people exist, live, fight, work and die in places that are not where your from and that they are every bit as happy, miserable or apathetic as you.
Above all, if you choose to embark on a history degree you need to understand this; you are going to see human kind at its best and at its absolute worst. I mean worst, remember that. If you think you’ve seen some “stuff” in your life or have an understanding of some of our past transgressions, I promise you that you have no idea. From the Holocaust we all know about to the Rape of Nanjing and Japanese Unit 731’s medical experiments you will have to emerge yourself in the pictures, accounts and reality of the horrors we can inflict upon each other. I have rarely had anything affect me as deeply as the images of stacks of dead children in the streets of Nanjing China.
A history degree will enrich you, it will shock you and above all it will enlighten you. It pulls back the curtain and shines a light on the wholeness of the human experience and gives you perspective on why current events can be so scary. So, if considering a history degree my advice is, go for it you will forever be a better person.