No matter how thrilling (or dull) your high school history classes have been, we can pretty much guarantee that history courses in college will be a lot more exciting, if only because you won’t have to memorize a bunch of names and dates. No, there will be few matching quizzes in college-level history courses. Instead, you’ll pursue the silk trade from Beijing to Baghdad, analyze the Civil Rights movement and the New Left in 1960s, discuss the writings of American conservatives from the Founders to the New Right, or delve into the changing roles of class and gender in 19th-century France. In addition to becoming good readers, writers, and communicators, History majors become experts at distinguishing patterns in information. What they really study is change: why change occurs at particular times in particular places, why other things stay the same, and how individuals and groups deal with change. For a slew of excellent reasons, the History major has endured and History departments remain large in spite of pressures on students to concentrate on more practical job training. For starters, History is simply interesting. We’re not saying other majors are boring, but History deals with actual people and factual events. Everything has a history – nations, wars, ethnic groups, sexuality, jazz, gambling, postage stamps, you name it. One real plus about majoring in History is that you can stay engrossed in the subject matter long after you graduate. On a broader scale, knowledge of history is important. As the philosopher George Santayana observed, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. If anything holds the key to understanding warfare, famine, and social crises, it’s the analysis and understanding of history. It’s not a recitation of facts. It’s the sum total of the human experience – a dramatic, never-ending, entirely uncensored adventure.”
History involves lots of critical thinking and a great deal of reading and writing. If you think you might major in History, you obviously want to take as many courses in American history, civics, world history, and geography as you can. You should also take English composition, so you can get good at writing essays. And, finally, take foreign language classes because you are almost certainly going to be required to take several foreign language classes as a History major.