In this segment of our series we are going to go in a slightly different direction. Our previous posts have focused on testimonials or research related to jobs that people with history degrees can do, have done, or are doing. We will continue in this stead in future posts, but today’s post is addressed to those readers who love history, but have chosen, for whatever reason, not to pursue their passion.
I want to call your attention to the December issue of Perspectives and an article entitled “The Trouble with History.” It is written by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and current president of the American Historical Association . (Anyone who has ever taken my United States survey course has seen her at work in
“A Midwife’s Tale,” a documentary based on her award-winning book by the same title. Students in my colonial America courses have read her book, Good Wives).
The editors of Perspectives have written a summary of the article that really gets to the heart of it all: “This issue begins with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s valedictory column as president: “The Trouble with History.” In it she advocates listening to your instincts and following your drive, as a passion for history can transcend all challenges.
Here is a snippet of Ulrich’s article:
But if there is any moral to my story, it may be that your own instincts are a better guide than the words of your former teachers. The best clue to the future, though, is how you feel about what it is you do. Yes, grants and jobs matter. As professionals we need to do more to advocate for history and to support one another in our work. But we also need to ask ourselves what it is that drives us to study, teach, and write.
In “The Trouble with Poetry,” Billy Collins asks if the time will ever come when poets will have “compared everything in the world / to everything else in the world,” leaving them with nothing to do but sit at their desks with folded hands. He knows that won’t happen, and so do we. For those infected with the need to discover the past, there will always be mysteries pulling us through digital or archival darkness. That is why people with tenure as well as those without continue to write. Collins admits that though poetry fills him with joy and with sorrow, “mostly poetry fills me / with the urge to write poetry, / to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame / to appear at the tip of my pencil.” If you have discovered that flame, you will write history.
So what can you do with a history major? For some, it doesn’t really matter. Sometimes you just need to follow your passions.