Our series on what do with a history major has been getting some nice “shout outs” in the blogosphere. Paul Harvey at Religion in American History already has us nominated for a blogging award! Thanks, Paul!
In our last post in this series we met Scott Keyes, a recent graduate of Stanford. Today we meet Matthew Shaffer, a senior at Yale. Both Keyes and Shaffer’s pieces are not geared as much toward the history major as they are to the broader humanities major, but they are definitely worthwhile enough to be included in this series. When you read “Humanities” just replace it with “History.”
Shaffer’s piece–“Educating for the Good Life“–appeared in the January 11, 2010 issue of Yale Daily News. If you are a regular reader of this series or this blog you know that I don’t agree with Shaffer’s suggestion that humanities or history majors are unemployable, but overall it is a pretty entertaining article. Here are a few snippets:
If you are a senior, you have only days to switch to a major in the humanities. If you’re not a senior, you have more time, but you should do so immediately anyway…
So study humanities. It’s not just for now, either. As unsatisfying as an education without liberal arts can be, what follows is even worse. I have a grim prophecy.
You can devote yourself to practical classes. You run all the data on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But someday these data will change, and you’ll have forgotten them. More, you’ll stop caring about the economic costs of the conflict, and you’ll want to know which side is right — what it means to be a part of a people, and what that has to do with land and religion and ancestry and political sovereignty. The unchanging values, not the shifting facts. You’ll forget all the regressions you ran on religious demographics in politics, and you’ll start wondering if He exists.
You might still maintain that some facts matter, and I’ll agree. But you’ll never get enough power to influence policy without selling out, and eventually you’ll realize that the only significant choices you really control are whom you’ll marry and how you’ll raise your kids, and that these are the most important decisions you’ll ever make. And you’ll feel like a dolt for taking classes on statistics when you could have been reading and discussing “Madame Bovary” and “Emile.” You’ll forget about sound policy and wish you knew about the good life.
As you wait for a phone call from a client with a fake tan and an MBA smile, you’ll thumb through The New Yorker, and you might find you have no appreciation for the poetry, you don’t know the meter, you don’t get the references, and that the joy others have found in the English language is lost on you and you are a hollow man. You’ll walk to the Met with the other fashionable young things and stare blankly at the Vlaminck, finding it even more boring than your options pricing. And this is the way your youth ends, not with a bang but a whimper.
You’ll find consolation for your Philistinism and aesthetic deprivation in “The Daily Show” and BusinessWeek, and conversations revolving around the invariably fascinating first-person singular. But then you’ll wake up, like in the beginning of a Woody Allen movie, and realize that you’re dying. And you’re not ready, because the best definition that has ever been given of philosophy was in Plato’s “Phaedo,” that it is preparation for death — and you majored in political science.
This is all a bit over the top, I confess, but my point is serious — a life without the liberal arts can be neither satisfying nor wholly human.
And I once again throw out this offer: If any of you reading this are ready to become a history major, feel free to come visit me at Messiah College in Boyer 258. Or just send me an e-mail 🙂