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Department of History

College of Arts & Sciences

FAQ: What can I do with a degree in History?

History is the study of what human beings are capable both of doing and being, as revealed to us by what they have done in the past. Students of history are, in a fundamental sense, studying themselves when they turn to the record of past generations. Each person is his or her own best example of the forces exerted by the past. All of our experiences are prologue to a future whose possible parameters have already been established by the past.

History is, therefore, an intellectual endeavor that is indispensable if the student is to understand the human condition as being the result of an historical process that links all generations. The sheer amount of data which confronts an individual on a daily basis in the late 20th centuries is many times more massive and more intense that at any point in prior human history. Knowledge of the historical process which has brought us to this time and place enables us to make better judgments about the mass of information, opinions, and events which constantly confront us. History has the ability to set each of us on on the path toward being a whole, complete human being...and this is the fundamental purpose of education.

History also provides the background for comprehending the development, present status, and likely future careers in the world of work. Possible career paths that follow from a study of history in college include (but are certainly not limited to):

Teaching: Secondary-level

Obviously, many people who seek undergraduate degrees intend to become teachers. However, varying levels of training are required. For individuals who are interested in teaching at the secondary level, a Bachelors degree of some type is usually a minimum requirement. In addition, states normally require that individuals who wish to be certified as secondary school teachers must also take a certain number of courses which are considered professional training.

Teaching: College and University-level

Individuals who wish to teach at the college or university level must continue their education in graduate studies. A Masters degree will normally prepare one to teach in the two-year or community college and private institutions, although a M.A. is usually considered a minimum. For those who wish to be historians and professors at a four-year college or a university, a Ph.D. is the minimum requirement.

Non-teaching Careers

Far and away the majority of history majors do not teach. This is often simply a matter of numbers. When an individual acquires a teaching position at whatever level, and assuming that person performs well and receives tenure, he or she may remain in that position for many years, or even until retirement. This limits the number of teaching positions that are available at any given time.

Often, however, history majors are simply disinclined to teach for a variety of reasons, and while interested in the study of history on a personal level, wish to have a career in some other field. What sorts of things are available? Well, here are some general suggestions, not meant to be inclusive, but rather to give a sense of the wide variety of possibilities.

Law School

As the number of people applying to law schools has increased, so has competition. In the past, those preparing for application have traditionally chosen history as their field of undergraduate study, usually with a second major or a minor in political science. This is no longer the majority course, but the degree in history is still considered to be one of the best to prepare one for legal training. Law and the study of law is linked to the past. Law grows out of the life and society of a culture. A knowledge of the history of a culture should go a long way toward providing one with a fundamental understanding of the relationships between law and the people who both make law and are ruled by it. The training one receives in critical reading of source material and research methods as an undergraduate history major will also help prepare one for a rigorous reading of the law and the research required in the legal field. A great part of being a competent and successful lawyer is in one's skill with the written word. History, because of its emphasis on research and writing, will also provide a good base for legal writing.

Medical School

Perhaps one does not normally think of a history major as being preparation for application to medical school. Traditionally, may future doctors have had their majors in one of the hard sciences, such as biology, anatomy, or biochemistry. However, an increasing number of admissions to medical schools are granted to individuals with training in history. The broad basis of understanding about people and cultures which history seeks to give to those who are its students can only be considered a plus for future doctors, particularly in an increasingly global culture where ideas about medicine and the role of medicine and the doctor are undergoing considerable reevaluation. In addition, there seems to be little statistical difference in MCAT scores between the more traditional biology majors and history majors.

Journalism and Mass Communications

A background in history is virtually indispensable for anyone wanting a career in journalism or other areas of mass communications, unless one is seeking a career in purely technical areas. The global world of the late 20th century is an increasingly complex place, with much of that complexity arising out of the movement of peoples and the merging of economies. The ideas and the conflicts arising out of this congruence of peoples and cultures is more easily understood by one with a background in the history of the development of these very peoples and cultures.

Archives, Museums, and Libraries

An undergraduate degree may provide one with the foundation for a career in archives, museums, libraries, and associated careers like historical restoration and preservation. Any of these fields may be in institutions that are either public or private foundations. Normally, these rather specialized areas require the additional pursuit of a specialized masters degree in the appropriate field, but a history major is the place to start. Recent ETSU graduates have gone on to careers as librarians, museum curators in local museums, and archivists, and one graduate works as the archivist for a member of the U.S. Congress.


As a religion, Christianity is an historical development. It has changed and evolved enormously over the centuries. The study of history makes one acquainted with and aware of this historical development, something not always discussed in the churches themselves. The study of history will give you an understanding of both the continuities and conflicts which had shaped and molded the church in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, and may give you some sense its possible roles in the coming century. When you enter the seminary, you will often receive historical training, as well as theological, professional and doctrinal training. An undergraduate history major can only enhance that experience.

Local, State, and Federal Government

There are many civil service jobs available at all levels of government. A major in history is a good preparation for taking the civil service exam and subsequent governmental careers. An obvious example of a career in which an education in history would be a plus would be with the Foreign Service (State Department). The Foreign Service desires candidates who have a broad historical background particularly in modern history, of both Europe and other areas of the world. Diplomacy requires some knowledge of history and the forces and events that have shaped the relations between nations.

Business and Industry

With the ongoing expansion of the world economy, many companies actively seek candidates for employment who have a broad knowledge of the world, its history, and its cultures which may not necessarily be taught as part of traditional degrees in business. Those with backgrounds in history might well be hired as corporate historians or researchers, staff or overseas corporate offices, trade organizations, labor organizations, and so forth.

Other possible examples:

  • Historical Societies: local, regional, state, and private
  • Historical Preservation Projects: local, regional, state, and private
  • Historical/Recreational: state parks, historical sites, the National Park Service, the Dept. of the Interior, living history
  • Publishing: editors, researchers, copywriters, reviewers, correspondents, book reps.etc.
  • National Organizations and Societies
  • International Organizations: United Nations, UNESCO, etc.
  • Peace Organizations: Amnesty International, Peace Links, The Peace Corps etc.
  • Churches: seminary teaching, missions, governing boards, archivists, etc.
  • Environmental Groups: Greenpeace, Wilderness Society, Sieara Club, EDF, etc.
  • Animal Rights Groups: IFAW, ASPCA, American Humane Society, etc.
  • Civil Rights Organizations: NAACP, Southern Poverty Law Center, etc.
  • Public Interest Groups

Please contact the Undergraduate Coordinator with any questions.

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