Why Teach History?

No matter the age, from fresh-faced freshman to seniors in life, everyone always asks, “a history degree? What are you going to do with that?” Some mean well, and they genuinely would like to know, what’s to be done with a history degree?

It’s not like that of a degree in engineering or medicine, where the job title is built right in. Not every B.A. History become a “historian.” Many become writers, poets, museum directors, and even practicing attorneys at law.

But not everyone can see the career potential of a history degree.

For the better part of the last decade, more and more educators and industry leaders are pushing for the advancement of science, technology, engineering, and math education in schools.

“If we want a nation where our future leaders, neighbors, and workers have the ability to understand and solve some of the complex challenges of today and tomorrow, and to meet the demands of the dynamic and evolving workforce, building students’ skills, content knowledge, and fluency in STEM fields is essential.”

– U.S. Department of Education

What do you think of when you think of the future? Self-driving cars? Accessible space travel? Battery-free cell phones? All of these things seem entirely related to science and technology… but take a closer look.

Ford Motor Company has a Corporate Historian who helps research, document, and archive the company’s history so that the company is better equipped to answer questions about its past and develop a universal understanding of the company brand for cohesive future.

The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has the highest visitation rate for museums in the country and a research program that is working to improve our understanding in Aeronautics, Earth and Planetary Science, and Space History.

Thanks to the Association for Computing Machinery’s digital library, the public has access to decades of research that has been used to develop the first battery-free cell phone at the University of Washington.

The above quote from the Department of Education could just as easily substitute “history” for STEM. Science and history go hand-in-hand; one helps the other, but there is an inequity in the ways people teach and promote these two, broad disciplines.

Many arts and humanities programs at institutions across the state, and even the nation are underfunded and lower priority in the budget. Many schools are not providing top-quality history education, because it’s often perceived as a curriculum requirement and not a vital skillset.

There are certainly a number of reasons why history education is underfunded and why STEM has been given priority as of late, but as institutions push for STEM and defund humanities programs, it causes one to wonder, why teach history?

Teaching history provides a better understanding of global cultures.

With a better understanding of various cultures and peoples in general, individuals, and society as a whole can foster a more tolerant and peaceful future.

Studying history improves decision making and judgment.

Thinking like a historian comes with vital skills like the ability to examine multiple sources of information and compare multiple interpretations of past events.

We can learn from the past to make improved decisions in the future.

If we do not learn from our mistakes, what’s to stop up from repeating them?

Teaching history can lead to profitable careers.

Teaching history builds valuable skills in children that are highly sought after in working adults; like sourcing, research, close-reading, corroboration, contextualization, basic writing, and speaking skills, broad perspective leading to flexibility, and the ability to identify trends.

Over all, teaching history creates well-rounded individuals that are good citizens and productive members of society.

So why teach history? Because history is the means of the future.

Mackenzie Finklea is a writer and an aspiring author covering all things anthropology and museums. She is currently the Executive Assistant at the Bryan Museum.