Are you thinking about studying History at degree level, and possibly at Kingston University? We’d love to have you! A big question might be ‘What can I do with a degree in History?’ At this time of year History staff are often asked this by prospective new students (and their parents!), who are keen to learn about the value and uses of a degree in History.
At the same time – as our new students consider the uses of a degree in History – students who have just completed their studies with us after three years are entering into the world of work, and staff are being regularly asked to write references for a variety of job applications being made by our graduates. Employers are naturally deeply interested in what skills a History student can offer. The short answer is: lots!
So, with all this in mind, here’s some brief food for thought…
A Stepping Stone: There is no doubt in my mind that a degree in History can be an excellent ‘stepping stone’ to a wide variety of interesting careers and professions, ranging from the top job in British politics (a recent Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was a History graduate), through to teaching in the public sector or working as a researcher in the media, or acting as an archivist in a major museum or library. At first glance, History graduates might appear to be suited mainly to roles such as museum curators or History lecturers, but that might seriously underestimate what History also offers to society. Our graduates have gone into the public or private sectors, such as working in public broadcasting or as acting an advisor at the National Archives, or providing research support for a large company or national (or international) lobby group.
Transferrable Skills: History and the study of the past, as far as I am concerned, provides graduates with a wide variety of what we call ‘transferable skills’. History students receive invaluable training in being able to understand and analyse key issues and events, both in the past and in the present, to a very high level of competence. In my experience, they also become very confident in being able to offer potential employers a good range of other highly marketable skills, such as a talent for clear expression; putting ideas and arguments forward in a concise and professional manner; collecting, investigating and assessing complex bodies of material; the ability to synthesise and communicate effectively, packaging such information into accessible forms; generating new ideas and informed conclusions based on original research; and organising material in a logical and coherent way.
Critical Thinking: Above all, a training in History enables you to think critically and independently, either as an individual or as part of a team. Taking the lead-role in a team is a highly-prized skill for employers. History students today, especially at Kingston University, are also encouraged to think about and gain experience in the ‘hands on’ practical skills of presentation and public communication, such as debating, report-writing, speech-making, pod-casting, website design, and film-making. Phew! I could go on…
Calm Under Fire: To employers who recruit graduates in any discipline, such skills will often be more important than the actual subject a student has studied. On the other hand, I would argue that History students, because of the very nature of the subject they have become experts in, can often bring to their workplace important additional skills which other graduates often lack: considerable self-discipline (gained through hours of patiently working one’s way through primary documents or weighing up one interpretation against another); the ability to be ‘calm when under fire’ i.e. deal calmly with tight deadlines when under a great deal of stress (efficient time-management, planning and multi-tasking become almost second-nature to a History student!); and a highly flexible approach (which comes from our History students being strongly encouraged to view topics from a variety of different and exciting perspectives and angles).
Your Career Path: So… where do Kingston’s History students end up? A significant number opt for careers in the heritage sector, teaching, the civil service, local government, public sector administration, publishing, advertising, retail, business, the police and the Armed Forces. Common professions also include banking, journalism, and law. The legal profession, for example, simply loves History graduates for their analytical and critical reasoning skills, which are highly valued.
And what is the most unusual ‘history’ job I have come across? There have been a few I could point to, ranging from one former student I encountered on the South Bank near the Thames who said (in a rather hushed tone) ‘the MOD’, to another who had become a top executive for a major ice-cream company.
A few years ago, as I was sitting in a crowded train carriage leaving central London, a familiar face suddenly introduced himself: ‘Remember me?’ It was one of my former students. We chatted for a while. ‘And what do you do now?’, I asked (sounding rather Regal). ‘Oh, I work for a TV channel, creating their quiz show questions. They rely on me for all their history-based questions’. He said it was the ‘best job in the whole world’. And when he told me what his yearly income was, I nearly fell over. He was just off to the Bahamas…
Steve Woodbridge is Lecturer in History at Kingston University