Goals of the History Curriculum
It is often thought that a history degree confers few career advantages on students. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, studies have repeatedly shown that humanities majors (like historians) make more money over a lifetime than non-technical professional baccalaureates like Business graduates. The reason for this is simple: the skills that one acquires as a history major make you fit for any vocation.
The history curriculum is designed with four goals in mind.
1) Enhance critical thinking and analytical skills.
The study of history is far more than the rote memorization of names and dates. While chronology and knowledge of the basic facts of history are necessary, the study of history involves sorting out those facts to create coherent systems of understanding the human experience.
2) Enhance writing and communication skills.
History courses emphasize writing and communication skills that prepare the student to express her/his views cogently and logically. The acquisition of these skills has repercussions that transcend the classroom.
3) Acquaint students with the basic tools of interpretation.
The interpretation of the monuments of the past is the basis of historical analysis. The seamless garment that textbooks create is NOT what historians do; it is only a necessary first step to gathering the basic facts about the past. On the contrary, the variety and often obscurity of the evidence of the past requires that historians learn to see beyond bland, textbook simplicity, and shape that evidence into original understandings of the past and the present. Historians learn to distinguish between contradictory sources; draw social and cultural meaning from evidence as diverse as the National Enquirer, a seventeenth-century tax roll, and a third-century saint’s Life.
4) Develop student awareness of the diversity and complexity of human social, cultural, political, and economic institutions.
More than any other discipline, the study of history prepares student for their responsibilities as voters and participants in our system of governance. The knowledge not only of the evolution of our great American experiment, but of the other systems by which human beings have sought to create an orderly society, is a necessary and firm foundation on which students can learn to judge for themselves the important issues of the day.