What Can't You Do With History?
SVSU History Department
SVSU History Department
When Stephen Smith graduated with a degree in history from Texas A&M University in 2004, he did not expect to one day conduct research on product safety for a consulting company. His story illustrates one of the best-kept secrets of higher education: Being a history major is more than preparation to enter the classroom as a teacher. It provides valuable, universal, and, yes, marketable skills that can open the door for a variety of fulfilling careers.
I graduated from Texas A&M University in 2004 with a degree in history. I attended the University of Michigan, completing a Masters Degree in history and left the Ph.D. program having completed all requirements for my doctorate but my dissertation (ABD). I currently work for an engineering consulting company in Ann Arbor, MI, and have worked for this company since 2008.
I use the skills I developed as a history major and in graduate school on a daily basis in my job. My company writes warning labels and product manuals, and provides expert witnesses for lawsuits involving a variety of issues, including workplace accidents, product liability, long-term chemical exposure. My job involves research on a daily basis; for example, I regularly am asked to essentially write a history of a particular product for a case. This task involves researching the history of federal and state regulations and laws related to product at issue, researching the history of applicable standards promulgated by industry organizations, investigating scholarly research related to relevant issues, and analyzing relevant materials produced during fact discovery (such as documents and deposition testimony). In essence, I am asked to read a wide variety of materials closely, pull out relevant facts and details, and to synthesize that information into a clear, concise narrative form that we then use to explain the case and the opinions my bosses develop to lawyers, judges, and juries.
My job is in many ways an extension of the work I was doing in my graduate and undergraduate history studies. I use library databases to find relevant books, articles, federal and state regulations and laws, read them, and write papers explaining what it all means. I have found that the research and writing skills history students learn in the course of their studies are very valuable in the workplace. The ability to digest and make sense of large quantities of information, and to clearly explain it to others, is exactly the sort of analytical task we are trained to do in school. It is also exactly what many other, more technical disciplines struggle with.
Every day at my job I use the research, writing, and analytical skills I learned studying history. These skills are highly valuable in a variety of applications outside of academic history. Using those skills on a daily basis, not to mention getting paid for it, is pretty great too.