History is a discipline in which you learn to ask questions, examine evidence and understand that there’s always more than one answer. Historians have long presented different ideas about how history should be studied, constructed, written and interpreted. Learning to appreciate the differences between their approaches helps you gain a deeper understanding of the past.
The ability to understand what causes major changes in human societies and culture. Without a grasp of what’s behind the big upheavals, it’s difficult to avoid falling prey to conspiracy theories and other dangerous beliefs that can have real-world consequences. Studying history provides you with the tools to recognize and challenge myths that may be influencing your own thinking.
An appreciation for the value of history as a source of inspiration and guidance for our own lives and societies. Whether we look to the ways in which Ancient Romans incorporated foreign peoples into their society, or how we’ve responded to international crises like COVID-19, it’s helpful to see how events from the past can have relevance for our own concerns.
A mastery of the different interpretations and values that have shaped history. The values and priorities of different ages have affected how significant they have viewed particular individuals, events, ideas or sites. For example, historians from the 19th and early 20th centuries were concerned with class struggle, which gave rise to a theory called ‘material dialectic’. This idea suggests that economic classes push to improve their own status, often at the expense of other classes.
It also helps to learn that significance is not an intrinsic quality of individuals, events, ideas or sites. It is a judgment that is made on a case-by-case basis by historians and others. This is why it’s not appropriate to make moral judgments about the significance of historical figures – Cromwell cannot be considered significant for putting the inhabitants of Drogheda to the sword, nor can Hitler be deemed important because of the Holocaust.
An ability to assess the strength and validity of arguments based on various kinds of evidence. Historians use public statements, private records, numerical data and visual materials to shape the most accurate picture of what happened in the past that they can. Learning to interpret these different kinds of sources builds the capacity to distinguish between the objective and the self-serving in political leaders’ statements. It’s a skill that can be applied to other information you encounter in your daily life, including the information you might find on social media.
The skills you learn through studying history will be useful in a variety of careers. For example, a degree in history can lead to jobs in government, NGOs, businesses and media organizations. It’s also worth noting that many high-profile CEOs have a background in history. If you’re ready to take your career to the next level, explore University of the People’s range of online degrees. They’re tuition-free, 100% online and accredited by the Higher Education Council of Ireland.