Head of History
A recent study undertaken by Benjamin M. Schmidt, a professor of history at Northeastern University, revealed some fascinating changing trends in the study of history at the tertiary level. Schmidt’s study revealed that whilst history has been declining more rapidly than any other major in some American universities, in others, specifically Ivy League schools like Brown, Princeton, Yale and Columbia, it is dramatically increasing and has become the top declared major. In fact, history is growing so rapidly at Yale that “the Yale history department intends to hire more than a half-dozen faculty members this year alone.”[i] Schmidt locates the decline in some colleges to the 2008 global financial crisis where “students (and their parents) felt a need to pick a major in a field that might place them on a secure career path.”[ii]
Professor Schmidt’s research reveals that many still hold these fears stemming from the GFC a decade on but recent research from the business world highlights that these concerns are unwarranted. Studies released from institutions like the World Economic Forum and KPMG reveal that those students now studying history as a major are perfectly positioned to acquire leadership positions in the careers of the future. Trends in the business world suggest that history (or humanities) majors are becoming more preferred employees because of their skills of critical thinking, social perceptiveness and active listening.[iii] The trend has been most obvious in Silicon Valley where companies like Microsoft, Facebook and Uber are now looking specifically for humanities majors. As a recent Guardian article stated, “a decade after the tech companies started spending obscure amounts of money competing for the brightest technical minds, they are now in the market for philosophers, sociologists and ethicists to help them move slower and fix things.”[iv] In 2018, the World Economic Forum released a significant study into the ways in which the world economy will transform in the next decades and how this will affect the job market. Their study reinforced what Silicon Valley companies and those at Ivy League colleges have already realised, namely that studying subjects like history will position them more powerfully in the workforce of the future. The WEF stated that “communication, observation, empathy and logical thinking- these essential skills are the ones most sought by some of the largest, most successful organisations. Those blue-chip employers recognise that their future leaders are people who can understand and communicate about the world around them, who can see the whole picture and find ways to fit into it.”[v] Even large financial and actuarial companies like KPMG are signalling this trend change through their own data analysis which reveals that, “the solutions to fostering and maximising research and development in Australia will come out of the HASS (Humanities, Arts, Social Sciences) playbook: where Australia is most competitive globally it is likely to be a HASS-based sector; in other industries, core HASS competencies will provide the tools to innovate.”[vi]
In a 2017 article in The Times, Mark Bailey stated that “the transferable skills acquired through a history degree are the fundamental reason that historians are propelled disproportionately into positions of leadership.”[vii] This is backed by 2019 data outlined by the BBC which revealed that a “recent study of 1,700 people from 30 countries found that the majority of those in leadership positions had either a social sciences or humanities degree.”[viii] Examples of this are business leaders like Lloyd Blankfein (Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs), Brian Moynihan (Chairman and CEO of Bank of America) and Sir Howard Stringer (former Chairman of Sony Corporation) who are all history majors.
Perhaps the best example of this growing awareness of the value of studying history is the case of Fernando Rojas. Rojas is a Californian whose parents were Mexican immigrants to the USA.[ix] In 2017 he was accepted to all eight Ivy League schools because of his academic excellence. He eventually decided to study at Yale and complete a BA/MA in history. Rojas’ story is the most compelling because his choice to study history is based on his passion- a choice supported by his parents (his mother is a seamstress and his father works in a factory which makes cardboard). Like many in his generation, Rojas understands best that the world has changed a decade on from the global financial crisis and that following your passion is the true key to success. The Loreto Normanhurst History Department adheres to the philosophy of those like Rojas and the renowned career coach, Anne Mangan, who has stated, “No matter what, making a degree or career path decision based on average salaries isn’t a good move. Financial success is not a good reason. It tends to be a very poor reason. Be successful at something and money will follow, as opposed to the other way around.”[x]
Mr Marco Scali
Head of History
[i] Eric Alterman, “The Decline of Historical Thinking.” New Yorker, February 4, 2019
[iii] Anna Moro, “The Humanities are becoming more important. Here’s why.” 14 June, 2018.
[iv] Matt Beard, “Stem gets a lot of headlines in education circles. But it is not a silver bullet.” The Guardian, 5 November 2018
[v] Anna Moro, op cit.
[viii] Amanda Ruggeri, “Why ‘worthless’ humanities degrees may set you up for life.” BBC Education, 2 April, 2019.
[x] Anna Mangan in Amanda Ruggeri, op cit.