30 Reasons it’s Smart to Hire a History Student

When my co-op advisor asked how my current job relates to my History degree, I didn’t know what to tell her. Not because the job doesn’t relate to my studies–it does. Almost everything does, if you ask me. On the transferable skill side, there is just so, so much.

As I sit at the tail end of my History and Communications double major, resume full of business-friendly internships and experiences, I can’t help but notice how underrated the History half of my education seems to be. It has helped me thrive in so many work worlds–from the public service, to high tech marketing, to education and tourism. It’s time we stopped overlooking the History degree.

Here are 30 reasons why.

  1. History students are experts at tracking trends. They know how people, strategies, and time-stamped statistics work (or don’t work).
  2.  …and, yes, they know how to communicate that information back.
  3. When presented with a whole bunch of information, History students are trained to be able to quickly judge what is relevant, and why it is relevant.
  4. History students need to pick up on the jargon, locations, and terms associated with different historical periods and disciplines.  If there’s unique lingo, acronyms, or language that your team/organization uses, they will be quick to understand and adopt it.
  5. These kids know how to write.
  6. Oh, and they know how to summarize. Throw them a hodgepodge of random information, and they’ll turn it into a concise, focused, and coherent package (hey, maybe they’ll even make you a list! Eh? Eh?)
  7. They can recognize long term effects.
  8. …which means they can help develop long term solutions.
  9. And they’re aware that the world changes constantly, so those solutions (and their attitudes) will likely stay flexible.
  10. They recognize the need for a plan B (and C…and D…)
  11. History scholars tend to be naturally interested people. Interested people are the best employees.
  12. They know how to back up their points, and are champions of logical argumentation.
  13. They understand how individuals affect situations and organizations.
  14. They understand how the environment affects situations and organizations.
  15. They understand how internal culture affects situations and organizations.
  16. …basically, History students understand stuff. Or they can figure it out pretty quickly, after years of studying how things play out and why.
  17. Chances are they have an awareness of international relations and the history/culture of different countries. With our increasingly global economy, this shouldn’t be underestimated.
  18. They do their research.
  19. And they do that research well.  They know how to confirm data, to critically evaluate sources, and to filter out irrelevant information.
  20. History majors know how to make connections. They can learn how a system works (or how it doesn’t work) incredibly quickly.
  21. They are open to abstract thinking and ideas.
  22. These are critically thinking storytellers. They can make almost anything look and feel interesting.
  23. History degrees involve seminars and discussions, so a History student will have refined oral communication skills.
  24. History scholars genuinely enjoy learning, and they’re quick to do it. Throw them information, and they’ll catch it.
  25. They know how to use media and technology as a research and a communication tool.
  26. They work freakin’ hard. (I know multiple very smart people who tried taking a first year history class as a “bird course” and either dropped it or called me crying “What why is this is so hard?!”)
  27. They know what kind of innovative, thoughtful ideas have influenced the world in the past. This means that their ideas are usually pretty innovative and thoughtful.
  28. Most History students understand economics—they get how money works, moves, and influences things.
  29. They are trained on how to observe human behavior. Like, say, a client or customer’s behavior.
  30. They can organize ideas into tables and timelines like you would not believe.

Basically, studying History helps you develop key skills like critical thinking, communication, research, and writing.  History students can pick up on patterns and systems quickly, think in big picture/abstract ways…and still rock that always important attention to detail.

I’m biased, I’m biased, I’m biased (so biased, I said it three times). But, hey, at least I recognize that bias, and mention it when presenting a listed-out argument, right?

(History degree, yo.)

Had to. Okay. I'm done geeking out now.
Had to. Okay. I’m done now.
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Life, Learning, and “Windowless Cave Education”

I just typed a big, ugly rant into my Facebook status box.  It started with  “I know this is a first world problem and all…” and tumbled down from there. The rant was well deserved, if spoiled; it targeted my University’s summer course selection (which sucks). I think it sounded something like “afnv;fdkvldnklv;dfnvdf!!,” but now I’m paraphrasing.

I didn’t press Post. I deleted the rant.  I don’t know if that signals maturity or defeat.

My soul is pretty much owned by “learning” right now, something that clearly takes many forms–mostly interesting ones, but not always. Sometimes, it feels like  “learning” feeds my stress levels more than my brain.  My eyes glaze over, and all I can see are schedule frustrations, lost notes, dull readings, “shi-it, did I just fall asleep during that lecture?”.  This kind of “learning” is often done in temperature-controlled windowless caves;  As if not being able to see the world will somehow help us learn about it. Why is it that important places like study rooms, lecture halls, churches, government institutions and courts so often lack windows?  Are we really expecting people who can’t even see the sky or the ground to be responsible authorities on the world’s direction? 

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This is where you are supposed to learn about the world, while totally cut off from the world. Because THAT makes sense…

Let me be clear: I don’t think that University is a bad thing, and I certainly don’t believe that I’m “too smart” for all this traditional school stuff.  I appreciate my windowless cave education, I do. Absorbing important information hand-picked by a well-studied mentor (read: professor) seems like a worthy investment.  Of course I learn things.  It’s not a grossly unproductive system; we are tested, we write stuff, and some of it does stick.

Classrooms are good. I can dig that. But if classrooms are the only place that I’m learning? Then we have a problem.

Windowless cave education is best when it is supported by side projects that supplement the “learning”–extra-curriculars, excursions, experiences. Real-world stuff.  But there are only so many hours in a day, only so many dollars in the bank account.  During school terms, I am barely able to get those forgettable papers written, juggle my minimum wage gigs, and see my friends on the side.  I never read for fun. I rarely visit museums.  I can’t afford much time volunteering, or “getting involved”, even if that volunteering will bring me closer to my interests and career goals.

I miss a lot of “learning” while I’m in school. That seems strange, doesn’t it?

I can’t help but wonder if my windowless cave education is any better than the free education I am getting right now: taking an online class through coursera, attending Library of Congress lectures, visiting the Smithsonians, volunteering at the Holocaust Museum, interning in the music/heritage industry. Even blogging (to you! right now!) is quite the experience. So is playing guitar on the rooftop, watching someone’s experienced fingers pluck the strings to a new song. Or getting lost in the city.  Or braving a conversation with someone I know disagrees with me (and loving that person all the same).

You can’t tell me this is a less profound “learning” experience than the one I had last semester, theory-memorizing and paper-writing.  I don’t mean to make the latter sound useless. Theories and papers have served me well; they just haven’t served me wholly. Windowless cave knowledge is a starting point…but if we lack opportunities to apply that knowledge, aren’t we missing something? 

Even though I haven’t stepped foot in a classroom in several months, I’m no less in education mode here than I was in the windowless cave.  Being in a new place, working, writing, dialoguing, and attending stuff–hell, I might be learning more here than I do in school.  It’s a tough comparison.  But I do wish I could bring this flexibility and motivation to find/learn/discover with me when I go back to school in May.

I’m not going to I argue that everything I do is University-calibre learning. I hope it’s not. My brain would explode.  Something doesn’t have to involve “learning” to be a good way to spend time (I love sports and music and sitcoms way too much to make that argument). I’m not saying  that every activity needs to involve a life lesson. What I am saying is that life lessons need to involve more activity.

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…not this kind of activity.

As per my last post, I am aiming to be a woman whose life involves lots of “learning”, inspired by lots of activity.  I want to be a woman with “guitar-bred finger calluses, with laugh lines and dimples, with sun-kissed shoulders and tired, blistered feet.”  I want to be a woman “who is continually educated and insatiably curious. Who speaks a couple languages, who knows her geography, and who travels lots and lots. Who knows enough to be aware of the fact that she knows nothing.  Who has about 10 questions for every answer.”

I can totally achieve that. I can.  School is going to be a part of it, obviously…so is stress, responsibility, boredom, bureaucratic systems.  I’m not rejecting it ALL; ‘Course selection was difficult this semester, so Fuck The Man!’.  That is obviously not fair.

But school can’t be all of it.  It can’t be. When Mark Twain said “don’t let schooling get in the way of your education,” he had a point.

We’re just lucky that the best teachers know it.

My Creative Frenzy: Why Alternative Projects Are the Best

This year, I was given the opportunity in one of my classes to pursue and “alternative project” in lieu of writing a paper.

I am such a big fan of the alternative project. It gets me in the biggest creative frenzy.

I had participated in the University of Ottawa’s Community Service Learning program a few times, so I knew what it was like to do something a little different for a class project.  I knew I liked it, too. With CSL, professors can offer students the opportunity to do course-related volunteer field work instead of writing a paper. In first year, I made teaching aids. In second year, I delivered an Aboriginal history presentation for some grade four classes.   And in both cases, I learned a whole lot more from those experiences than from “here today, gone tomorrow” essays.

This year, I took a Colonial American History course that allowed students to design an alternative media/internet project. My mind went more than a little crazy. I’m a History student, yes, but I’m also pursuing a Communications major. I pretty much lived in the Communications Technology room in high school.  I’m a new media diehard.  I used to make short films and write folk songs in lieu of writing papers in high school.  And, obviously, I blog.  Interactive/Media history? I had to get on that. THIS IS EXCITING.

It didn’t take long for me to decide what I wanted to do.  American musical history is fascinating to me. Really, the profound relationship between sound and society is fascinating to me, which I guess explains why I’m so excited to be interning for Smithsonian Folkways this winter.  It’s also why I decided to create an online resource exploring Colonial American music for my alternative project.

Check it out: http://soundsofthecolonies.wordpress.com/

A few notes from the experience:

  • This ended up feeling almost like an interactive, online version of liner notes…you know, like the booklets inside CDs?  How cool would it be if CDs came with programs like this to explore what was behind the music, kinda like a DVD menu? I assume this is already a thing that happens, but is should happen more–when it comes to music with strong historical/cultural significance, technology could be really valuable in bringing the learning to the next level.
  • The best way to make an interactive map? Skip the “interactive map” websites, and upload a jpeg to Thinglink.  You can add links, notes, and markers to images. Made for a really cool music map of New England on my end. (Teaching tool alert, educator friends!)
  • The constant battle: The more information you have, the harder it is to cut it into bite-sized pieces–especially when that information is circumstantial and you’re like “But…but..but…complexity…and…”. I have this issue with essays, too, but for some reason breaking it down for the internet required even more messing around with conflicting ideas to get to the core of what was going on. Filler was just less of an option.
  • Music matters. A lot. Probably more than I even suspected before starting this project. It’s such a big indicator of so many cultural and human elements.
  • I HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO LEARN. It’s weird to do so much research, feel so flooded with questions, and then need to step up with some kind of concise thesis.  Bringing everything behind your questions together in order to project some sort of objective answer is tough. I have information, yes. But I can’t wait to gain more insight.
  • I’m excited for the future of history, ethnomusicology, and education in the new media environment.  Interactive maps and YouTube videos and downloadable liner notes and iTunes U?  So much fun to play with.

I don’t know how many other people chose to do an alternative project. Maybe the number wasn’t that big. But just the fact that we were given the opportunity to take our research to a different place was awesome (not to mention, it kept me from falling asleep on the job). It was awesome in high school when my Native Studies teacher let me write songs instead of make powerpoints. It was awesome when my grade 12 World History teacher made our seminar assignment so vague that I was able to do mine on an interview with my grandfather. Community Service Learning was, and is, awesome. And, of course, this alternative project was the coolest opportunity.  I even got to bounce this project off of the wonderful people and resources at Smithsonian Folkways.  How cool is that?

Very cool.

How My Hard Drive Crash Restored My Faith in Humanity

For the sake of optimism, I will call this borrowed-from-the-library laptop “vintage.” Vintage, as in it took a whole timed minute to open up Microsoft Word. Vintage, as in it had a full-out meltdown when Facebook dared notify me of something. And yes, vintage, as in NOT the ideal machine to be working with. Not when there are four major projects coming up in my calendar…or at least there would be, if I had access to my calendar.

Guess whose hard drive crashed a week ago?

It crashed in the middle of class. Frozen on the boot-up screen; No response from my F2 key, no life in the mouse, and (thanks, lack of forethought) no back up. Crashed and burned. I should point out to you that this is a two month old laptop which really shouldn’t be acting out. I should also point out to you, since EVERYONE on the tech support side asked: Yes, captain obvious, I DID try to reboot my machine. If only it were so easy.

They came by and replaced the motherboard. This did nothing. So, they came by and replaced the hard drive. This worked for a single day. Then, while working on some important correspondence (okay, checking my email) in the library yesterday, my cursor froze. I called Dell again.

“Well, did you restart your computer? How about the Fn key + F3?” Only about five times. Thanks, though.

I feel sorry for the people on the other end of those phone calls. Malfunctioning technology seems to bring out the worst in me. That loving, caring person that sent you a Christmas card last year? She peaces out when the laptop breaks down.

I may need to write a card to Dell’s tech support central: “Sorry I’m such an entitled-sounding 20-something, but also, I don’t want to fail out of University. ”

(Did that still make me sound like an entitled 20-something? Yikes. In my defense: Come on…a two month old machine? Really?)

I present to you my current studying/researching method. Kickin’ it old school. Last night’s hot date was with Religious Studies:

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Not too shabby, right? The reason I write this isn’t to grumble at you about my first world problems. Hard drives fail. Shit happens. Outsourced tech support from a 1-800 number can only be so helpful, and after three strikes Dell has agreed to send me a new laptop (sup, extended warranty?)

What I DO want to say is that when my technology started sucking, I started becoming more and more amazed at how great people can be. I mean, my laptop bust wasn’t anyone else’s fault. And sometimes, it wasn’t even their problem. As for the people whose job it was to fix it, they certainly didn’t have to be so freakin’ nice about it. But they were. They were so, so nice.

My profs have been legendarily helpful. The tech support ladies and gents (yes, the ones at that damned 1-800 number) were lovely, even when I pulled out my entitled 20-something “With all due respect…” lines. There was that sweet hardware-fixing guy, Rick, the one who showed up EXACTLY when he said he would. And we can’t forget my parents, who were expert in helping me stay chill…even though that is no longer their job. Because, you know, I am an adult. Hear me roar.

…Right, mommy?

Specifically, I’m an adult who gets more than a little overwhelmed muddling through a laptop mess. But as with most messes, this one has shown me that people care. Even when it’s something small and technical and it was me who messed up by not making a backup—even when it really, really is not their problem—people care.

Thank you, people. I’ll continue liking you more than technology.

8 New Ways to Study (when the old ways stop working)

It’s midterm week. The week where I have all the major tests/stress happening. You know, the week before reading week.

I always find this funny, but it’s the same every year: Midterm week comes right before “reading week.” Maybe it’s just my luck, but year after year my professors seem to all think that we want to get exams “over with” before the week off, giving us a bit of a vacation–or, as some profs reason, to give us time to study for our other classes with post-reading week midterms.

I don’t have any classes with post-reading week midterms.

I’m not trying to bitch and moan. I actually like these weeks. I thrive on the pressure. I have two midterms and a paper due in one day (that would be tomorrow, folks), and while that is making me sweat a bit…I like sweating a bit. I like it for awhile, at least. But every now and then my eyes glaze over or my brain gets overwhelmed with information and I just can’t study like this anymore.

Fine. But I still need to study. So the question is, what’s a student to do when the nose-in-a-book method becomes ineffective?

Here are some go-to alternative study methods:

Watch it. There are documentaries out there about just about any and everything. As long as you watch your sources, you can take a break from studying and still let the information seep in by seeking out a film relevant to your courses. Two nights ago, I found a great biography on Ho Chi Minh via http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/, which I threw on to take a break from head-spinning Southeast Asian History readings. As a History student, my “break” videos usually come from history.com, the CBC archives, biography.com …and every now and then, Youtube and Netflix have something interesting to offer.

Listen to it. When I was living in France, I was also taking an American History course and trying to study for a paper on the Harlem Renaissance. This was such a specifically American subject that information, even secondary sources, were less-than-accessible from the libraries in this small French village. I’m an auditory learner, so my solution then was downloading lectures from iTunes U…and it has pretty much been my go-to ever since.

It’s easy: Type just about any subject into iTunes. Click “iTunes U” in the left hand “Filter by media type” menu. Chances are, you will find some academia about it available for free download. Then go for a run on the treadmill or take a nice walk while you listen to people talk about stuff that you really should know for that paper (just make sure to cite it if you use it!).

Another possibility for auditory learners, especially when facing  “defining terms” type assessments, is recording oneself defining terms that need memorizing, then playing it back while walking/treadmilling/playing tetris/baking a cake/etc. Either way, it’ll seep in.

Why do you keep mentioning the treadmill?  Sometimes, when what you have to learn is REALLY thick and dull, the only way to stay awake is if you’re moving.  I am convinced that I only passed 10th grade biology because I brought my science class material to fitness class with me. Reading during the low-intensity part of cardio was the only way I knew to stay awake while reading that stuff. When I’m confined to a desk, I also find that I’m more productive with a drink by my side, even just a glass of water. I guess that if I’m going to need the odd 5 seconds away from work regardless, a cup of coffee is a better call than a “quick” check to Facebook or Twitter.

Twitter-ize it.  One of my most successful study nights happened last spring, when I decided to work through the information by creating a temporary new Twitter account and using it to write definitions, biographies, important dates, documents, or ideas–in 140 characters or less.  It forced me to really, really know what I was talking about and what was important, and to categorize things properly. You don’t need to create a Twitter account to do this (quite frankly, it’s a bit of a pain), but squeezing your words into simple boxes takes consideration and comprehension, so it’s a great way to learn your stuff. Bonus: It’s also a great lesson in the English language. It’s also kinda fun.

Productivity-Off. I coined this term in second year, when a friend from home tweeted that he was working on some second language worksheets while I was painstakingly translating French documents into broken English. I messaged him back, suggesting that we race each other to finish of our respective assignments first.

This is now a thing. It’s called a productivity-off, and after introducing it to my roommate at the time, it got me through second year.

You know how pitting kids against their siblings will get them ready for bed in record time? Turns out a little bit of competition can bring out an incredible level of productivity in fully grown adults, too. Why? Because games make things work.

Play with it. Outside of productivity-offs, there are so many ways that games can make things work. Last month, my 8th grade brother insisted to me that he would “NEVER be good at this French grammar stuff.” I sent him to the French section of quia.com to find games that related to the concepts giving him trouble. Now, he has informed me that he rocks irregular verbs.  Why? Because he found a way to interact with them and to face a game-style challenge that got his competitive side up.

Keep this in mind: If you have a map quiz, there is probably a flash game that can help you play through learning the geography you need.   If you have a history test, trivia quizzes could be a fun “break” that tests your knowledge. If you have a friend around, you can play the Wikipedia Game and navigate between content from your respective courses–especially if those courses are worlds apart. You could learn something new to boot.

Reward yourself. If you don’t have someone else to be competitive with, and the internet doesn’t offer a way to get your game face on, you can still sometimes pull out that drive by setting goals and rewarding yourself when you get them done. This takes a little more self-discipline, and I know that a false sense of urgency is not always readily available…but if you know there’s a beer in the fridge just waiting for you to finish that article, usually that article will get finished.

Keep your study spot sacred. I spend a lot of time with my computer in my bed and on the couch. This might seem silly, seeing as I have that cute little cloffice sitting there just begging to be used.  Here’s the deal, though: I use my computer for my leisure time, for watching TV, talking to friends, monitoring memes…you know, the important things in life. I avoid doing those things at my desk, save for the odd conversation that pops up while studying.   Why? Because I have trained myself to get into work mode the minute I sit at that desk.

The cloffice is where I get serious–at least, as serious as a girl who studies with documentaries and flash games gets.  If I’m writing something substantial, if I’m doing readings, if I’m writing study notes, if I’m recording study notes, if I’m memorizing scripts–that’s cloffice time. I’m not perfect with it, but I guarantee you that I get a whole lot more done when I’m in a place that has been set aside for, well, getting a whole lot more done.

Speaking of which….think it’s time to go home for some cloffice time.  Maybe record some concise term definitions. And maybe, just maybe, earn that cold beer in my fridge.
Happy studying!