Last summer Norton’s team of history editors and specialists were thinking through a concern we frequently hear about on campus: students (and sometimes parents) wonder whether what they’ll learn as history majors can apply to future career pursuits. We decided to answer this evergreen question—“What Can I Do with a History Degree?”—with a poster our community of historians could proudly display on campus.
We started by looking at what sorts of resources were already out there. Generally speaking, we’ve seen materials that offer two answers to this question: first are official outcomes for the history major, including the key skills, competencies, and knowledge that history majors should be accountable for. Second are various career-focused websites, such as monster.com and Glassdoor, which publish lists of career ideas for history majors. What we wanted to do was to bring the two—a principled declaration of goals, and inspiration for possible career applications—together.
Next, we needed to draw together our material. To compile a set of key goals/outcomes for history majors, we drew on formal guidelines from several professional organizations, including the American Historical Association’s Tuning Project and the National Council for History Education’s “History’s Habits of Mind.” This included skills we know are critically important in our present world, such as “Critically evaluate contradictory viewpoints, including differentiating between fact and opinion. Develop and practice empathetic thinking.”
For the career inspiration half of the poster, we found as a very useful source Paul Sturtevant’s Perspectives on History article “History is Not a Useless Major: Fighting Myths With Data”(2017). Sturtevant cites American Community Survey (ACS) data that shows that history majors have a lower than average unemployment rate at the time of graduation. and shatters several other persistent myths about history majors. We also drew on the ACS data, but, because we wanted to keep our poster easy to read at a glance, we simplified the categories a bit into a bold infographic format.
To fill out the poster, we combed the internet to look for examples of the career paths history majors could take within each category, and we added in inspiring quotations about history from greats such as James Baldwin and Sonia Sotomayor. We even came up with a list of famous history majors (including Steve Carrell, Julia Child, and FDR!), but ultimately the list didn’t make the cut, since we figured it might clutter things up. We sent everything we found to our design team, who took our content and formatted it into a beautiful layout, with a bold and eye-catching headline:
Probably the most fun part was last: sharing the posters! We sent each of Norton’s college travelers packets to share on campus, and we distributed copies in our booth at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting. We even got some requests on Twitter.
The poster was so popular that we’re currently out of stock.