The “Practical” Discipline of History


Interviews are always fun.
Said no college student ever. There’s only one thing you can do with an interview: get through it quickly. And if possible, avoid the infamous “how would your friends describe you?” question. There will be no way of knowing how you did until they contact you later on.
This past week I was interviewed to study abroad at Gordon in Orvieto, a program which offers the amazing opportunity to study in a historically rich environment: Orvieto, Italy. As a history major, my desire to take part in this felt obvious to me. My interviewers, however, were one step ahead. They wanted to know about my career, how it related to the Orvieto program, and more specifically, how it related to my history major.
My goal is to go to law school and ultimately explore areas of family and international law. Many people find this odd. At least, it is difficult for them to find the correlation between family and international law and the history classes that I take at Messiah. So if you want to be a lawyer, why are you reading a book on the Protestant Reformation? What does Native American history have to do with international law?
This was something I definitely struggled with at the beginning of freshman year. When I first became a history major, the only two things I could say for history was that I liked it and that I thought it was important. I had no idea if this meant I should major in it, or what my major really meant for the rest of my life. People at every turn were insisting I major in something more “practical”; something that would be able to “stand on its own” in the job market without the help of a law degree; something that actually correlated with law in the first place.
Well, I don’t want to take up too much space discussing how practically the discipline of history is actually extremely suited for future law students. (Fortunately for me after almost two years of reading, writing, and heavy analysis in the history department, I’ve come to realize the practicality and the importance of the skills I’ve picked up.) What I want to do is try and broaden this idea of a “practical major.” People like to have everything in boxes. If you study nutrition, you become a nutritionist. If you study athletic training, you become an athletic trainer. If you study nursing, you become a nurse. And nothing is wrong with this! But under this mindset, people hear that you’re a history student, and outside of “history teacher” their minds can’t comprehend how that kind of major will be valuable to you. It is not “practical” to them.
I guess it is obvious that I do find the value in a history major. Why would I read about the Protestant Reformation? Because it teaches me about religions, war, oppression, interpersonal conflict, and the founding of my very own faith. Because as an attorney in international law, I may be interacting with people of every religion, people who are at war, who have been oppressed. Why would I study Native American life? Because I will be encountering people in isolated, marginalized groups, who have unique cultures, who are misunderstood by the majority.
I could go on and on. (And this is all assuming that I’m actually going to pass the dreaded LSAT and get into law school!) I began with interviews, and I will end with interviews: interviews are no fun, but they get you thinking. I honestly believe that the study of history could be “practical” and could benefit any major at Messiah. Why? Because nearly every profession interacts with or is mindful of people. Isn’t that why we’re all at this private Christian school getting ready for the rest of our lives – so that we can benefit humanity in some way? The way I see it, if there is humanity in Orvieto, Italy (which I’m pretty positive there is), then I’d say it ties in perfectly with my history major and consequently ties in perfectly with my hopeful future profession. Whether it’s the 1534 or 2015, people are people. In the end, the discipline of history is really all about us.

Emily La Bianca is a sophomore history major with a minor in politics. She currently acts as work study to the history department as well as this semester’s editor in chief for History on the Bridge.

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