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Interview with a History Major

Need help choosing your major? During the ’14/’15 academic year, we’ll be talking to students from every Chatham undergraduate program to get the inside scoop on their areas of study. 

 

Featured Major: History

Interviewee: Anna McDevitt ’15 

Majors: History (American History concentration) and English

Minor: African American Studies

 

Why did you choose to major in History?

Before I even came to Chatham, I knew that I wanted to major in History. I have always loved studying history. Many people have a negative view of history because the way they were taught was boring and wrong. Whenever people hear my major is History they ask, “Why history? That’s so boring. Why would you do that? Are you going to be a teacher?” Really, anyone that is not your major will most likely think whatever you are studying is boring, but the reason I always find this question so funny is because history isn’t the least bit boring, just the way you were taught it was boring. In high school you learn about old, dead white men and gloss over the rest of it. It’s not specialized, your textbook is biased and its agenda is to teach you the basics of history. However, I wish this were not the case because history teaches you so much about why things are the way they are now, and can perhaps provide a pattern that you can look to when trying to predict the future. Any subject field has a history that explains how things have become what they are. It really is a fascinating subject, history. Maybe the reason people think history is so boring is because we never shut up once you get us going on a topic….

Which history course taught you the most about yourself and why?

The history course that taught me the most about myself was my first history class with Dr. Michelmore, Introduction to World History. It was my second semester of college, and I was already intimidated by Dr. Michelmore because I knew how hard she was as a professor. I was so determined to get an A in her class, and I did! I was so proud of myself because I had pushed myself, figured out a good study pattern, and had really started to stop procrastinating. When I went to take my last class with her, History of Islam, I knew the class would be challenging because of the subject matter, something I knew little to nothing about. Her classes taught me so much about myself because she made everything so interesting, yet relevant in contemporary terms, and I knew that if I could survive her classes, then I would be okay. Her classes, along with my other history professors, made me realize I was studying something that helps explain the world around me.

What’s surprised you the most about being a History major?

How much my skills have assisted me in other areas of my life. History, while it may focus on the past, gives you incredible skills that make you draw invisible connections between events and interpretations for the future. There have been numerous times that my knowledge of history has assisted me in understanding other classes, from science to art. History is something that is important no matter what field of study or career you are in; there is a history to everything we do, right? It’s fun to point that history out to people.

What are three main lessons you’ve learned from your History courses?

To listen to the text, which essentially means (and also is something English majors do) that the text you are using, whether primary or secondary, will tell you what you are looking for. It is hard to explain, but if you are looking to answer a paper topic or your own personal research question, the text you are using will tell you what you are looking for. It is all up to your perspective. Secondly, I have learned to not procrastinate. It is extremely hard to wait ’til the last minute to write a history paper because the amount of research you must complete could take months, if you are doing it right that is. Always start at the beginning of the semester: take out books, research articles, just do it before you even know the due date. Lastly, talk with your professors. This lesson translates across all majors, but it is especially important to me as a History major. Professors love if you come talk to them about what you are having trouble with or if you are not having any problems at all. Talking and having an open dialogue with your professors in your discipline helps while you are at Chatham, and when you move on to graduate school or your career. Always have great relationships with your professors and peers.

How would you describe the classroom environment?

The classroom environment really depends on the professor. Some professors prefer to lecture, some want you to read a text and discuss it, others will teach you something and then have you interpret it. All of my classes have taught me invaluable skills and how people can interpret the subject of history. (Dry humor and wit is appreciated, though.)

What three characteristics do you think successful History majors possess?

Critical thinker, introspective, and dedicated. To study history, you have to be a great researcher, critical reader, and interpreter. People laugh at me for how many books I have out of the library at one time, but being able to research a text is a difficult skill that takes time to develop. I am still developing it as I near graduation. You have to be dedicated to what you are researching or writing. If you are not, it shows as you are not as knowledgeable about your topic. Always work hard, stay focused, be passionate, and think outside of the box. Never do what someone else has done.

Why do you think Chatham students should consider majoring in History?

Because it is a classic, yet underrated major. Majoring in History teaches you so many skills that are transferrable in any job environment. The idea that majoring in History means you can only be a teacher is a huge misconception. With my two majors of History and English, I am going on to get a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning to work with nonprofits and help revitalize low-income and blighted communities. While reading that, you may wonder how that connects to my majors. First, I have to understand why a community is in its current state, so I have to look at the history and politics behind it. I have to be able to critically read and interpret legal documents. If need be, I can interview or meet with that neighborhood’s citizens to gather their opinions or any history that is not found in the history books. My ability to research, write clearly, and interpret can help me when writing plans that will go to city hall or the state legislature. My history major has provided me with many life skills that will help me outside of museums or college lecture halls.

What advice do you have for other students considering a double major?

One major may seem like a lot of work when you read the requirements page. Taking two may seem like you are crazy. However, it is extremely rewarding to me to know that I have developed and worked myself to my greatest potential. I may not have done the most activities on campus, but I discovered how I work as a student, employee, and citizen. The skills I learned in my majors, while the faculty in each department may think the other major is different, they really are similar. For me, History and English taught me skills that I developed and improved in both subjects, and those have made me a better student and person. It is so rewarding to push yourself to your limit (and stress limit) each semester because you look back and do not regret one thing.  

Ready to learn more about the major? Visit the History page on Chatham’s website.

  Mara Flanagan is entering her seventh semester as a Chapter Advisor. After founding the Chatham University Her Campus chapter in November 2011, she served as Campus Correspondent until graduation in 2015. Mara works as a freelance social media consultant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She interned in incident command software publicity at ADASHI Systems, gamification at Evive Station, iQ Kids Radio in WQED’s Education Department, PR at Markowitz Communications, writing at WQED-FM, and marketing and product development at Bossa Nova Robotics. She loves jazz, filmmaking and circus arts.  
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