Daniel E. Thiery, PhD
Phone: (914) 633-2434
Tuesday 11:00 am - Noon
Thursday 11:00 am - Noon
Friday 11:00 am - Noon
So, you're considering become a history major? Well, first of all, lets get this point out of the way:
As a history major, you can go on to almost any career that you choose!
An education in history provides and sharpens your critical thinking skills which not only make you a more considerate and rational person, but will also allow you to easily learn job-specific skills upon hiring. Most businesses simply want a person who knows how to proces and analyze information. They do not expect you to know the skills fo the job before you actually take on the job.
The program of the history department at Iona College also helps train and hone your verbal skills (public speaking) and writing skills so you can argue a point and present your ideas clearly, concisely and logically. In addition to careers in education, history majors have had successful business careers, running or working for local, national and international corporations (e.g. Mr. LaPenta, who has become a very successful businessman, and has generously donated the money for the creation of the LaPenta Student Union was a history major at Iona), in law or law enforcement and in politics. With the exception of a few careers such as medicine or science, the development of a well-rounded individual with critical thinking, verbal and writing skills is more important than major in an exact match to what you think you want to do when you graduate. Short end of the story; major in what appeals to you most, because all the disciplines in the liberal arts fields will provide you with what you need to live a "complete" life, both personally and professionally.
You must set aside any narrow-minded assumptions about the purpose of a liberal arts education. The biggest thing that you must set aside is a simplistic notion that a college education is about creating a "linear thinker." In other words, you must not think that your education is only about gathering and memorizing information and learning the exact formulae and methods for a specific job upon graduation. Such an education merely programs you for one set of tasks and does not train your mind to process and analyze information, to "think outside the box" in order to find solutions or understand problems which may arise in the future. An education in the liberal arts (among which history is a specific discipline) is about developing and honing critical thinking skills; the skills which give you the ability to weigh the validity of different points of view, question them, understand from where different points come, and, in the end, arrive at a reasoned conclusion about these points of view. What do they hold in common? How are they different? As you take more and more upper level classes in your major, you will find that the emphasis on considering evidence rather than just gathering it, increases. You will learn to question your assumptions and traditional beliefs about society and human nature so that you can attain a more complete understanding of why you held these beliefs in the first place and whether it is worth holding onto them in the future.
"The purpose of historical inquiry is not simply to present facts but to search for an interpretation of the past. Historians attempt to find patterns and establish meaning through the rigorous study of documents and artifacts left by people of other times and other places." - Speech addressed by Dr. Frank Luttmer, Hanover College
The study of history is vital to a liberal arts education. History is unique among the liberal arts in its emphasis on historical perspective and context. Historians insist that the past must be understood on its own terms; any historical phenomenon (an event, an idea, a law, or a dogma for example) must first be understood in its context, as part of a web of interrelated institutions, values, and beliefs that define a particular culture and era. Among the liberal arts, history is the discipline most concerned with understanding change. Historians seek not only to explain historical causality, buthow and why change occurs within societies and cultures. They also try to account for the endurance of tradition, understand the complex interplay between continuity and change, and explain the origins, evolution, and decline of institutions and ideas. History is also distinguished by its singularly broad scope. Virtually every subject has a history and can be analyzed and interpreted in historical perspective and context; the scope of historical inquiry is bound only by the quantity and quality of surviving documents and artifacts.
It is commonly acknowledged that an understanding of the past is fundamental to an understanding of the present. The analysis and interpretation of history provide an essential context for evaluating contemporary institutions, politics, and cultures. Understanding the present configuration of society is not the only reason to study the past; history also provides unique insight into human nature and human civilization. By demanding that we see the world through the eyes of others, that we develop a sense of context and coherence while recognizing complexity and ambiguity, and that we confront the record not only of human achievement but also of human failure, cruelty, and barbarity, the study of history provides us with a richly-textured, substantive framework for understanding the human condition and grappling with moral questions and problems. History is essential to the traditional objectives of the liberal arts, the quest for wisdom and virtue.
There is another reason to study history: it's fun. History combines the excitement of exploration and discovery with the sense of reward born of successfully confronting and making sense of complex and challenging problems.