“Why Did You Decide to Major in History?”

Pretty much anytime we’ve interviewed one of our current or former students (about studying abroad, internships, graduate or professional schools, or careers for History grads), we’ve started with this question: “Why did you decide to major in History?” Everyone’s experience is different, but we’ve seen a few recurring types of answers:

“I’ve always been passionately curious about the past”

Katie Dunker at Roman ruins in Cologne
Katie (Thostenson) Dunker (’05) at the ruins of the Roman Praetorium in Cologne, Germany

• “When I was young [my father] read to me every night and most often our reading was about some historical person or another…. Even at that early age I remember loving that history is full of mysteries and that I could try to explain some of those mysteries by using my imagination to immerse myself in the times and places of those I read about.” (Katie Thostenson Dunker, ’05)

• “I’ve always been very interested in the history of all kinds of things: from our nation’s history, to church history, to my own family’s history. I was not a History major to start with, however. As a freshman at Bethel in 1984 I chose to major in Linguistics…. [But] My passion for history was strong so I flipped my major with my History minor after my first year and was able to still finish in four years.” (Kevin McGrew, ’88)

• “After taking some of the intro classes for [two other majors], I was frustrated because it seemed like none of them sparked a passion in me. I just had no interest in the busy work, and someone had told me that a big factor in deciding what your future was going to look like was recognizing what grabs you that is tedious to others…. I had always been intrigued by the characters of history, and found myself looking at old maps and reading old stories and trying to picture myself in them. History was something I always loved getting lost in as a kid, and that continued into college, so I decided… to change my major to History.” (Seth Rima, ’09)

“Teachers and professors nurtured my love of history”

• “I decided to become a history major because of the influence of a couple of teachers in high school: Mr. Eibs and Mr. Mahlum. They both taught American history. Although American history is not really my area of interest, it was how they taught history that raised my interest. They taught me more than just facts; they taught me how to examine the past, recreate it into a story, and make these stories become valuable life lessons. As I have gone through schooling at Bethel, this conviction to take on the challenge of history was taken to the next level.” (Jon Steen, ’12)

Jon Steen at the Nkruma Memorial
Jon Steen (’12, 3rd from right) with other students and staff from his program, at the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park in Accra

• “I haven’t always loved history. In fact, I used to hate it in middle school and early high school. I think it was the stigma that went along with history class: it’s boring, irrelevant, and just another hurdle to jump through in my education. I couldn’t agree less with that statement now! History became one of my passions in high school when I took an Ancient World history class. Because I connected so well with my teacher, felt that it was a topic that clicked for me, and realized the importance of understanding historical issues, I soon decided that history would be in my college future.” (Annie Berglund, ’14)

“Studying the past helped me to understand and act in the present”

• “I realized that studying history is not only something that is challenging and enjoyable, but that it is also valuable and relevant. By this I mean that often I find my motivation for doing historical research is not so much to uncover something of the past, but rather to find another perspective from which to view my own existence and a place to ask hard questions about the specific time, place, and culture I come from.” (Dunker)

• “It wasn’t until I came to Bethel that I had any idea what I wanted to do with myself and still have my doubts going into senior year, but I realized how important history is to understanding our world today. It is what creates who we are and helps us define who we will not be. History is what helps me learn the easy way instead of having to go through what someone else already has.” (Nic Carlson, ’13)

• “The professors at Bethel took the subject away from simple objective data and turned it into what history is really about: learning about the past to shape the present and the future.” (Steen)

Peter Williams
1st Lt. Peter Williams (’04)

“Studying History led to many possible career paths.”

• “I decided to major in history towards the end of my freshman year. History was something that always interested me, and something that I enjoyed. To be honest, there was a little bit of apprehension on my part as I was concerned about my future career options being limited. However, as I progressed in my college career I realized that majoring in History opened far more doors for me than I ever could have imagined. It was a tremendous decision on my part.” (Peter Williams, ’04)

• “The cool thing about being a History major is that you get a real understanding of human nature, and the ability to relate to someone person-to-person is a lot more valuable than just being good with numbers and having a knowledge of the business world…. If you are going into any kind of sales career in financial services or anything where you are interacting with customers, you have to have great people skills and the in-depth understanding of human nature that comes with a History degree.” (Alex Bolt, ’13)

Your turn: why did you study history? What do you love about exploring the past? Did it open career paths for you, or help you to better understand the present?

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