Over the long run, however, graduates in history and other humanities disciplines do well financially. Rubio would be surprised to learn that after 15 years, those philosophy majors have more lucrative careers than college graduates with business degrees. History majors’ mid-career salaries are on par with those holding business bachelor’s degrees. Notably these salary findings exclude those who went on to attain a law or other graduate degree.
The utility of disciplines that prepare critical thinkers escapes personnel offices, pundits and politicians (some of whom perhaps would prefer that colleges graduate more followers and fewer leaders). But it shouldn’t. Labor markets in the United States and other countries are unstable and unpredictable. In this environment — especially given the expectation of career changes — the most useful degrees are those that can open multiple doors, and those that prepare one to learn rather than do some specific thing.
All liberal arts degrees demand that kind of learning, as well as the oft-invoked virtues of critical thinking and clear communication skills. History students, in particular, sift through substantial amounts of information, organize it, and make sense of it. In the process they learn how to infer what drives and motivates human behavior from elections to social movements to board rooms.
In an election season we are reminded regularly that success often goes to whoever can articulate the most compelling narrative. History majors learn to do that.
Of course, it helps to see history through the lens of both the victor and the losing ‘side’, in order to gain a larger perspective. Too many history classes in school only look at the side of the victor, and ignore or deny the story of the losing side, such as the Native Americans and black slaves. Apartheid is alive and well in America, but that story is not told either in mass media, politics nor most schools, because it means focusing on the side of the ‘loser’.