Brandon holds a J.D. and LL.M. and works as an attorney at KPMG Law.
How did you become interested in history as an academic discipline? What made you want to major in History?
If you ask my parents, a world history book was the first book I ever picked up. This was before I even had the ability to read. I always wanted to study different aspects of humanity and develop an academic understanding of who we are and why we are here. Both of those questions are in the jurisdiction of the history major. Therefore, it made academic sense to pursue a history degree. The discipline itself prepares people for several lines of work, and in a nation that has a growing interest in post-graduate degrees, the history major sets individuals up for academically successful careers both in graduate school and in the workforce.
I chose the major because I knew I wanted to attend law school. There are three very important lessons I learned as a history major.
1) People are idiosyncratic. While we like to have this objective attitude about the law and society, we all have very complex and independent minds. Ohio State’s professors are great at making students think about individuals that created the books we read. They also make you think through motivations for writing the document the way they did. The victor typically controls the narrative of history. Thus, it is very important to understand the narrative, and how it can color our perspective of an event.
2) How to write. This is the best skill I have translated to my post-graduate experience. Words are so powerful, especially when put succinctly. Dr. Steigerwald in particular teaches how to say more with less. In law school, a lot of the assignments have strict word limits. Understanding how every word carries impact has been crucial to my learning.
3) Critical thinking. I cannot stress how important critical thinking is. Whether you are going into post-graduate schooling or the work force, everyone needs critical thinking skills. Whether it is a schematic or a memo, you need the ability to recognize the implication and the underlying purpose of every document. What did the author intend? Why did the author choose “this” specific word? How will this document affect the grand operation? These all require critical thinking. A history degree develops the ability to work through these questions.
Tell us about your experience taking courses in the Ohio State Department of History. Do you have any particularly vivid memories from your time as an undergraduate?
The World War II study abroad created the best memory from my history experience. Going overseas and touching the walls Winston Churchill touched while planning operation Dynamo. Walking the same Parisian streets Hitler walked after conquering Paris in 1940. Ascending the Reichstag and seeing the preserved Russian graffiti from the 1945 fall of Berlin. These are all things I never expected to experience and cherish to this day. I also made life-long friends, from the professor running the program to the students I joined on the epic excursion. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. In fact, I joke that I will apply for grade forgiveness, so I can retake the study abroad class. I recommend the program to anyone with an interest in World War II.
Besides that, I fondly remember every professor I rubbed shoulders with during my undergraduate experience. From advising to classroom experience, they take academic interest in every student, and want to see every person succeed. The history department makes one of the largest American universities feel small and close-knit.
How did your experience as a history major help prepare you for the future, both professionally and personally?
Professionally, my history degree gave me a great foundation for both law school and now my post-graduation. I learned how to see the bigger picture and to check my assumptions at the door. Additionally, the semesters spent planning and writing a substantial paper at Ohio State helped prepared me for both an academic as well as a professional career where the written word is critical and often rules.
In law school, I leveraged critical and big picture thinking skills through asking questions like “why would they write the statute this way? How does this work within the larger framework of the Code?” For writing skills, my days spent preparing drafts for Dr. Steigerwald’s WWII study abroad seminar or persuasive papers for Dr. Lerner’s History of Vietnam class helped me prepare for the steep learning involved in writing like a lawyer. Our entire first year centered on “legal writing” and having this solid foundation was crucial. I am forever grateful for what I learned from my professors. Shoutout to Dr. Steigerwald and the strict no passive voice policy.
At work, I often apply what I learned in the history program at Ohio State to avoid my own thoughts on final products and question the bigger picture. “What is our client trying to achieve? What is the motivation behind this decision?” And just like at law school, my writing skills are very important. Every word you choose for a client deliverable has a meaning and can change the way the client reads our analysis and suggestions. A solid foundation helped me create critical skills that I now exercise every day.
Personally, the degree helped me become a better listener and a more critical thinker. I find myself more able to step out of my own feelings and seeing it from someone else’s perspective. I also try to think more deeply before forming an opinion, because just like in history there are often several ways to see a narrative.
What advice would you give to current or prospective history majors who are interested in law school and careers in law?
Choosing a major is one of the hardest parts of undergrad. It is difficult to narrow yourself into a chosen discipline for four years. But there are no right or wrong choices– it really comes down to what makes you happy, furthers your goals, and drives you to become a better person. This is where the history degree comes in. It helps develop strong intangible skills, namely critical analysis/thinking, and strong writing skills. If your goal is to go to law school and enter the legal profession, this combination of foundational skills is immensely helpful. I chose history because I knew it would help me prepare for this career path and would challenge me to think differently compared to how I had prior to undergrad. If you want to discuss the history major at Ohio State and its ties to law school, please do reach out.