1) 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.
2) 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.
3) How did your experience as a history major help prepare you for the future, both professionally and personally?
Professionally, my history degree helped me be a more valuable student and future employee. It is much easier to take a step back and see the bigger picture. I can read a case and immediately begin questioning the court’s intent, or the counsel’s argument. It also opened me up to so many different perspectives. The entire WWII study abroad is devoted to viewing WWII from all sides. How do the French remember WWII? How is this different than the British? What about the Polish or the Germans? You have to check your American assumptions at the door. You have to realize events with collective memories does not mean collective experiences. It was such an eye-opening experience, and really pushed my perception on the human condition.
These transfer well to my personal life. I am much better at listening to people and understand both sides of an argument. I am more particular with my parlance in conversations. I think through what I am saying and the best way to convey my intentions.
4) 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 hard, especially in a competitive job market where continuing education typically makes you more valuable. With undergraduate majors, there are no right or wrong answers. But I recommend considering the benefits the major will produce regardless of what post-graduate degree you decide to pursue. I know several history alumni pursuing post-graduate degrees across the nation. The history major helps you prepare for a wide range of options and opens several doors. For law school or a career in law, the history major develops the important baseline skills to succeed. I chose history because I knew it would prepare me for law school. It challenges students to think differently from what they are used to and to consider both sides of a story. The degree creates individuals who take nothing at face value and challenge themselves to dig deep into the meaning behind the meaning.