I’m an amateur historian. Actually, I have a bachelor’s degree in history, and it has always been a topic I found extremely interesting. Growing up, I read my fair share of books about World War II, aviation history, American history, etc… So naturally, when I got into college, this was a degree that fascinated me.
Over the years, I’ve lost count of how many times people asked the following questions when I tell them my degree is in history.
- Are you going to be a teacher?
- What can you do with that? (mostly sarcastically, with the implication that I wasted my time with that degree or may as well majored in modern dance for all the income potential of a history degree)
- You’ll never get a job with a history degree (although critical thinking skills, writing, and communicating effectively translates to almost every type of job out there).
- History is boring. (yes, this is not a question, but people like to give free editorials. They’re wrong, obviously – ha ha, but still like to share their opinion regardless)
I remember when I told an instructor for one of my computer classes for an associate’s degree in IT information systems after earning my history degree. The instructor told me “so that’s why your taking computer classes now.” Or something along those lines, with the clear implication of that I pretty much wasted time on my history degree, and needed to get a secondary degree with income potential in the IT sector. I suppose those with some of the arts degrees out there face similar questions and experience similar people who like to share their opinions.
The truth is that there’s little income potential for historians. Unless students pursue a masters and PHD in history, the only way you’re working with a history degree is to become a teacher. I’ve worked in the IT field for over twenty years now, and have done nothing in terms of professional history work.
Though, as I look back at my time in school, reading all the books and writing all the research papers, I feel vindicated for deciding to major in history.
I’m a critical thinker. I’m a writer. I’m a communicator. These skills were drilled into my work and life philosophy early on in my time as a college student. I feel as though my degree has paid off in the long term, if just for these common skills.
When I see and hear things, I may nod my head or not say much, but I’ll dig and research it. This is the root of being a historian. Identifying primary and secondary sources. Determining the bias. Is the piece of information from a reputable source, or just an opinion disguised as a researched and factual information? Is there an agenda in play, or does the author have the opinion already formed and warps the data to back that up? Is the content peer reviewed? Are the claims published in scientific journals? Is research backed by corporate interests?
Critical thinking is not just something we need to do while in school, or when participating in some philosophical discussions. It’s something we need to do every day. When we watch or listen to the news, when someone makes sensational claims, what are other news outlets saying? Are global outlets in agreement, or is only one pundit or biased station saying it?
I can remember seeing some futurists stating at some point in the future (this was pre-internet times), at a click of a finger, we’ll have access to unlimited information. Going back further into the early 1900s, some of these visionaries thought of outlandish methods for information access. Of course, science fiction writers took these concepts a bit further. However accurate these ideas were, they agreed that more information would lead to a more informed and educated society.
Fast forward to today, and conspiracy theories are spreading like dandelions in the spring. I see people denying (often with vile and aggression) climate change, airlines are producing chemtrails, the earth is flat (not flat as proven by Eratosthenes over 2,000 years ago), NASA never landed on the moon, UFO visitations, the list goes on. The absence of critical thinking allows these conspiracy theories to not only exist, but in many instances, they thrive.
The lack of critical thinking allows faulty or disinformation to permeate everything. What futurists and science fiction writers got right was the information is available at the click of a finger. What these individuals got wrong is that there’s much competition in the quality of sources. I can spend time writing up a blog with supposed evidence. Most likely, it has already been disproved. But I put it out there, and like-minded people will see what I write, and immediately my theories, data, and conclusions are given immediate credibility. Simply because they agree with my premise to begin with, and are seeking conclusions that fall in alignment with their pre-existing mindset.
So what you see being passed around as factual or valid information, may be far from the truth. We have to dig. The first step we all should take, regardless of our beliefs and desires, is to be open to new information and data. This is the underlying premise of the scientific method. Theories are put out for peer review, and others try to validate the claim. Every iteration of this process creates a clearer picture. Astronomy is a perfect example. There’s much to the universe we simply do not have an understanding of, and are constantly learning from new data from observations and experiments. Over time, what we accept as the nature of the universe is constantly tweaked and improved on. Without critical thinking, we’re still looking at the universe as an earth-centric model, long since disproved.
We need to vet information much more, and we don’t need to be scientists, journalists, or even historians to do so. All sources have some sort of natural bias, but if one source of information says something, what do others say? Is there all some general agreement between numerous sources? If you only get information from a biased couple of sources, of course your view of the world will be skewed. This allows more a larger volume inaccurate information to be passed along as unbiased fact.
So in a sense we all need to be historians. We all need to be able to peel back the layers and to look at that nature of things to see the full context. Further, we need to be able to change our minds when the information says something different. We need to research. We need to remove the bias as best we can. We need to discredit and ignore pseudo-science sources and organizations. By looking at the picture in a fuller context, we’ll then be the society that early visionaries predicted. Unlimited information at our fingertip, progressing society into the future. Perhaps the flying cars and futuristic cityscapes can be a reality after all.
To all those who discredited my history degree or poked some good nature fun at it, I say it’s never been more important and critical than today. I may not have a published history textbook, nor do I conduct research for a university, but in my own way, I’m an historian in my own way.