When I was an undergraduate, I wasn't sure what to major in, not because I didn't know what I wanted to do but because I wanted to do too much. I loved history, but I also loved psychology, and literature, and philosophy, and art. How could I put it all together?
For me, a History major was the best choice because everything has a history. I knew that I could study all the things I was passionate about by understanding the stories of how they came to be. As I always tell my students, everything that humans have done is appropriate for the historian to study.
In the Rhodes History department, we've built our curriculum around flexibility, diversity, and opportunity to allow students to explore their interests but also to help them hear from the many voices that make up the human story. Our students learn to think critically, to write carefully, to speak forcefully, and to make sense of the world we live in today by seeing how we got here.
With that training, Rhodes History students are prepared for any career path they choose, and decades of data from the Alumni office backs that up. History majors have put their training to work doing a wide range of amazing things, from business, to medicine, to law, to politics, to the arts, to non-profit work, to education, to ministry... and the list goes on and on.
Whatever path they choose, Rhodes History majors truly make history.
Every year, the History department sends its graduating seniors into the world with a celebration dinner. My charge to the graduates contains these words:
As you go out into the “real world,” whatever path you are on, wherever life takes you, you have the power to take what you’ve learned here at Rhodes and to change the world. You have the tools you need to shape the future so that when you look back at your lives, you will see that you have truly made history.
As you do that, we hope that you will use the skills we have taught you: how to formulate a research question, how to look for sources, how to construct an argument, how to employ evidence to persuade an audience, how to write and speak and converse about a wide range of topics. How to think about the human condition and to have compassion for all the people of the world because you have glimpsed something of their story, and because you realize that you are part of that story. That our lives are all connected to one another -- past, present, and future.
In other words, we hope that you will remember why History matters.
History matters because it shows us how we got here -- something that’s crucial in a society that loves to forget its problems and struggles.
History matters because master narratives obscure the reality of millions of lives whose stories are rarely if ever told, and because we don’t remember those stories, those people often pay a terrible price at the hands of the powerful.
History matters because you can change the terms of the debate by putting the pressing concerns of the present into a longer, richer, and more complicated narrative, showing friends and families that things haven’t “always been this way,” or that they’re not “getting worse,” or “getting better” because that judgment depends on who’s telling the story.
History matters because we historians have a responsibility to speak to the concerns of our moment, to shed light into the darkness, to talk about what it means to be human in a world that sometimes forgets.
And History matters because it belongs to all of us, not just academics or professors, or history majors, but to every person because we are all part of this collective story.
If you have any questions about the Department of History, please contact me at (901) 843-3662 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jeffrey H. Jackson