CAREERS IN HISTORY
“What can you do with a history degree?” A lot! History alumni have been successful in a wide range of careers. As the prominent historian Peter Stearn wrote in his essay “Why Study History?”: “History … provides a terrain for moral contemplation;” it is “essential for good citizenship,” and “useful for work. Its study helps create good businesspeople, professionals, and political leaders…. Employers often deliberately seek students with the kinds of capacities historical study promotes.”
Our history alumni prove it. To start closest home! Two most recent Wesleyan presidents have been historians: Douglas Bennett ’59 and Michael Roth ’77. The current director of the Center for the Arts, Pamela Tage majored in History at Wesleyan.
Wesleyan tops the charts in producing professional historians. According to the 2005 study of the American Historical Association, Wesleyan’s History BA’s earned # 1 spot (together with University of Chicago) among “Programs Sending the Largest Proportion of History Majors on to PhDs” and ranked #13 among “Programs Sending the Largest Number of Students on to History PhDs,” and our alumni have successful academic careers at colleges and universities across the country, from liberal arts colleges, like Swarthmore, to big research universities like Columbia or Vanderbilt, to prestigious state universities, such as University of Texas at Austin, University of Virginia, or UConn.
But academic careers are not for everyone, and our alumni follow other paths as well. Law is a common path for history majors to take. Our alumni hold deanships and academic positions at prestigious law schools, and practice law as attorneys in private practices and in city, state, and federal agencies. Russel Hardin ’64 is an attorney for the baseball star Roger Clemens. Several are Federal, State, and local judges in U.S. District Courts, Superior Courts, and Municipal Courts. And one current sitting senator is a Wesleyan History Major, Senator Michael Bennett ‘87 (D-Colorado).
Journalism and writing is another. A number of our alumni work at major news organizations, including the current President and CEO of WNYC, Laura Walker ’79, the host of PBS “Now” and NPR’s “Marketplace Morning Report,” David Brancaccio ’82, and an Assistant News Director at NBC4 in Washington DC, Francis Caskin ’83. While Laura Wiessen ’88 is a writer, producer and filmmaker whose work has appeared on PBS, MSNBC, The History Channel, and Bravo.
Major Foundations also have Wes History Majors at their helm. Alberto Ibargüen '66, P'97, President and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in Miami, Florida. Before that he was a publisher of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald.
As Senator Michael Bennett’s career shows, politics and policy are also career paths our alumni choose. More recent alum Matt Lesser ’10 is a state representative of the 100th district in Connecticut that includes Middletown. Our alumni also work for public agencies. Glenn Lunden ’83 is NYC Transit Authority’s the Senior Director of Subways Schedules—a Wes History alum is responsible for managing the staff who prepare the train timetables and crew assignments needed for 8,091 train trips a day and who analyze rail operations to develop strategies for improvement! Glenn Lunden wrote a thesis on labor history, “The "B" in the "B&O plan": Otto Beyer and the development of union-management cooperation on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in the 1920's.” He continues to draw from this experience, as he deals “with labor-management relations in the rail transit industry, meeting frequently with representatives from the Transport Workers Union.” New York City’s agencies have other Wes History alumni. Oyeshola Olatoye ’96, a History and African-American Studies double-major, is the Chair & Chief Executive Officer at New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Pittsburgh, San Francisco and other cities also have Wes History majors working to make sure that the city agencies run properly.
Teaching careers are another path our alumni take. Many of our alumni have been NYC Teaching fellows and continue their careers in teaching across the country and abroad.
But academics, journalism, teaching, and law are not the only paths to take.
Our history alumni have careers in medicine and are great business people and entrepreneurs. Chris McNickle, the former global head of institutional business for Fidelity Worldwide Investment, argues that “history offers as compelling a framework for business decision making as any of the courses of study more commonly championed by those inside city skyscrapers and suburban office parks.” According to McNickle, “MBA graduates organize their thinking implicitly around case studies and spreadsheets, lawyers by way of legal constructs, and accountants according to a body of rules,” but historians “frame their thinking around connections that occur over time and across multiple dimensions of human behavior. We are trained to sift through and interpret disparate facts…. Good historians develop an instinct for how things happen and how decisions made at one moment can affect what follows in another. It is a perspective that has inherent value in discussions of resource allocation, strategic direction, and other elements of business success.”
Again, History Alumni prove it: John B. Frank, a History Major and President of the Class of 1978 is now a Principal Executive Officer of Oak Tree Capital and a Wesleyan trustee. And more recent alumni, Adam Janvey ’03, one of the early editors of Historical Narratives, works at management consulting firm, where he supervises consulting projects for transportation, travel and logistics companies, and Cara Zwerling ’03, a History and Religion double-major, is now the president of Jetdiversity, a global retained executive search firm, whose “mission is to connect highly skilled women and people of color with high level jobs” in “aerospace, defense, industrial, and high-technology sectors.”
Arts and social entrepreneurship mark the career of Tal Beery ’06, an artist living in NYC, and a co-founder of EcoPracticum, “an immersive environmental education and action experience for college students and recent graduates.”
If that were not enough, Mike James ’07, who received High Honors for his outstanding thesis “Over Lunch: Lord Halifax, Anthony Eden, And The Fictions Of Appeasement,” is an actor in NYC, and one of our alumni is even a Lieutenant in the US Navy.
History major will give you skills that can lead you in any directions you can dream up.