History Is the Best Approach to Understand the Truth
By Choi Hae-young, Professor, Department of History
When I was young, I wanted to be a great writer and I read all kinds of books and wrote poems and essays. Later, I decided I wanted to be an astrophysicist in order to understand the secrets of the universe, and I became a member of a science club. However I ultimately chose history as my vocation. Why did I become a historian? The answer is simple. Although I continue to love literature and physics, as I got older I came to realize that it was through the study of history that I could best approach an understanding of the "truth."
But there are lots of reasons to become a historian. For one thing, it's fascinating to learn about people and their lives at other times and in other cultures. History, like literature, explores the diversity of the human experience. Although the study of history is important in its own right, it also enhances other skills such as critical thinking, written and verbal communication. And, like the study of physics, history requires us to gather evidence, weigh conflicting viewpoints, and interpret change. History also contributes to moral understanding. According to Lord Acton, an early 20th century historian, who said that “The main thing to study history is not the art of accumulating material, but the sublime art of investigating it, of discerning truth from falsehood and certainty from doubt and that the study of history strengthens, and straightens, and extends the mind”. In short, history is the quintessential college major.
The Goddess of History in ancient Greek myths was Clio, one of the nine Muses - it symbolizes history is a form of literature, an art as much as a science. As such, therefore history is an interdisciplinary endeavor par excellence. It is interconnected to most other study areas: literature, art, philosophy, psychology, politics, society, economy, culture, science etc. Because of its versatility, history can be approached in different ways. It can be studied by reading books and journals but also by attending seminars and lectures, by watching films, visiting museums and historical sites such as castles, old tombs, or battle fields or simply by meeting people since in essence "everyone is his own historian". The open-ended quality of historical knowledge is precisely what makes history so endlessly fascinating.
Some of you might be thinking "I agree that history is a very interesting subject, but it's not easy to get a job as an historian." And on the face of it you would be right. In terms of employment prospects, opportunities for history graduates are not high. However, the small number of job possibilities did not bother me at all when I became a history major. In fact, I did not ever consider job-prospects at all when choosing to study history, and I am now working as a university professor. If you really love what you do, you will find a job you also love. Indeed, the study of history makes for an excellent academic foundation because of its multi-disciplinary nature. History majors can thrive in a wide variety of fields. Let me tell you about some of the fields where history majors work. In academic fields they work as university professors, researchers and writers. In educational fields they work as teachers at middle schools and high schools and at private institutions. In journalism they are reporters and editors. In public service, they work at national institutes and at art and science museums. In the fields of art and culture, they are story writers and directors for dramas and movies they are critics and producers of cultural works they help expound our cultural heritage through events and festivals. In companies: they work as employees at general in management and in commerce. And they work in many other related fields such as tourism and the import/export business.
In other words, you can explore art, political science, literature, anthropology, statistics, geography, and linguistics and still be a historian. For example, one of my students whose major is in Greek art history works as a curator in a Myths museum. And another student after earning B.A. degree in history, went to law school and is now working as a lawyer. Likewise, you too could seek professional training as a graduate student, whether in law school and even business school. In today's integrated world, multitasking is essential! When playing baseball, the most valuable outfielders on a team are those who can play in various positions. They are called utility outfielders. Think of yourself as an academic utility outfielder.
If you love history and think it's worth studying whether as your major or not, do not hesitate to do it. The more we can learn of the entire human experience in the past- the better we may be able to survive now or in the future. In this fundamental task, hisorians play a key role. Someone needs to continue the work. Why not you?