Letter from the Chair
Careers with History: Our Alumni
The Department of History at the University of Illinois takes great pride in its undergraduate majors, minors, and PhDs--students who have gone on to pursue a range of careers and have enjoyed an equally impressive range of personal and professional accomplishments.
Illinois alumni are putting their History degrees to work in all sorts of interesting ways, rivaling the many career paths that other famous History majors have taken. If you're wondering what you can do with a degree in History, the following profiles will give you some ideas.
Want to tell us about your career with History? Contact Professor John Randolph, Director of Undergraduate Studies: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Margaret Jodlowski, ’12 – M.S. Candidate in Agricultural and Applied Economics: "At Illinois, I complemented my undergraduate study of Agricultural Economics with a degree in History, which many people found confusing. However, my work focuses on international development, and history is crucial to understanding how countries arrived at their current political, economic, and cultural situations. Ignoring history leads to irrelevance and irreverence: it would be impossible to tailor an economic plan to a certain country or region without understanding its history. Further, my History degree developed and fine-tuned my writing skills, giving me a sharp advantage in my Economics classes, where papers of more than 20 pages are feared by most students. Strong writing will only become more important in my future career, since publication in journals is essential to success in my field, as in many others. History provided not only productive critical thinking skills and clearer writing, but a solid foundation for a truly interdisciplinary study of the developing world."
Yuxi Tian, '12 -- Harvard Law School: "It should go without saying that history has provided an excellent foundation for my career in law. I went to college looking for a major that would accommodate my appreciation for good storytelling in a field that integrated problem solving, critical thinking, and strong writing skills. I chose history. To this day, it is still easily the best decision I have ever made. More than just giving me the tools to pave the way in my desired career path, majoring in history for my undergraduate years was a delight. I had fantastic professors who made the past come alive while imparting invaluable lessons along the way. I could not have hoped for a better undergraduate education. Not only do I have no doubt that I am equipped for law school, but I know for certain too that my life has been enriched in the process."
Abraham Souza, ’11 – Aspiring Attorney: “As a history major, I became a scholar of the past but also, and perhaps more importantly, an educated person. History taught me to read thoroughly and write clearly, two disciplines that seem to be less and less common in today’s world. With the help of my professors, I learned to synthesize large quantities of information, often from different types of sources. These skills are valuable in any endeavor, and I know that they will assist me in law school. My experience with primary and secondary sources already allows me to gain a good understanding of the cases I read, and helps me to grasp them quickly. Memories of constructing an original thesis during my senior year will no doubt aid me in legal writing. I am certain that the History major equipped me to be successful. And I enjoyed it so much.” Abe is currently studying at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law.
Kelsie Torrenti, ’11 – Museum Studies: “The skills I have gained as a history major at the University of Illinois have already proven invaluable, particularly in my recent internship at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. As an intern for the Lincoln Collection, my responsibilities included everything from organizing and cataloging parts of the collection to researching patron queries regarding a wide variety of historical topics. Experience and skill in primary source analysis, library research, critical thinking and writing all played key roles in my responsibilities at ALPLM; all of which I either gained or strengthened as a history major. I will soon be furthering my education as a history major in graduate school, and I am confident that the abilities I gained at the University of Illinois will continue to serve me in the future.”
Ben Jacobson, ’10 – U.S. Department of Defense: “History is always changing. New facts are being discovered, new interpretations and theories being posited, and there is always – always – more to read about and learn. That perpetual search for information, and the amazing new worlds it opens up, was what initially attracted me to history. As I became more experienced and was exposed to the analytical side of history (compiling vast amounts of data, picking out what is most relevant, and coming to a conclusion), I was even more drawn in. The past may be immutable, but history is always being updated and adapted to the realities of the present--and I wanted to be a part of that process.Just like academia, work at the Department of Defense relies on in-depth analyses of constant streams of new information. In fact, the only real difference between history and contemporary events is that we ourselves are a part of the latter. The DoD, and the government in general, values people with a background in history for exactly these reasons. My B.A. in History from Illinois is more than just a degree: it prepared me for this job, and was instrumental helping me land it in the first place.” Ben is shown here on a trip to Prague, with a friend.
Matthew Filter, ’08 – Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator John McCain: “Majoring in history is among the best things you can do to develop and refine personal critical thinking skills - finding and weighing evidence, seeing both sides of an issue, forming a cohesive argument, and producing a original and balanced product that sheds light on a complicated issue. These skills have been invaluable to me as I’ve analyzed and crafted legislation for a senior member of the United States Senate, and I credit the history professors at Illinois for giving me the foundation to do so.” Matt is now pursuing a Master’s degree in Public Policy at the University of Michigan.
Megan MacDonald, ’08 – Office of Development, California Institute of Technology: “When I was a child I often told me parents, ‘I don't know what I want to be or what I want to do when I grown up, but I do know that I want to know a little bit about EVERYTHING!' A little about language, about culture, about philosophy – about anything that would allow me to engage someone, no matter where I am, in a conversation. History provided the foundation for that quest. I chose to major in history because I believe that fostering connections among individuals, communities, and philosophies is the best way to steward relationships. The knowledge I gained from the History Major at Illinois catapulted me into a journey of life-long learning and was the basis from which I went on to earn a Master’s degree in Socio-Cultural Education at UCLA. This has led, in turn, to my current position at CalTech. Without my background in history, I would not have the same success in relating to alumni, I would not be able to support and advise faculty and other senior leaders, and I would not have the ability to grasp the intellectual content of complex scientific research and to communicate this in a way that advances the Institute’s priorities. Although one may not normally correlate history with philanthropy, there is nothing exclusive of history. Everything has history.”
Lisa Nikodem, ’08 – Administrative Assistant, U.S. Public Interest Research Group: “I work with the student chapters of USPIRG, training students on college campuses all across the country to be effective participants in political and social issues. I track and analyze the work done on campuses across the country, direct summer campaign offices, and help run the national campaign to end taxpayer subsidies to big agribusiness. I have worked on campaigns to register student voters, improve public transit in the Midwest, and stop sewage pollution in Lake Michigan. The UIUC History program trained me for a career as a political activist by giving me a deep understanding of U.S. culture and the politics of the past while also teaching me to think critically and analytically about the world around me.”
Clarence Lang, Ph.D 2004 – Associate Professor of History, UIUC: “My experiences as a student in the Department of History had a heavy influence on my own interests and development as a scholar. Mark Leff and Sonya Michel helped to strengthen my awareness of the major themes in U.S. history, and deepened my appreciation of the centrality of social policy and the processes of the state. Harry Liebersohn and Peter Fritzsche, in their respective ways, helped expand my understanding of social theory and historiography; reading and debating the historical/biographical graphic novel Maus was one of the highlights of my course work. Working with Jim Barrett, a foremost expert in U.S. labor history, gave me a context in which to place my approach to the histories of African American working-class people inside and outside organized labor. The first-year seminar I took with him gave me the basis for my first scholarly article, published when I was still a Ph.D. student. Under the advising of Juliet E.K. Walker, one of the nation's leading black business historians, I learned to situate my black working-class focus within a broader, more holistic, framework of African American history and its complex class relations. Vernon Burton nurtured my interests in southern history and the digital humanities, while Sundiata Cha-Jua and David Roediger, both members of my dissertation committee, helped anchor me in African American Studies, and the historiography of Black Nationalism, social movements, and the multiracial left.”
Scott Rice, ’95 – Campus Legal Counsel, University of Illinois: “My experiences as a History major at the University of Illinois were tremendous. History at Illinois helped me develop and refine invaluable skills, teaching me to analyze, think critically, communicate clearly and efficiently, and understand complex problems in a larger context. I am proud to call upon my education in History every day, in both the practical execution of my job and through my appreciation of our collective world heritage.”
Jim Brennan, ’90 – Assistant Professor of History, UIUC: “I came to Urbana-Champaign in the fall of 1986 without a clear idea about what I wanted to study. After two years of classes in physics, calculus, and political science, I came to major in History because I enjoyed the classes far more than those in any other subject. In particular, I enjoyed the African history courses taught then by Donald Crummey and Charles Stewart, as well as some unforgettable medieval history taught by my now-colleague Megan McLaughlin. During my last year at Champaign, I realized that I was spending much of my free time reading history books outside of class, and at some point a light went on in my head: I could make this passion into a career. So after many years spent in Chicago, East Africa, London, and Washington DC, here I am back in Champaign!”
Timothy Johnson, '69 -- U.S. Congressman, Illinois 15th District: "My experience at the University of Illinois shaped my future and continues to contribute to my success in the United States Congress. The knowledge and skills I acquired as a History major were perhaps the most significant influence on my career, and have proved essential to understanding and implementing policy at the national level. My training in history also helps me to interact with other Congressional representatives as we navigate through these difficult times. While at Illinois, I was especially grateful for the instruction of professors Winton Solberg, Robert Sutton, and Bob McColley. And I continue to enjoy reading history, though I have little free time for that! I've just finished Edmond Morris’s latest work on Theodore Roosevelt." Representative Johnson graduated Phi Beta Kappa and was enrolled on the University's Bronze Tablet. He was voted most outstanding History major by faculty during his Senior year. He went on to gradute with honors from the University of Illinois College of Law, where he was elected to the Order of the Coif (a national honor society).
What else can you do with an undergraduate degree in History? <http://www.historians.org/pubs/Free/careers/Index.htm>