Monday, July 5, 2010

Tips and Advice for Up and Coming History Majors (Part 3)

Ok, so in this last part of my three part post on being a history major, I want to address the subject of finding a job.

Being an history major has become synonymous with no job. This usually is because the student is stuck in the mindset that a history major can do two things; be a teacher, or a historian.

Truth is, any one with a history degree is considered a historian whether you are employed as one for a specific location or not. However, teaching is not the only other occupation for one who has studied history. For this reason it becomes important that a students chooses a minor or second major that gels with history. There are a number of options out there for dual majors or minors and almost anything will fit. Here are some examples of minors or dual majors:

Political-Science (classic)
Business (often overlooked)
Computer Science
English (always helpful for the career historian)

The list is almost endless. I haven't heard of too many historians dual majoring or minoring in science but I don't see why it couldn't work. Of course any study of these subjects could be used as a specialization of the history major. So here are some breakdowns of those above mentioned options for minors and dual majors:

Poli-Sci: Anyone who wants to engage in Politics, Law or perhaps you want to be an historian who specializes in Political history.

Business: If you want to be a museum curator or librarian, business skills can be key for running or operating an institution, advertising, etc. Since running an institution is largely business based, many museums look for curators who have background in financial management and advertising. It's just as important as having the degree in history.

Music: If you want to be a librarian, there are options at the Grad. School level to work in a music library.

Computer Science: With the digital age at its height, the ability to use and operate computers is becoming a must for many historical organizations. As the older librarians and curators retire, libraries are looking to digitize and use computers for data organization and advertisement.

English: Helps your writings, what else can I say :D

Art: Art Historians are always a hot commodity. I have a few works that I would like to have appraised, can't find an art historian to do it though...

So what jobs should an history major consider when working through school? Well you have plenty of options and they don't stop at what school you are going to work at. As an history major you could be a:

Museum Curator
College Professor

That list goes on and on forever. I have had plenty of discussions with employers and professors who will stick to their guns when they say that history majors are one of the most sought out peoples for almost any job available. The reason for this is the background an history major receives in critical thinking and problem solving. The skills students learn through research and writing help to develop those skills as well as the ability to communicate and work well with others.

I hope this helps you out as you further move towards becoming a history major. I am always available to give more information to anyone who is interested so don't hesitate to contact me,


Tips and Advice for Up and Coming History Majors (Part 2)

So, here are some tips and suggestions that I can offer to up and coming history majors:

1.) Do your homework, and I don't mean schoolwork...well you do need to complete school work as well...anyhow:

What I do mean is closely look at the history departments of the colleges you are interested in. I never examined the history department before I entered SUNY Brockport mainly because I wasn't 100% sure if I wanted to be a history major. I got lucky. The faculty is one of the key factors of how the department operates. Examine their field of study, what did they write their dissertation on? Find out what classes they teach. This will run parallel to another point I will make below, but if you want to study American History, don't go to a college where most of the professors have written dissertations and books on European subjects. Most professors have a wide range of interests but if they clearly won't be as knowledgeable about a subject they haven't written on as they would be about one they have.

2.) You better like reading and writing.

I say this with the gentlest intentions. Studying history isn't a gravy major by any means, so don't study it looking for an easy way through college. Plus at that rate you will not only have a hard time finding a job afterwards but you will ruin it for someone who really has a passion for history.

Anyhow, as a student at Brockport I was expected to read approximately 100 pages total on average for the next class. This usually meant if I had 100 pages from classes on Monday, they would be due for class on Wednesday. These readings were not optional, they were used for class discussions, writing assignments and exams. Now note that I said on average. The amount of reading depended on what classes I was taking. A typical 300 level course which would be considered and average history course at Brockport typically included 30-40 pages per class of reading. I have taken my fair share of 300 level courses that had me reading 50-60 pages per class. When you enter into upper division courses you may find yourself enrolled in a reading intensive class which could place you at 120-150 pages per class. This could mean that you will have 200+ pages of reading due for the next class.

Again, the amount varies per class and per professor. You should also be prepared to write. I have admitted to many of my professors that I gained much more experience as a writer in my history classes than I ever had in an English class. I have taken courses where a two page writing assignment was scheduled on that class's readings. So 30-40 pages of reading and a 2 page review. Probably one of the easiest assignments to have. I have taken courses where a 200 page book is assigned, one week to read it and a 2 page paper on it. The most difficult aspect of those is writing within the length requirements.

There will also be classes that are writing intensive, where you learn to do what an historian does best; write. What I mean by this is the courses are geared towards proper research methods and paper writing. We were required to take one class designated to the writing process to which we developed a 20 page research paper. That's all the course was for. As part of major requirements we had to take several upper division, 400 level, courses. These courses included the traditional lecture aspect of class along side of an independent research projects which typically involved a 15-20 page research paper. This meant that we were required to not only read for class lecture and discussion but to go to the libraries, archives and any other place with resources to read for our research papers.

*Horror Story* For one particular class we were given a book to read each week, a book review on each of those books along side of a 15-20 page research paper. That was for one class, I was also taking another upper division class which included 40-50 pages of reading each night and a 15-20 page research paper. I suppose no one ever said college was easy.

3.) Focus on what you enjoy the most.

History is about passion and enjoying what you do. No one wants to be stuck reading, writing and lecturing on 5th Century drum music in sub-Sahara Africa unless they are genuinly interested in the subject. If you have a particular interest in Civil War, take as many courses as you can that deal with that subject. Not only do you get more from it, you'll do better in the class and can prepare yourself for further education. For example, I have been interested in local history, immigration and architecture (a wide range of topics). I took a course on the United States 1870-1940, for my research paper I wrote a 30 page paper on Polish immigration to the U.S. That paper was submitted for a writing award. I took a course on New York State History, so I wrote a 30 page paper on the economic and social connections with Cobblestone Masonry. For a Colonial North America class, I chose to write a paper on Puritans and King Philip's War. I have always been interested in Religions of Early America and several ancestors of mine participated in King Philip's War, I combined the two interests and wrote a paper which was submitted for a writing award and presented at "Scholar's Day" at Brockport.

My greatest papers came from subjects I am interested in.

4.) Engage in History outside of school.

I say this for several reasons. The most important reason is that with the sheer number of history majors out there, you can have all of the A grades you want, come out of college with a 4.0 GPA and have 0 experience. Because of that 0 experience you will have a hard time finding a job. I don't say this because I was a B student but because I have talked to employers who feel that way.

If you are interested in museum work, try to intern or volunteer with a museum that is local to your college or home. If you are interested in archives or library work, try to find a library, archives or local historical society that you can volunteer or intern with.

Working with various historical groups will ensure that you gain workplace experience that employers will be looking for. This will also help getting into Graduate School if your grades aren't the best. Over the past two years I have sat on the Board of Directors for a local museum, been an officer for a local genealogical society, been a commissioner for my village's preservation commission as well as an active participant in other historical associations and museums. This shows that I have a wide range of experience from communication and people skills to financial management.

These are not the only tips that I could offer but for the sake of time and space I will limit the list to these four major points.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tips and Advice for Up and Coming History Majors (Part 1)

The first question I received was asked by a friend who has just graduated from High School and is making his move on towards college. His major....history. Smart man in my opinion. However, the field of history is not for the faint of heart. I'm going to give you a breakdown in some misconceptions regarding the history major, a little bit of what to expect and some tips that I learned going through college whether the easy way or the hard way. So here goes nothing.

We all go through grade school learning our watered down versions of historical events. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the Civil War was fought over slavery and the age old classic; the Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand started the First World War. Though these "facts" have some truth to them, they are far from what a college history student will deal with.

I will use New York's public education system as an example mainly because I am unaware of how testing works in other states. New York State requires students to take regents exams. The U.S. History and Global regents exams are cut and dry, mostly fact based multiple choice with a confounded DBQ and essays. Though there are essays in the exam, for the most part the test is focused on the 100 multiple choice questions covering from the founding of Jamestown to the end of the Cold War. Even when taking AP courses which claim to be college based, they still focus on this format for a test. Just the topics are more detailed than in the regents exam.

In this aspect, for students who come out of high school thinking they want to major in history will most likely see the field as nothing but the memorization of facts with some slight moments of writing. Nothing all that fancy, just a broader range of topics and perhaps a little more detailed. I was partially of this mindset when I completed my Junior year of High School. It slowly died off as I progressed into Community College but fully disappeared by the time I entered my four year institution. I had taken any and all possible history courses that were considered college level in High School including AP classes and by the time I had completed C.C. I had completed almost all of the available history courses that they offered.

After all of that, one thing remains true; your college history class WILL be about historical events from the past. That's about the only part of any preconceived notion that is true. So if history classes aren't about memorizing dates and names, taking multiple choice tests and watching the history channel, what IS it about?

Well the college history major is about the whys and hows not the whos and whens. This doesn't mean that remembering dates, names and places isn't important or is useless, it just means that those aren't as important as understanding WHY something happened.

Lets use the example of WWI. Traditionally students are taught in high school that the war was caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo (and yes I do know that date off the top of my head). Perhaps this WAS the catalyst that threw the Western World into a gruesome five year conflict, however few students could tell you the 43 year history of mini-European conflicts, alliance build-ups, treaties and social clamour that occurred prior to 1914.

This is what historians try to understand, a changing environment in order to fully comprehend why events happened the way they did and why people act the way they do. Unlike Anthropology, History is not static but looks to engage the student in active learning and critical thinking to develop new ideas and theories on old events and people.

I am going to break this post down into several parts, otherwise it would be very long. In the next part I will include some tips and hints for choosing schools, areas of study, what to expect and then some job ideas so when you are going through college you can think about what you would like to do when you graduate and plan accordingly. There are more jobs for history majors than just teaching.

Friday, July 2, 2010

New Blog Postings

Hello everyone. I figured I would give a new spin to my blog postings this month. I hope that you, the readers will respond to my request on this one.

For the next month I want you to ask me questions. I will take those questions and develop them into blog posts for the next month...or until you stop sending me questions! I will take questions on just about anything; Genealogy, American History, Local History (Orleans/Monroe). If you are curious about it, need help with family history research or just want to test my knowledge of history, toss me an e-mail.

I look forward to your questions, comments and ideas.

Matt Ballard

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Preservation is an Endangered Effort

(MB) - It seems nowadays that the art of Historic Preservation has gone downhill. Almost 35 years ago, the United States was scrambling to protect our Nation's Landmarks in preparation for the celebration of the Bicentennial. However, the realm of preservation seems to be following the greater scheme of economic and social trends. Just as many other aspects of everyday life, we have again fallen victim to laziness and selfish behavior.

So you probably are asking, "How is the lack of preservation a selfish act?" I assume that you could come up with your own conclusions regarding the laziness aspect of the above comment.

I have been a member of a Historic Preservation Commission in my hometown of Albion, NY. Over the past year and a half I have attended training sessions, read excessive amounts of articles, booklets and brochures about every possible preservation method, grant and tax credit available. However, that will never add up to what I have gained from first hand experience and observation.

That first hand experience and observation has allowed me to see the true motives and desires of a small percentage of the population. A percentage of the population driven by greed, selfishness and hidden motives. Though the larger portion of the population supports the preservation of our local, state and national treasures, the small portion outweighs the larger group with boisterous activity and threats of lawsuits and bullying. There is no need to mention names because those who engage in such behavior are well aware that they do so. Off of the same point, those who would complain about such things being put in writing should realize that I am just as much entitled to my opinion as anyone else regardless of my position.

To those who are not local to me, I apologize because I know that you do not have an interest in my local matters. However, I am aware that my hometown is not the only place facing these issues. You should also take careful note that any local issue at any time can easily spill onto the state or national scene, effecting preservation efforts across the country. I use this time not only to bring attention to a local problem which has grown out of hand but also to expel something that causes me a great deal of grief.

So, what exactly is causing all of my dissatisfaction with preservation efforts in my area? Two particular buildings and a lack of support from local politicians.

The two properties are well past their prime, as clearly visible in these pictures. However, both buildings share a common bond; they are set to become parking lots. At the last Village Board meeting, the Mayor vowed that the first building was not set to be demolished for parking, though the intent of the $10,500 purchase offer was for that reason.

In my 22 year existence on this planet, with all 22 in the Village of Albion in what I deem as a historic area, I only recall two buildings falling to the wrecking ball. One was actually a "sister" building to the first property, having been torn down and turned into a park. The other property was the old Orleans Hotel. I recall my father taking me to the corner of Bank St. and Platt St. to watch that building burn, as firemen attempted to control the fire. It has since provided parking for the local VFW Post and Village Offices.

As things are set, I will watch two buildings come down in the course of a year. Years of neglect and abuse from the elements have led to this point. Even though they can only exist as a shell of what their former glory, they still have endless possibilities if the right person were to come along. In respect to the owners, I understand that it is impossible to retain these properties forever with no foreseeable gain in the future, but shouldn't we make every last effort to save those pieces of history which are most valuable to our society?

Lets take Mt. Vernon for example. This beautiful home of George Washington was not always in the pristine condition that it is in today.

This photograph is of Mt. Vernon around 1860, just before the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association took control of the property. Numerous changes and additions were made to the home after it left the hands of Washington. Those changes have since been reversed to this:

I'm not here to say that these two buildings in little old Albion are as significant as Mt. Vernon. What I am saying is that just like these two Albion buildings, Mt. Vernon was neglected and altered yet rose from the ashes into a beautiful landmark, preserved for the future.

Although I am not 100% sure of the history behind the first building, I do know that the second served as a carriage factory as well as a factory for diner cars during the 20th Century. It also served as a Machine and Woodworking Shop under the ownership of E. K. Hart, one of the more influential members of Albion society, who was engaged in State politics and past owner of Heart Island in the Thousand Islands (Boldt Castle fame).

A recent study by the Main Street Alliance has shown that during peak hours on the busiest days of the week, parking usage tops out at around 50%. At the same time, certain business owners are on the rampage, declaring that parking is not plentiful enough. How can this be if 50% of parking spaces are still open?

Simple, most people are too lazy to walk further than 25 feet to a store front. When there are 2-3 parking spaces available directly in front of a business, there is no way to address that issue by creating more spaces. The new spaces will be located away from the building and defeat the purpose of the complaint. Of other concerns raised, private business owners want the Village to purchase derelict buildings and install more parking for their business to use. However, if the business located within a building is taking up not only the owners full stash of private spaces but municipal spots as well, this becomes unfair to other residents, out of town visitors and village tax payers. If the PRIVATE spots available to the business in your building ONLY are full, you should consider purchasing extra land/buildings and developing them yourself.
In the end, Albion has the potential to become just as beautiful as the Town of Pittsford or the Village of Medina. It takes time, energy, cooperation and most importantly, money. However, to rely on others to pay for that to happen is not only irresponsible to the Village today but irresponsible to future generations who will not have a historic downtown to admire.

Economic betterment takes initiative and drive, not words. Sitting back, talking the good talk does nothing but raise hopes and results only in hurt feelings and a failed local economy. It's time to walk the walk, put your money where your mouth is and most importantly, work together to make Albion and all of the other historically significant towns and villages across the nation thriving areas, proud of the historic treasures they posses.

So are both properties destined to become parking lots? Time will tell.