My History degree

I was asked to write about what I’ve done with my History degree for newsletter of the University of Otago’s Dept of History & Art History Te Tari Kōrero Nehe me te Mahi Toi Onamata. This is what I gave them. Honestly I’m not sure it’s what they had in mind — maybe that’s why my contribution is on the last page?

My History Degree, by Elizabeth Heritage*

In 2002 I graduated with a First Class BA Honours in History and English, despite having written an incomprehensible dissertation on Paul Ricoeur. I then went out and got drunk with my friends. Good times.

My career following my History degree

My first job after graduation was Library Assistant at National Library of NZ Te Puna Matauranga o Aotearoa, where my sole task was photocopying things in the basement. I lasted all of a month before jumping ship upstairs to the Alexander Turnbull Library, where I performed a variety of tasks - such as Not Photocopying Things - with aplomb.

Itchy feet drove me overseas to the UK, where I did various temp admin jobs before managing the Women’s Enterprise Task Force; a challenging role that taught me (1) feminism is a broad church that encompasses some ideas I disagree with; and (2) you can’t just assume Microsoft HQ will have computers (long story).

I moved back to Aotearoa and retrained as a publisher at Whitireia before becoming the Te Papa Press sales manager. Currently, I am a freelance book publicist, arts journalist, Creative Commons Aotearoa NZ communications lead, book marketing teacher, self-employed writer and editor. (My secret is coffee. Also burning feminist righteousness. But mostly coffee.)

How I’ve used my History degree

Not gonna lie; I’ve forgotten a lot of what I learned. (In my defence, it was fifteen years ago.) The details of who did what and when aren’t really the point, though. What I use all the time are the skills, particularly research and writing. Interrogating the bias of written sources is an act I perform every time I Google something. Constructing a persuasive, evidence-based argument using clear English is a skill I use every day when writing work emails, not to mention reviews and articles.

Why History matters

Other degrees will teach you those skills, though. (Law, for sure, and, like … sociology, probably?) The reason History matters is it teaches you about change: not just how change happens, but that change is even possible. Social mores can change. Systems of government can change. International economic philosophies can change. History is the study of people who have come before us and who, through inventiveness or anger or a thousand tiny acts or one big one, have left the world a different place. Understanding how different the world has been in the past helps us take that imaginative leap and envision how the world could be different in the future. And I really believe that’s what’s going to save us all.

* Yes, I know, with a name like Heritage isn’t it funny that I’ve got a History degree, yep, well done, you got me. Ka pai.

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