Because History has as its subject matter two phenomena that influence everything we do and think, History holds a unique place in the curriculum of a University, for History is, by its very nature, one of the most universal and interdisciplinary fields of study. In very practical terms, what does this mean for you, as Time carries you through your undergraduate years?
Entering a university is a lot like going into a bookstore or a library. It is exciting to realize that such a wealth of knowledge and expertise is right there at your fingertips. At the same time it is difficult not to feel a little overwhelmed. Where to begin? How can I possibly make sense of it all? Much like bookstores, universities are organized by sections or departments. Without too much effort, you will find maps and signs to help you locate subjects and fields that particularly interest you. But beware! These maps and signs can be as misleading as they are helpful. Yes, they will direct you to the right location, but they may not tell the whole story.
What is the 'whole story'? Suppose I go into a bookstore to buy a novel by Charles Dickens. The bookstore map or the person at the information desk (who always seems to be on the phone) will direct me to the Literature section. If I follow the directions and know my alphabet, I will find the Dickens novel that I was looking for. So far so good. Anxious to begin reading, I go to the coffee shop, conveniently located in the bookstore, and start reading what I assume, at least half correctly, to be a piece of literature. Barely into the first paragraph, someone taps me on the shoulder. “I couldn’t help but notice the book you’re reading. I love Dickens. He gives such a wonderful picture of family life in an emerging industrial economy.” The person from the table on the opposite side chimes in, “not only that, he provides a great portrait of politics in a society plagued by deep class divisions.” And yet another person, “that’s all true, but you can’t really appreciate Dickens unless you consider the way developments in science contributed to a movement toward realism in art during the 19th century.” Someone standing in front of the magazine stand remarks, “did you know that Dickens was a journalist, and that many of his novels were published as weekly episodes in magazines?” Finally, the barrista shouts from across the room, “don’t forget to notice his typically Victorian take on religion.” All of the sudden, I realize that the Dickens novel, beautiful and interesting in and of itself, is also a piece of a larger web called Culture. Indeed, most cultural artifacts – whether novels, political institutions, social practices and norms, economic systems, styles of painting, schools of philosophy, and religious beliefs,– are, simultaneously social, economic, political, artistic, philosophical, and religious. This is because all fields of knowledge (and, therefore, all departments in a bookstore or a university) share a common root in Culture. And so, as you pick up your map of the university, beware! Anyone who takes the signs marking individual departments too seriously, risks missing the forest for the trees – that is, losing sight of the fact that all aspects of human knowledge and activity are integrated into a larger whole.
This brings us back to History, the study of Culture in Time - the story of human ingenuity confronting the challenges of its physical, human, and sacred environment. History is for those of us who want to step back and consider where we belong in the big picture of Time and Culture, and to deepen our understanding and appreciation of the way the communities in which we live have been woven together over time to create the world we know today, with all of its triumphs, failures, and challenges.
For some very practical suggestions about how to use a History major or minor as a tool to provide a sense of integration and coherence to your undergraduate studies, and to make the most of your degree from UST as you prepare for a career, click Frequently Asked Questions and Careers in History.
Sources for pictures: http://www.pc.cc.va.us/holt/MTH%20151/help151.htm; http://www.gcglobalresearch.com/contact; http://www.ahajokes.com/crt693.html; http://signalfan.freeservers.com/road%20signs/keeprt.htm
“In vain, great-hearted Kublai, shall I attempt to describe Zaira, city of high bastions. I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past: the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of a hanged usurper's swaying feet; the line strung from the lamppost to the railing opposite and the festoons that decorate the course of the queen's nuptial procession; the height of that railing and the leap of the adulterer who climbed over it at dawn; the tilt of a guttering and a cat's progress along it as he slips into the same window; the firing range of a gunboat which has suddenly appeared beyond the cape and the bomb that destroys the guttering; the rips in the fish net and the three old men seated on the dock mending nets and telling each other for the hundredth time the story of the gunboat of the usurper, who some say was the queen's illegitimate son, abandoned in his swaddling clothes there on the dock.”