Paul Bartow '14 is an American History Research Assistant at a think-tank in Washington D.C.
Where did you start out occupationally, where are you now, and what do you hope to do down the road?
As a very recent graduate of May 2014, I have been in Washington D.C. ever since. I came for an internship with the Charles Koch Institute and the National Taxpayers Union Foundation. These experiences dealt mostly with tax, economic policy, and promoting economic freedom and well being. As a History major, I knew these positions probably wouldn’t produce long term career options.
Through my internship, however, I was placed in a good position to use my new DC network and apply for jobs here. I became involved with the think tank scene here in DC, got on a think tank job e-mail list, and heard of an opportunity as an American History Research Assistant at the American Enterprise Institute. I applied for the position, took the job in August, and was able to leave my internship early.
Can you suggest some tangible connections between your current or previous employment and your history training?
The depth, duration, and range of my historical experience were all integral in helping me get the job offer at AEI. Most of my work now includes scouring archival resources at the Library of Congress and the National Archives. The information that I find needs to be properly documented, cited, and quoted in history manuscripts for my employer. Because of my familiarity with archival processing derived from my experience at the Billy Graham Center Archives, I was a uniquely qualified candidate for the position. During my interview, they were also impressed that I had research background from my summer internship at the Wheaton College Archives & Special Collections, my docent experience at Naper Settlement and the Aurora Historical Society, as well as my position as a TA at the History Department.
Outside of your job, are there ways that your history major has enriched your life?
Studying history has definitely been very enriching in other ways than employment. History is the only social science that can claim to study the human experience and human condition in its entirety. In studying history, we are connected with the past community of believers, and I find this to be extremely enriching.
Most importantly for me, studying history fosters habits of mind in a unique way. While the historian knows that the past can never be understood in its entirety, that does not mean that history is meaningless. I believe that the ultimate benefit of history is the illumination it provides. Studying the past allows the historian to demonstrate that there are alternative ways of looking at the world and exposes our contemporary assumptions. This implants a sense of humility. By reflecting on these assumptions and contrasting them with the past, we can emerge from “chronological snobbery.” We can take a very critical look at our unspoken value systems and ways of life that are so deep in our subconscious that we associate them with truth.
Lastly, studying history provides a valuable frame of mind that contributes to success in a variety of others ways. The pursuit of history is ultimately question based. It fosters critical thinking, excellent writing skills, and the ability to critique and analyze arguments and identify assumptions. These are all skills that will translate into a variety of other fields, and skills that I noticed translated well into success on the GRE.
What advice would you provide to current or future history majors about making the most of their studies and degree?
I cannot stress enough that future or current history majors must become familiar with using archival sources if seriously considering pursuing history. Since historians analyze evidence in order to formulate arguments, a future historian needs to know how to find primary sources. Becoming familiar with how to research at an archives is invaluable. Wheaton College and the Billy Graham Center Archives offer great introduction programs into using the archives, and these are far underutilized.
Secondly, I would emphasize making a connection with the reference librarians. In order to find primary sources, one excellent (albeit tedious) way to find sources is to read secondary sources, scour their footnotes, and locate the sources they used. From my personal experience, I know that the reference librarians are very helpful in helping me decode the often tangled mess of footnotes, endnotes, and source abbreviations.
Lastly, if students would like to pursue a career in history, I would highly suggest having extensive work experience in the field, such as at archives, museums, or other research positions. These will place the student in a far more competitive position. It also makes it easier to tell of a career narrative and communicate a sincere passion for history.