Hilary Guth '08 is a graduate student.
What has been your vocational path since graduation? How did you end up where you are and what was the process of getting there? Is this what you expected to be doing?
I graduated in 2008 and entered the job market just in time for the economic meltdown. That was less than ideal, but thankfully I was able to find a job with a small staffing company. That first job involved a little bit of almost everything: writing, editing, general admin stuff, even tech support (it’s amazing how fast you can develop you computer skills when you don’t really have a choice!). I ended up working for about three years before doing a few distance education classes and then going back to school full-time.
In January 2012, I moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, to study at Regent College. (I can’t resist a little plug: Regent is an amazing place with a genuinely caring community, great profs, and a wonderfully diverse student body.) Long story short, I finished my last program requirements in December 2014 and graduated in spring of 2015 with a Master of Arts in Theological Studies with a History of Christianity concentration. Right now I’m finishing up a TA job, working part-time in Regent’s donor relations office, and doing freelance editing and tutoring. I’m thinking about pursuing a Master of Theology degree at Regent in the next few years, and maybe eventually doing doctoral studies in history, but for the moment I’m enjoying a break from studying.
Did I expect to be where I am now? Yes and no. The one thing I felt quite sure about when I finished undergrad was that I wanted to go to grad school to study history of Christianity, and I’ve done that. On the other hand, my academic interests have changed somewhat. If you asked me when I graduated what I thought I’d focus on in grad school, I probably would have said medieval or Reformation-era Europe. That ended up changing a lot, thanks largely to a class on history of missions: I still love history, but I’ve become very interested in world Christianity and non-Western theology as well. A lot of my research over the past few years has focused on the history of Christianity in India. (Interesting side note: my first foray into Indian history was inspired by a somewhat vague memory of a World Civ lecture by Dr. Blumhofer in 2004. You never know what will come back and spark something years down the road.)
Can you share some ways that your history major has enriched your life?
First, I think if I had to pick one phrase to sum up what I learned as a history major at Wheaton, that phrase would be “continuity and change.” (Thank you, Dr. Harkrider for drilling that lesson into me!) The idea that continuity and change coexist and feed off each other—and often disguise each other—has a huge impact on how I look at the world around me. It provides a sense of balance and even comfort (no, an earth-shattering cataclysm that will change absolutely everything is probably not just around the corner), but it also pushes me to ask questions that challenge simplistic interpretations of current events (does the latest medical or technological breakthrough change anything at all for people too poor to afford it?). An awareness of continuity and change also reminds me that perspective matters, that the world is complex and none of us have a God’s-eye view of what’s happening day by day. I think this awareness makes me a better observer of—and participant in—life and society.
Second, studying history taught me a lot about both the incredible importance of culture, and the amazing universality of human nature. To study history well, you have to learn to think beyond what seems obvious in your own time and place, and try to empathize with people living under a totally different set of assumptions. You realize that, in some ways, people can be more different than you ever thought possible, while in other ways, human beings can be amazingly consistent. In short, I think studying history made me less ethnocentric—less inclined to think that what seems normal to me must be “normal” for everyone—but also more optimistic about the possibility of connecting across cultural barriers and learning from others. This makes life so much more exciting, and in an increasingly globalized world, it can only become more important.
Finally, being a history major encouraged me to be curious, and taught me how to be curious effectively! I genuinely like research—in the broad sense of finding interesting and useful information—and that has served me well both personally and professionally. For example, my current job involves prospect research: basically, I look for people who might be interested in financially supporting the school where I work. I won’t say it never gets dull, but piecing together the stories of interesting people from all over the world is usually pretty entertaining.
More broadly, I think the ability to take an interest in new things and bring yourself up to speed in different subjects and skills is hugely important in the current economic climate. Curiosity and research skills are essential for this.
In light of your own experiences, what advice would you give to undergraduates? Do you have any advice specifically on making the most of a degree in history?
When you get to choose what to research/study/write about, choose things you genuinely find interesting! I usually did this, but I think I also worried a lot that what I learned in undergrad would somehow lock me into a life path that would determine my fate forever. Totally not true! My focus has been almost totally different in grad school than it was in undergrad, but I don’t regret what I studied at Wheaton at all. One of the beautiful (if, at times, a bit maddening!) things about history is that almost nothing is irrelevant, and almost everything connects, somehow, to everything else. As long as you’re gaining experience and building your interest in the area, it’ll be useful later on.
On a similar note, if you get the chance to learn about or study something that has personal meaning for you or addresses questions you’ve encountered in your own life, do it! I spent a lot of my time in undergrad struggling with mental illness, and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made was to write my junior research paper on a collection of letters that Martin Luther wrote to people who were anxious and depressed. God used those centuries-old letters to speak to me during a period of intense emotional and spiritual angst, and I’ll always be grateful for that. And, to be frank, the fact that I had a personal investment in what I was studying definitely helped the long hours of work go by a little faster.
Okay, this isn’t specific to history majors, but I can’t resist one final bit of advice for Wheaton students: don’t freak out if you graduate without a significant other! I’m 28, single, and quite happy about it. There are a ton of amazing unmarried Christian adults doing very cool things, building deep friendships, and actually enjoying life. My point is, there’s nothing wrong with living the archetypal Wheaton romance (my little brother and his wife did it very successfully!), but there’s nothing wrong with skipping it either. I’d like to think that at least a few more people have caught on to this reality since I was at Wheaton, but if not … trust an alum!
If you have gone on to graduate work, can you suggest some tangible connections between your history major and your graduate studies?
I’m about to graduate with a Master of Arts in Theological Studies with a History of Christianity concentration, so obviously I’ve done a lot of history courses. Having the history content I got from classes at Wheaton has been hugely helpful, and I’ve even occasionally drawn on things I studied in undergrad to get ideas for graduate assignments. Even more than this content, however, the research, writing, and argumentation skills I developed as a history major have been helpful in pretty much every class I’ve taken, including courses in theology, biblical studies, missiology, and even art. They’ve also allowed me to help other students who don’t have a liberal arts background and find the whole paper-writing experience overwhelming. As far as I’ve seen, history is one of the few academic disciplines that teaches its own methodology clearly and intentionally, and the vast majority of that methodology is transferable to other subjects in the humanities and social sciences. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful this has been.
Final thoughts: I love history. It’s exciting, it’s enlightening, it’s beautiful. It’s also, despite common assumptions, really, really practical. And Wheaton’s history department is very special: even aside from the great classes, wonderful profs, and loveable classmates, I can honestly say that random moments hanging around the history department office are some of my all-time favorite college memories. I hope these reflections are helpful to at least a few people, because they’ve been a lot of fun to write!