Jamie Patrick-Burns '10 is in graduate school for public history and library science.
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?
Upon graduating from Wheaton in 2010, I had the vague idea that I would go to graduate school as further preparation for a career, but was not quite sure what to study. I decided to take a year off and travel while I was not tied down by a long-term job, take a break from school, and get some practical experience while I figured out what program to pursue. I ended up having two years off, one year teaching English in the Czech Republic and one year working as a staff assistant in a fundraising office. Both jobs gave me great leadership, communication, and interpersonal skills, and I would recommend taking some time off from school for a fresh perspective once you return. Although I expected to finish graduate school a little bit earlier than I am, those two years were very valuable to me and let me carry a more practical, "real world" experience to my classes when I did go back. They are both good experiences to put on my resume as I apply for jobs post-graduate school.
As I thought about graduate programs, I reflected on why I had chosen the history major at Wheaton in the first place. I had selected the major because I enjoyed history in high school and no other major stood out to me as being more appealing. At first I had a very narrow idea of what could be done with a history degree - namely, teaching at the high school level - and was worried about finding a job without a very "practical" major. I felt that teaching wasn't for me, but still I pursued the degree because it was something I was passionate about. Towards the end of college, I heard of the field of public history and felt this would be a good fit: I loved history and wanted to share that interest with others. In a public history setting such as a museum or historic site, I could educate the public and share my love for history without being a teacher in a classroom. I was also drawn to library science as someone who had always loved reading, but could not decide between the two master's degrees, until I found a graduate program that allowed me to compete both. These two fields of study both enable me to share my own love of learning with the public, helping people to learn about the things that interest them and encourage the enrichment that comes from lifelong learning for people of all ages.
Can you share some ways that your history major has enriched your life?
For me, my history major at Wheaton has given me a great foundation in critical thinking, research, communication, and writing skills. It sounds like a cliché, but I really do think that writing research papers for history classes has helped me to become a better writer, able express my ideas clearly and concisely, as well as able to construct a sound argument backed by evidence. These are important skills for any kind of writing - even if you are composing a technical report or business document rather than a history paper. The ability to conduct research - finding, evaluating, and interpreting sources - and then synthesizing your findings is another important skill that translates to many vocational settings.
On a more abstract level but no less important, I think learning about history helps inform our perspective on today and helps us to keep an open mind. Realizing how past events and decisions affect our world today is an important reminder of how our actions will impact the future. Knowing that past places and cultures have lived, believed, and thought differently than we do helps me to be open and understanding to new perspectives, knowing that my own experiences are not the only valid ones. Learning history helps promote respect and appreciation for the diversity of cultures and worldviews, past and present.
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?
My advice would be to take the history classes that interest you, but to be open to other topics too. At Wheaton I was most interested in European history, but have since gained a greater appreciation for American history, including local history, social history, and women's history. Knowing something about the history of different areas and time periods is useful for seeing similarities and differences I would also suggest considering taking a bit of time off to travel, work, etc. after college. It's not for everyone of course, but for me it was a very valuable experience, gave me time to figure out graduate school, and would be harder to do now (but not impossible!) since I'm a few years older and married. I would let students know that there are actually jobs out there for history majors besides teaching high school history - despite what most people think when they hear you are a history major! You can teach at the high school or college level, but if teaching is not for you there are other options in public history, library/information science, or other fields. And even if your career post-graduation is not directly related to history, your history major will prove valuable to you in other ways.
If you have gone on to graduate work, can you suggest some tangible connections between your history major and your graduate studies?
I am finishing up a dual master's degree in public history and library science. In the public history program, half my classes were traditional history classes but the other half were about cultural heritage, museums, and public memory - all important topics for communicating history to other people and understanding how historical narratives are remembered, constructed, and used. In library science, I am concentrating on archives - the primary sources that historians (and the public) use to understand and write history. Having a background in history helps me to understand the context in which these documents were created, and the purposes they served then and now. With both degrees, my history major gave me a solid foundation in research, writing, and communication that has served me well in my graduate career.