History as a subject has been valued both for its own sake and for the employment opportunities it provides. It was once regarded as the golden route to coveted jobs in the civil services. As other subjects have increasingly proved more dependable and scoring, history’s charm for civil service aspirants has somewhat declined though the subject is still popular. Even in the era of computers and management, liberal arts and history provide valuable training of the mind. Some knowledge of history is important for all those who have to deal with ideas, people and public affairs anywhere in the world. Traditional professions such as law and journalism are open to undergraduates in history as are newer ones like advertising, consultancy and event management.
In view of the great strides made in the study of history over the last few decades, there is something for every palate — from economic and social history to cultural history and the history of science. While the core concerns and traditional themes of history are still important in the Delhi University syllabus, the history of virtually anything can be taken up for study by undergraduate students when they work on their projects. This discipline today has promoted both rigorous social science methods and the more nuanced cultural studies perspective. Some practitioners of history claim that they are contributing to the social sciences and some others owe allegiance to the human sciences or the arts. The comparative and inter-disciplinary approach towards history truly provides a valuable preparation for a range of professions.
Those who have an interest in movements and ideologies, in social and economic trends, in culture and literature will enjoy the history honours programme. It is not possible to just pick and choose what you like indiscriminately because there is a certain discipline and method that is essential for the study of different facets of history. There is no getting away from hard work but the frustrating search for books has somewhat diminished. Finding reliable reference material is much easier today because the (Delhi) University provides access to a range of journals, e-books and websites free of cost. If any particular field or method of study fascinates the student, he or she can take it up while pursuing postgraduate studies.
Those school-leavers who want to figure out whether they have an aptitude for history or an adequate interest in the subject can read a standard work of history, a historical novel or even a serious non-fiction bestseller. What is important is to be curious about events and ideas and people. An ability to empathise with people who are different from us helps in understanding different countries and cultures. An appetite for reading and writing skills are absolutely essential. Do not believe those who say that history is just about memorising facts or regurgitating class notes. It is important to have an ability to analyse and synthesise as well as to write clearly and cogently. These skills are not only an asset in the long run but they are also adequately rewarded by examiners in the short run.
Top five colleges for history
In Delhi University
. St Stephen’s College
. Lady Shri Ram College
. Ramjas College
. Miranda House
. Hans Raj College
. St Xavier’s College Mumbai
. St Xavier’s College, Kolkata
. Presidency University (formerly Presidency College), Kolkata
. Loyola College, Chennai
. Madras Christian College, Chennai
(Not in any particular order)
The author is associate professor of history at St Stephen’s College, Delhi University