To study history is to explore the past with a view to understanding the present, to understand that what appears natural and immutable at present is actually subject to challenge and change. History courses, too, have changed tremendously in the last few decades! Its contents and methods at the college level are dramatically, almost unrecognisably, different from what is taught in most schools. The focus has shifted from the great to the ordinary, from the individual to the social. There are few fixed answers to be learnt, rather you are encouraged to ask new questions and critically engage with competing answers. Exploring the past thus becomes extremely rewarding, both mentally and materially. One is equipped to wade one’s way through confusing ideas and information. And to express complex arguments in lucid ways.
Career options and skills required
The skills of analysis and expression thus picked up hold a history graduate in good stead in the job market (for those looking to ‘settle down’ quickly) as well as for long-distance runners. For the former, there are jobs in the media, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and the tourism industry along with jobs as young executives in the private sector or civil and banking services. Admittedly, immediately after graduation these jobs may not be very attractive with the possible exception of civil services. Most students opt for the more exciting longer route, pursuing higher studies or courses in law, museology, management, social work, mass communication or the like.
Yet, like any other course, pursuing history, too, could be taxing if you don’t enjoy it. If you are bugged by that most atavistic of human tendencies to explain the ways of the world, if you want to understand, as science fiction writer Kurt Vonnegut says ‘what the hell is going on’, then you would enjoy the course. If your inquisitiveness is backed by an interest in complexity, then you would excel in it.
In the end, a word of caution is necessary: doing history is like going on an adventurous trip, exploring unaccustomed earth. It is loads of fun but also considerable hard work. Most dangerously, it makes you ask unsettling questions of the accustomed world and upset cherished ways of thinking!
Institutes at a glance
For an honours programme in history, University of Delhi (or DU) is definitely the best place in India largely on account of its regularly updated syllabi. Within DU, probably the conventional hierarchies, with some exceptions, hold. LSR College, IP College, St Stephen’s, Ramjas are some of the more reputable colleges for facilities and faculty in history, though PGDAV College and Rajdhani College, too, are remarkable for very good faculty.
Outside DU, institutions reputed for their history programmes are:
Presidency College, Calcutta’s
St Xavier’s College, Mumbai
Loyola College, Chennai
The author is senior assistant professor, department of history, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi