Studying History at SIU

One of the both challenging things and fun things about teaching history here at SIU is that students sometimes come into the program with preconceptions about what history is; you know, “history is just a field of memorization.” Rather we bring our classes to life with discussions, with looking closely at documents. I myself am not that good at memorizing dates even though I’m a historian so I try to disabuse some of that. With some classes you have reenactments of historical figures and historical events. When you go to a Reacting class and you’re acting as the character and you’re allowing mindsets of the time to take over you get to kind of embody historical characters more than just reading about them in a textbook. Students all have signed up for an app, and they can go on during class and live vlog what they’re thinking in character to other people. They’re not critiquing what I’ve done; they’re critiquing someone else, so it gives the student I think an element of confidence to become someone else. One of the main misconceptions about history is that you can’t get a job with a history degree, but our majors do very well in all areas of life. Every other career you can possibly imagine: we’ve had people go on to law school; we’ve had people go to medical school. They’ve gone into historical preservation, archives, teaching, and law, and the list goes on and on. The other thing the history department has which I think is very unique is we have our own student journal that comes out annually. In our journal Legacy, students are actually publishing an essay on a topic they’ve written about. You graduate from SIU with a publication on your resume, which is really exciting. And our students for their research papers get to go in, put on the white gloves so that they don’t damage the documents, and really work with these original sources. There’s a real opportunity for history students to do things like going and using the Special Collections in the library and to do archival work. And that is from my experience a great awakening moment for students when they can actually not just read photocopies online or get into books but actually feel the material of history. When you go into history you really get to understand that people have had the same struggles you have for thousands and millions of years, and so there are always some people who have been oppressed for certain reasons, and you can see how the world has grown, and you can see people who are just like you in 10 BC: there’s ways they went about life, and there’s ways they you know made their mark on the world, so there’s ways you can also make your own mark on the world. But it really stands true that the history major is very versatile, and we try to impress that upon our students that you can do anything with history. You don’t have to become a professional historian. You can really enter the professional world with not just a knowledge of the past with but with a lot of skills to help you along for the rest of your life.

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