Why I Took Up History

Editor’s Note: This is a reprint of the article “How History Helped My Career” that was posted on my website.

We live in a society where the cost of higher education continues to rise while the job prospect after graduating from university becomes less certain. It is a fact of life, especially in the Philippines, where parents would try to overrule their children’s decisions and pressure them to choose a college degree that would guarantee a high-paying job that will help them set for life. In my case, it was what my dad would want me to do something he never got to accomplish in his lifetime — pursue engineering as my older brother ended up taking architecture.

My Story

Most teenagers my age then followed what their parents wanted — to become a nurse, to become a lawyer, or to become a teacher. When they wanted to be something else — an artist, a musician, or a professional athlete.

Can we blame them? We know they wanted what’s best for us. However, it has come to a point where our decision is torn between following our dreams and passions or going for the safe and practical choice — a high-demand college degree that will give us a ‘safer’ career path.

I ended up choosing the former over the latter. But before I ended up with History, I had a brief detour with Economics. At that time, I was still undecided like some people do. I haven’t made up my mind yet on what would I want to accomplish in my career. It was later in my first year that I would have to move on to go with a degree that I would really enjoy doing and see myself utilising all skills and knowledge that I gain to better myself.

It feels like an epiphany of some sorts when I remember the time when my mom would bring home a couple of National Geographic magazines and borrow my uncle’s Encyclopedia Britannica so I can read it. One thing that left an indelible impression on me was the beautiful maps it had and soon, I ended up memorising all the different places I had never been to (I hope I can visit one day). I even made quite an impression on my mom’s officemates at the courtroom when I can tell the capital cities of every country and identify the national flags without making a mistake. I know history by heart that I feel like people would quiz me on a lot of things when I was still 8–10 years old! Later on, I started watching a lot of documentary programs that helped me understand different peoples, cultures, and societies from here and beyond. I even ventured into genealogy by utilising modern technologies of DNA analysis and AI-powered photo colourisation to reconstruct my family tree.

I decided to make that big leap to shift from Economics to History. And the rest is shall we say ‘history.’

What I Learned

Years after I graduated, I get asked countless times to ‘what can I do with my History degree?’ I followed my passion yet there are those who are concerned that there is no value for liberal education in a global economy that revolves around corporate capitalism in a digital world. Little did they know that it helped me develop some skills that I can apply in work outside my core discipline. Having a History degree does not mean that I’m destined to teach, do research, or write a book. It’s not just about chronicling past events and dead people, there’s more to it than that.

1. Communication

We were required to do a lot of reading and writing during my university days so I have learned the value of analysing information from different sources so I can come up with my own conclusions. Gathering the right information from reliable sources is one way of winning your side of the debate.

2. Impartiality

As they say, history is the chronicle of the crimes and follies of mankind. It is one way of learning others’ past mistakes so in that sense, I have learned to weigh the different views in order to become an impartial decision-maker.

3. Research

I ended up spending a lot of time in the library and the Filipiniana section because of it as I scoured for a lot of books and rare manuscripts in order to construct my narrative. You have to assume the role of a detective by filling in the gaps and unravelling the web of uncertainty in anything you do. In today’s world of fake news, I have learned to determine facts and accurate data.

4. Big Picture

There are numbers and data that determines why historical events happen so it is something that I learned that finding patterns is one why understanding why these things happen as they did. Translating this skill into my digital writing career has helped me a lot whether I’m doing marketing research or developing an infographic.

5. Global Thinker

As I work with a lot of people from different countries, I have to deal with a diversity of cultures and personal beliefs. My History education has prepared me a lot for it so that I have good knowledge of geography, a bit of linguistic and cultural understanding, and a keen interest in current events. It allows me to put myself in the mindset of people wherever they are from.

History makes you a well-rounded person because you are trained to see things from multiple angles and learn how they developed through time. Your writing and research skills help you sort out primary sources from the rest thereby discerning fact from fiction. It helped me become a capable thinker, writer, and communicator thereby shaping my thought process to approach issues from diverse viewpoints so I can make informed decisions. The most important thing that I learned is the value of continuing education and a multidisciplinary approach as this field continues to evolve as new methodologies and technologies are used to advance it.

So Why Study?

“Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” — Jose Rizal (1861–1896), Filipino national hero

What I’m trying to say is that history will help us understand ourselves and the world around us. It opens up a different perspective on where we come from and where we’re heading. We’re living in a more globalised world where we are now exposed to a diversity of personal beliefs and cultural viewpoints so it is more important for us to understand how to thread through it.

“The only constant in life is change.” — Heraclitus (535 BC-435 BC), Greek Philosopher

We learn not to take everything at face value. There are other factors that make things happen and it usually takes a long time before it does. Studying history helps us grasp the reasons behind the everyday things that happen. Events that happened in the past shape the world we all live in.

I may not become a famous celebrity or a filthy-rich billionaire, I know for the fact that people can become successful no matter what. So what does NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, US President Joe Biden, actor Sacha Baron Cohen, comedian Steve Carell, former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, novelist Ayn Rand, Cold Play frontman Chris Martin, and political commentator Bill O’Reilly have in common?

They all have History degrees.

Historian, blogger, genealogist, copywriter & video game geek. Check out my bio at bio.link/jpcanonigo.