Tom Coyne '55 Discusses the value of a History Degree


The next time your Mom and Dad ask you that question, the answer is……………………a lot!

Unless you are one of those blessed few individuals who will go from their degree program to a lifetime of emotionally satisfying and financially fulfilling employment in that specific area you will find that the study of history is a sturdy support for the variety of careers you are more likely to have in the rapidly changing world environment you will face upon graduation.

This is not something I knew when I graduated from Western Michigan College with majors in History, Spanish and Psychology.  Nor is it something I had learned upon earning my MA in History from the University of Michigan.  It has been, however, clearly evident to me over the years since when I moved from career to career as necessity or opportunity presented themselves.  The confidence coming from your still incomplete understanding of the world and how change has altered other lives will, consciously or unconsciously, prepare you to accept new challenges and new goals in your own.

My use of “incomplete” is deliberate.  If you think that a B.A., M.A. or even a Ph.D in History will be the totality needed in your studies you are seriously wrong.   You will never stop studyingThomas Coyne '55 more history because you will both want to and need to and because you will be embarrassed when you realize “I didn’t know that” as you get new insights into old theories and old records.  I’m 84 years old and it seems I’m constantly learning about previously unknown historical characters or past events that sometimes have an eerie similarity to today’s headline news.

The study of history does not prepare you for one career as much as it gives you the confidence to enter many careers.  The obvious expectation is that one is prepared to teach at the Secondary School, College or University levels.  But, what if you aren’t interested in teaching?  No matter!  Whether you realize it or not, in acquiring your degree you have also acquired skills, knowledge and understanding that have equipped you to adapt to almost any career except, perhaps, the most technical.

In my employment history following graduation, I have been a Purchasing Agent in the paper industry, a Sales Correspondent in the construction industry, an Administrative Assistant (a couple of times; for a Construction Company Owner and a University President), an Alumni Relations Director and a Vice President for Student Services.  Even after retirement the mindset of the historian helped as I was a Coordinator of an Independent Third Party Review Panel reviewing alternative career courses for hourly workers in the auto industry. 

My career path in not unique.  A broad based educational background could lead you almost anywhere.  It is a big and rapidly changing world we live in.  Be prepared!

What in the world can you do with a history degree?   The answer is………………………a lot!

Tom Coyne
Class of ‘55