Q: Why should I think about doing A-Level History?
You enjoy history - that's why you chose it for GCSE... right? You were interested in what you studied for GCSE. You liked finding information for yourself, questioning historical sources, looking at both sides of the argument, making your own arguments. Then someone says to you: "Why do you want to do History A-Level? What use is that?"
Q: But what use is history to me? It's all about the past - how will it help me get a job?
History IS both interesting AND useful!
As a history student, you will never experience the events that you study; instead you have to build up a picture from the evidence that has been left. You have to become skilled at asking questions, sometimes awkward questions; you have learned not to take everything at face value. You have to develop empathy and understanding of the actions and achievements of others; you have to be prepared to put your case and argue it well; you have to use evidence to draw conclusions and make judgements. These skills are highly desirable in many different careers and A -Level History is excellent training for any career where you have to use evidence or make decisions, especially where those decisions affect other people.
History students are not just limited to "becoming another history teacher" (unless they want to of course!) Nor are they destined to gather dust in a museum or library (again unless they want to!) There are so many careers out there that require the skills that a study of history can bring; law, medicine, business, finance, accountancy, tourism, town planning, politics, journalism, research to name but a few!
Q: But I don't want a career in history, I just like the subject, so what use will it be to me?
Historians are trained to look for bias and prejudice in all the evidence they study. They know that human beings often have strong views on many subjects, which may affect the statements they make. There is no other subject that deals so well with sorting out what is useful and reliable evidence and what must be sifted out than history. Imagine believing everything you read in the papers, or believing every statement that politicians make! History helps you to make decisions about other people and to decide if you trust what they say.
If you enjoy history, it can lead you to a great future. Look at Dermott Murnaghan, journalist, David Sainsbury, Chairman of Sainsbury's, Diane Abbott, MP and broadcaster. You can also count the likes of Melvin Bragg, Anita Roddick, founder of the Body Shop, Monty Python's Michael Palin, Sacha Baron Cohen (AKA Ali G) Louis Theroux, Jonathan Ross, John Prescott, Gordon Brown, Al Murray and Cold Play's Chris Martin among other history graduates!
Q: How do I know if history is for me?
You won't really know until you try, but in the meantime, it may help to see what others who are in, or recently have been in your position have to say...
A-Level and beyond: Reflections of A-Level History.
"I chose to study history at AS/A2 because I have always found it interesting. There has been a mixture of easy and hard pieces of work; the subjects in history that I am interested in, I have found easier, as it is easier to work on things you are more interested in. The hardest part of studying history is analysing sources, as sometimes it's quite hard to put down what I think about the source into words. But I am very interested in the way many historians can have different viewpoints on one certain event. Studying history at AS/A2 is quite different, as it is no longer just remembering facts and dates, but also inferring viewpoints from events; but this enables me to gain more skills as a journalist. Studying history at AS/A2 has helped me gain a better understanding of interpreting facts in a different way and I know studying history will help me quite a lot in the future because it is quite a well-respected subject."
"I chose history because I have always had an interest in the past; I find it deeply interesting to learn as it helps to gain an understanding of the world we live in today and how things have come to be. I enjoy studying something and seeing how it applies to the modern world and whether the consequences are still in action. Studying history at AS/A2 is certainly challenging but once you become immersed in the subject it gets easier as you find yourself wanting to know more about the topic of study. The area I find most difficult in studying history at AS/A2 is remembering the various dates when covering a large topic of study. AS/A2 level is a step up from GCSE so there is more independent learning involved but the areas of study are far more interesting. Studying history at AS/A2 has enabled me to develop stronger research skills and the ability to distinguish between the relevant and the irrelevant. These skills can be applied elsewhere in many work environments. History is important to me as it is something I've always held an interest in. It is my belief that history prevents ignorance - by studying history I have achieved a greater understanding of the world."
"I chose history because I took it at GCSE and found it an interesting subject and I also felt the evaluation of sources would be good practice for looking at evidence when I finish my law degree. Source interpretation is my weakest point and this is hard to over- come. One of the most interesting parts of studying at A level is finding out about parts of history that have directly affected my country and our world. I have gained a great understanding of how history has shaped the world today, for instance through Elizabeth's Reformation and both World Wars. Studying history at AS/A2 is a big step up as the basic knowledge from GCSE is only the foundation of A-level. You have to have a great knowledge and understanding of history and a source's specific relevance while also having to argue a point clearly, not just ‘sitting on the fence' as in GCSE. This subject is important to me as it will help me towards my University degree. I believe that studying history at AS/A2 will help me acquire key skills that I will apply throughout university, in obtaining my law degree and into practicing my career as I will be prepared to evaluate and analyze evidence for use in court."
"In the same way that many people question the validity of history at A level, many more wonder whether it will be a suitable degree. As a 16 year, whilst I loved history, I too saw no reason to continue studying it past GCSE, arguing that I could "just read history books." I planned to enter the sciences and it was only the intervention of my father which prevented me from taking all three sciences and maths. I am forever grateful for his intervention. The same reasons that many people don't take history for A-level are the same reasons why many don't do a degree in it. Unlike a "toolbox" degree like law or medicine, history doesn't seem at first glance to teach you any quantifiable skill, nor lead conclusively to any job, bar that of the stuffy professor surrounded by piles of books. Yet history is one of the most flexible degrees available, being recognised as intellectually rigorous, as well as teaching skills that are easily transferable into many industries. Most of all, however, doing a history degree means spending three years doing something you love. Many of you will change your minds about what you want to be during the course of your A- levels, and the rest of your life (I recall a period during the first 6 months of year 12 where my aspirations changed almost daily) however, by the end of year 12, I knew for sure that I wanted to study history. Not for any job aspirations, but because I was truly passionate about the subject. I enjoyed every minute of my contact time, and found as much joy as one can (which is limited) in constructing essays for homework. A degree involves spending a minimum of three years studying a subject in great depth and focus, so unless you have incredibly masochistic tendencies, you should do something you love. If you love history at A-level, it only gets better."
"History is the most reliable and the most undependable field of study and that is perfect for someone who wants to know everything and still never stop learning. It is proven facts grounded in perspective and interpretation. It is never stagnant. And for me, it will always be fascinating because there is always more to learn or a new version or more evidence to consider. I know that should I still decide to apply to law school, as a history major, I have a distinct advantage over many other fields. As a history major, you know how to write and develop an argument; you have excellent research skills and have the ability to retain loads of information; you can reject unreliable sources and analyze reliable ones; and you will be a hard worker because studying, arguing and analyzing history at university level means hard work, more than secondary school. However, it is also more rewarding and more varied. But I know that law school, as qualified as I will be when I graduate with a history degree, does not tempt me as does continuing with the study of history for two reasons. First, history is such an inclusive subject, especially my period of ancient history. History is also literature, psychology, science, politics, art, linguistics, theology and theatre. It is as inclusive and developed a field as you choose it to be and therefore, it is impossible to get bored. Second, a strong foundation in history is fundamental to combating ignorance and developing yourself as a global citizen. Without understanding the past, the mistakes, successes and progressions of it, current world issues will never be fully understood and will most likely never be resolved. That is why history is so important to all generations and why I intend to make it my career."