Study Abroad for History Majors--Guest Post from Abroad by James Hinton

A note from Katie: Every once in a while, I get an email from a stranger asking to post on my blog. I'm particularly excited about this when the stranger has a radically different perspective or experience to share. Today's post by James Hinton offers the same advice I often give: studying abroad will deepen your educational experience and expand your career potential. However, today's post not only focuses on the benefits of international study for students interested in history, it also is from the perspective of someone who is from a side of the world that many US students hope to go abroad to. I hope you enjoy!

So your ambition is life is to become a history professor. While others in secondary school were attempting to sleep through class you were arguing with the teacher about which was truly the high water mark of Rome, Hadrian’s Wall or the Antonine Wall. For your 16th birthday you asked your mum for a replica Queen Elizabeth I’s coronation dress. Last week you successfully argued on an Internet forum that the Yanks were idiots for not equipping all of their Sherman tanks with the 17-pounder anti-tank gun. You are definitely professorial material.

Well, here’s an idea. Get a good grounding in history through a Baccalaureate level degree at home in the UK, then go abroad for your postgrad work.

I imagine that sounds a bit strange on initial impression, but let’s examine it. If you do as many others like you will and climb your way up entirely within the British educational system you’ll likely end up with much the same CV. You’ll have studied the same subjects in the same way from the same perspective. That’s not to say your academics’ won’t be spectacular, but you certainly aren’t likely to stand out.

Go overseas, however, and you’ll be able to bring a fresh new perspective back when you return home looking for a professorship. You’ll be able to lace your CV with specialties and institutions that will set you apart as being able to provide a different approach that students and fellow faculty could find refreshing.

Let’s take an example. Let’s say that what particularly fascinates you is the history of British militarism in support of the Empire in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It’s a fascinating time period! You had the Seven Year’s War, the East India Company’s rule over India,  the American War of Independence, the Irish rebellion of 1798, the Napoleonic Wars… It was a very busy time. An important thing to note, however, is that nearly all of the actual military engagement took place outside of the British homeland.

If you stay at home for your postgrad work, you’ll likely get a good education on the subject, but it will be one that is distinctly British. You’ll learn the same perspective as everyone else, read the same histories, and write the same dissertation.

Travel abroad and things will change. You can focus on the history of the colonies in the Americas, for example. A little research would reveal that if you want to really understand the outside perspective of how the Seven Years War was fought abroad, you might want to attend Norwich University’s History program. Doctor John Grenier literally wrote the book on the Yank’s perspective of the war. Being able to argue the American perspective on the era could set you quite a ways apart from other potential professors when it comes time.

“Now hold on,” I hear you saying. “I am a Yank. Have you even read this blog? Katie’s from Colorado!”

My advice still holds true. Only in this case your round trip ticket heads the other direction. You are interested in the early days of the U.S. as it struggled to establish itself as a viable state? Head to the U.K. Professor Andrew Lambert at King’s College London happens to be an expert on the naval warfare during the age of sail. His perspective on our upstart nation’s insistence on referring to our part in the Napoleonic Wars as “the War of 1812” will doubtless be eye opening, and something valuable to bring back to the States when you’re ready to become an associate professor.

Of course, Limey or Yank, an interest in the history of either of the World Wars can be greatly enhanced by spending time learning about WWI at the University of Munich (brush up on your German). Both the U.K. and the U.S. owe a lot to Rome, so spending time studying under Professor Guiseppe Sassatelli in Balogna would give you the chance to walk the history, not just see it in photographs.

Regardless of your origins, History has always taken place on an international stage. Studying it purely from a single national perspective can often limit the understanding that a professor can provide to students. So if you are planning to become a professor teaching history, go to the source and learn it abroad.

James Hinton is a life long learner with ambitions to become a university professor. Unfortunately for those ambitions, his four daughters are good at demonstrating how boring he would be.

If you enjoyed this post, check out guest post "An Average American Studying in Australia" and "Cultural Preparation for Studying Abroad." For proof that studying abroad, while awesome, is not always easy, check out my post "Networking: My Belfast Case-Study." Please leave comments/questions/Yankee rebuttals in the comments below!