History, it is sometimes pointed out – notably in my experience by relatives seeking to persuade a prospective applicant to study Law or Management instead – is not primarily a vocational subject. A relatively high proportion of Oxford History graduates continue with the subject, as academics, archivists, writers, and more especially in recent years as schoolteachers. Some do that immediately, but others also return to it, either as graduate students or teachers as a consequence of mid-life changes of direction.
Very few, however, ever leave the subject. This is very evident from reading the pleasingly large number of postcards we continue to receive in response to the mailing we sent out in January. Amidst the replies, there are many references to History-related careers, but also to all of the other things that Oxford Historians do. Psychiatrists, clergy, social workers, and naval officers, all feature among the correspondents, along with one who related that the inspiration he had received from reading Karl Marx as an undergraduate had directed his subsequent career as a tax accountant, and a civil servant who finds his responsibilities as a post-Brexit trade official to be much assisted by having studied the Peel Special Subject.
The general conclusions, such as they are, therefore lie not in the profession or in the practice but in the inspiration. Many of your postcards focus on the way in which studying History has been an enduring source of joy and of enrichment, a discipline for sorting out arguments, and a means of achieving a certain perspective; what one correspondent termed “the ability to place everything of the present in the context of the past.” That is something that I suspect many of us have been drawing on over the last year, and we shall continue to do so.
- Dr Martin Conway
Chair of the History Faculty Board