The Department of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town has a long and proud tradition of academic excellence, professional leadership and social sensitivity. It is the oldest university history department in sub-Saharan Africa. Over more than a century, it has hosted and trained many of South Africa’s most creative, authoritative and impactful historians.
Our students have been successful in a wide range of careers both within the academic and beyond. As one of the most prestigious departments in the highest ranked university in the continent, we are intent on maintaining our traditional strengths in original research on southern African history, while actively developing research and teaching interests in connected and comparative histories.
Why consider a major in History?
The first thing that you will have to remember is that history is much, much more than dry dates and petty events. It is a way of making sense of the world. What do we teach you at the Department of Historical Studies? Apart from everything else, we teach you how to engage and intervene in debates, how to make informed and reasoned decisions, how to substantiate your claim against the contending views, and how to express yourself in a clear, concise and compelling narrative. We help you appreciate every facet of life as part of a broader and more complex context. Where others see chaos, confusion and randomness, history students recognise patterns, processes and interconnections. Along with very useful technical skills, students of this Department develop a remarkable aptitude for original thinking, cogent reasoning, persuasive writing, and critical analysis. This allows them to become some of the most sophisticated decision-makers in their age-group. It is no surprise therefore that very different kinds of employers – law firms, media houses, advertising agencies, NGOs, government bodies, even finance companies – look so favourably upon our graduates.
Yes. More than anybody else, history students as a rule are better trained in examining the bigger picture, in efficiently analysing data, in elegantly and competently navigating their way through conflicting versions and uncertain information. But that does not mean that history is not cool or that the discipline has a “geeks only” board attached at its entrance. History is also fun. The practice of the historical craft is entertaining, exciting and captivating. There are many different levels of excitement. In the archives you get to act as a detective, solving age-old mysteries that no one had been able to crack before. In oral history sessions you get a rich opportunity for human interaction which very few disciplines can offer: you can support the ordinary, disadvantaged, marginalized people to narrate their experiences in their own words. Through your research you can make a real difference in policy and/or in community life. Your concrete knowledge of the past, sharpened by your trained capacity for informed generalisations, will make you a much sought-after graduate to a wide range of professional fields including but also far beyond the academic sector. And, finally, there is always the unparalleled delight of knowing something original, of visiting a time that most others have forgotten about, of discovering one’s own beginnings in the most unsuspected of places.
The practical skills that we hope you will learn in your three undergraduate years with us will be very appropriate for jobs in the primary and secondary levels of the education sector, in the heritage and tourism industry, in cultural resource management and historic preservation activities, in the publishing business, in museum and gallery work, in documentary film-making, in librarianships and information management, in legislative staff work, in litigation support and consultancy, as well as in marketing and public relations.