Before I went to college, my high school advisors strongly encouraged me to choose a “practical” major. Science, technology, engineering, math – any of these fields would lead to a promising career. I rebelled. I chose to study international affairs and history.
People today think of humanities majors as the “starving artists” of academia – students who’ve sacrificed profit for passion. I couldn’t disagree more.
Many forget there’s considerable overlap between the humanities and the hard sciences. Specifically in an area that’s captured my interest – environmental history.
Environmental historians study the relationship between people and their environment and how that relationship affects both the course of human history and the biophysical world. Together, historical thinking and scientific analysis provide scholars with unique perspective. Ask environmental historians why the Roman Empire fell, and they’ll say lead poisoning.
The Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences recently published a report that promotes collaboration between the humanities and the hard sciences, claiming that the humanities “provide context for international policy decisions regarding the environment, global health, and human rights.”
This couldn’t be truer. If countries are to agree on scientific policies, they need to understand each other’s histories, cultures and politics.
Students shouldn’t be forced to choose a particular field or shamed for choosing to study something that’s deemed less desirable. When the humanities and the sciences are pitted against one another, interdisciplinary studies get lost in the crossfire.
It’s clear that our country’s future is dependent on humanists, scientists and those who fall somewhere in between. We need to encourage students to follow their passions.
Our society needs passionate people.
Colleen Teubner is a student at the George Washington University and an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies.