“History is not about the past. It’s about arguments we have about the past.”-- Prof. Ira Berlin (1941-2018)
As historians, we take pleasure in the difficulty of our profession. Our gaze falls on the entire sweep of human experience and our subject, humankind, is the most perplexing of all.
As a consequence, the history department in a large American university can often seem to outsiders like a Tower of Babel, or the proverbial Ship of Fools, a place where a variety of approaches, fields of study, and scholarly voices collide. Certainly, this is the case at the University of Maryland. In College Park in a single hallway, can be found a world-renowned specialist in the history of slavery in the U.S. working alongside an environmental historian whose studies have examined the development of the German Autobahn, or a film historian who has explored the rise of modernism in American cinema. A little farther along this same corridor can be discovered specialists in sixteenth-century Venice, the American Revolution, Women’s History, the Progressive Era, American legal history, African colonialism, Habsburg Vienna, and Ancient Rome.
As a consequence of the variety of subjects we study, we often have little in common as far as method or viewpoint. We are convinced nonetheless that there is a method in this very diverse madness. We learn from one another, and thus our variety of approaches is a great strength.
We do not study the past to illuminate the present, or to predict the future, but to train our minds to be better able to react to the challenges of the present. As historians, we are not nostalgic about the past, but we do find it an infinitely fascinating reservoir of dilemmas, wisdom and folly. So have a look around our web pages, and read some of our faculty bios. Then, you’ll see just how diverse and rich a place the University of Maryland’s Department of History is. We hope you’ll want to join us.
Our students have distinguished themselves in law, medicine, academia, broadcasting, and the theater. And so, when people ask you why you’ve decided to study history, you can answer confidently: “Because it’s the story of the human condition, and as such it presents the ideal foundation for whatever profession I might want to pursue.”