Why I’m Studying History instead of English

I’m a student. I’m in my second year of a BA in History. And as much as I lowkey love the idea of becoming a historian, the real reason I chose the history program is because I’m a writer.
Now, I’ve had lots of people ask me why I’m not in the English program if my ultimate goal is to write. Here are a few of the reasons:

  1. I didn’t love the English classes I took.

Let me be clear. I did love them, but I didn’t love love them. Is that clear? Probably not. In another way, while I love the study of literature, I really dislike literary criticism and writing academic essays about literature. I find them more draining than fulfilling. I love the literature. I love discussing the literature, but the papers hurt me and I can’t imagine four years of feeling drained like that. I don’t think that should be what I aspire to do in my education.

Luckily I have enough friends who love literature and the discussion of literature as much as I do, so I still get my literary fix even when I’m not in English classes.

I should also mention that I am minoring in English because I do want to continue reading a wide array of literature and styles while I’m in school.

       2. The bulk of the work of an English degree is not creative writing.

There’s very little writing done in an English degree that fits with the writing that I do for my novels. Honestly, if the goal was to go to school to learn to write fiction or creative nonfiction, an English degree would leave you sorely under prepared. But, I don’t think that is a fair judgment of the purpose of an English degree anyway. My English majors may disagree, but I would say that the purpose of an English degree is to learn how to critically analyze all forms of literature in order to effectively present a well reasoned and logical argument that understands the nuances of literary works of all kinds.

There’s nothing wrong with that at all. In fact I applaud those who undertake the study of literature. An English degree just doesn’t suit my needs or goals that I am looking for from my studies

Now that I’ve kind of outlined why I didn’t join the English program, here are a few of the reasons that I opted to join the history program.

  1. I primarily write high fantasy.

In high fantasy, one of the most important elements is developing the world and the people that inhabit the world. History is particularly suited to this task. In my history classes I learn about the rise and fall of nations and people, how societies are formed, and how empires get established, and how culture is birthed. I can then take the ways in which cultures are created and apply the same methods to my own world. Studying history allows me to create balanced and nuanced cultures not based just on the typical medieval england stereotypes to which many fantasy novels default.

         2. History provides a wealth of inspiration.

It’s often said that there’s nothing new under the sun. So instead of trying to create something original and new, I can look to history to provide the models of the stories I want to create. There are many figures from history that would make excellent protagonists of a novel. The beauty of studying history is the fact that every lesson is a wealth of inspiration for a potential character, societal trait, or entire book.

        3. Research papers are the most fun to write, but also the most functional to my writing.

I love, like love love writing research papers. There’s something so satisfying about researching a topic to the point of feeling like an expert on a particular instance or person or event in history and then writing about that event. Not only are research papers satisfying, they are very open ended and can be written on just about anything! And because they are so open, I have the ability to choose a topic that I think would be helpful research for a book that I want to write.

I’ve always wanted to write about a Joan of Arc type figure, so naturally I chose to write a paper about her. As I was working on the outline for my pirate novel, I wrote a paper on the Dutch Protestant pirates, the Sea Beggars. The culture that bred such a group of people was invaluable to my own pirate world that I was cultivating.

There are of course other reasons that I chose the history program instead of the English program, but these are a few of the main reasons that helped me make my decision as a student and a writer.

Are you a student who has their eyes on being a writer full-time? What are you studying? If you’re not in school anymore, what did you study and how has it affected the way you write?

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