Why I am a history major at MIT
Excerpt from the MIT Admissions Blog
A guest Blog by Dora '11, a double major in Physics and History/Ancient Medieval Studies
To really answer the question, I would have to go back to my high school days. Back then, there were two subjects I loved equally: physics and history. I toyed briefly with the idea of going to a liberal arts college to study history, politics, and international relations, but couldn’t really pass up going to a school like MIT and still sleep easy at night. With my first step into the Infinite Corridor as a real MIT student, I came to peace with the fact that I would have to forsake one of my passions for the full pursuit of the other.
Discovering MIT History
But fortunately MIT has the HASS system, which for most, mandates us to take eight humanities classes before we graduate. As I was setting out for a daunting yet exciting semester of waves and vibrations and special relativity the fall of my sophomore year, I decided to reacquaint myself with an old friend and poke around the history department’s subject listings.
History as a fascinating narrative
[In] my first 21H.406 lecture...I was hardly aware of the ninety minutes flying by as I listened to the professor tell the story of the civil war between the generals Marius and Sulla as they battled for power in Rome– and that was exactly what he was doing: telling a story. I was experiencing history as I never had before, not as a set of events and facts that had occurred in the past, but as a narrative, comprising of dynamic players that were as human as we are today.
I soon reached the conclusion that I wanted to double major in Ancient and Medieval studies.
"Humanities at MIT carries a distinctly MIT feel:
challenging, stimulating, and entirely fulfilling."
Sharing ideas in a community
[T]here are lots of people here who love the humanities, and who approach subjects in humanities with the same excitement and fervor that they approach their technical fields. Since MIT is undeniably a tech school, I’ve become really close friends with the small group of people who share my passion of history, since we all take the same classes together repeatedly and have had bonded over the material. We often discuss the history that we’ve learned together for hours on end...and looking back, I can definitely say that I have met some of my best and most compatible friends here at MIT through my history classes.
Through history, I’ve also created valuable relationships with many members of the history faculty. Perhaps this is partly a by-product of the fact that I now spend all of my free waking hours in building E51, where the history department is housed, but in the small, personable humanities classes here, it’s pretty much impossible to not know your professor.... it is definitely a refreshing change of pace to walk into a normal classroom and have the professor smile at me and ask, “Hey, Dora, how’s it going?” You come to learn that your professors are really awesome and fun people who also happen to assign whole books on the study of death in the Civil War for next week’s reading (True story. Utterly depressing, but was one of the most intriguing books I’ve read while at MIT).
Learning to think and write well
So, what is humanities, especially history, at MIT to me? It’s tremendously valuable experience, and one that has allowed me to grow in so many ways as a student. Because of it, I have become a much better writer and I now know how to build a solid case supported by evidence and how to express that clearly and logically in a paper. This not only manifests in the history papers that I write, but in my technical writing as well.
I have also been able to forge some of the best and closest relationships with professors... [and] I have engaged in heated discussions with a small group of students, ones that I’ve kept in touch with even after the class ended and with whom I am now good friends.
To sum things up — humanities at MIT carries a distinctly MIT feel: challenging, stimulating, and entirely fulfilling.