How My Major In History Has Informed My Writing

Posted September 15, 2021 by Amber in Writing / 2 Comments

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When I started my college search, I knew I wanted to go to a school with a Writing major.  Not an English major – a Writing one.  It was important to me.  I settled on the closest school that checked all my and my parents’ boxes – a small liberal arts college in western New York.  When I say down to pick my major freshman year (because I never doubted what I wanted to do)… I was told that Writing majors were required to double-major, because you need content to encourage your writing.

I actually like this idea.  I ultimately decided on a triple major (I am ambitious) of Writing-History-Psychology.  One of my greatest college-related regrets is that I didn’t stick with my original plan and follow through on all those… but at the time I was worried about paying for school and graduating on time so when most my credits didn’t transfer when I did, I whittled it down to a History major with a writing minor and graduated on time from a school I could actually afford.  Ish.

For the record, the college I went to freshman year is sort of shitty and definitely oppressive.  The rules at the school are outright homophobic and it’s unfortunate because I met some of the best most open-minded people there (many of whom transferred out, unsurprisingly).

I have no regrets in majoring in History.  If I had the chance to go back and major in something more useful, like “Communications” or “Finance” I’d probably still pick History.  Studying History made me a better human by providing vision and empathy through better understanding of true history rather than the watered down, overly patriotic version taught in American high schools.

For all its faults, Houghton College’s original argument that it’s good to have subject matter to inform your writing resonated with me.

When I write fiction, I usually start with mythology or an event in history.  It’s one of the best places to seek inspiration.  I don’t write historical fiction – I primarily write fantasy, but some sci fi or contemporary.  This allows me to look at the events that have happened in our world and adapt them to my fantasy worlds.  Sometimes, I want to do a complete retelling.  Usually, I just take moments and weave them into my stories.

One of the best things I did for Fate was to closely study Rebecca Nurse’s pre-trial examination during the Salem Witch Trials and fold her conviction into Jessica’s defense.  In fact, I lean on the Salem Witch Trials a lot.  Salem and the Spanish Inquisition are good examples of baseless, violent prejudice and they make good foundations for stories about survival in the face of persecution.  When I wrote Sprite for Camp NaNoWriMo 2012, my villain was largely based on Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin.  People and events in history continue to inspire me, and the research and critical analysis skills I learned as a history major have been valuable assets as I form my stories.

Even though I didn’t get to go through with my dream triple major, and even though it’s spectacularly difficult to convince employers that you’re valuable with a major in history… I don’t regret it for a moment.  I wouldn’t recommend it necessarily because it comes with hardships, but my college major has provided so much dimension to who I am and how I write.

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Did you go to college / university?  If so, what did you study?  If you are planning to go, do you have any thoughts about your future career?  If you didn’t go, what field did you end up in?  Let’s chat in the comments!

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2 responses to “How My Major In History Has Informed My Writing

  1. Monica Laurette

    I did a dual major when I went to college: French & Communication with a concentration in Media Studies. I was lucky that the university that I went to had really great programs and some of my major courses counted as elective courses for the other, so I was able to finish on time. I want to work using media (social and not) in so many ways and French has always been a big part of my life. I am actually applying for my masters right now and hope to get accepted soon!

    • Amber

      All of my fingers and toes are crossed in hopes you get into the Masters program of your choice! It’s so good that you were able to double-major – it’s good to be able to have a major that’s easy to present to potential employers, but that passion subject brings joy and fulfillment. <3