Whether in the United States, mainland China, Macau or Hong Kong, there were always student parents asking me: “With a history major, what kind of job my kid may be able to find after graduation?”
I have two different levels of response to this question. The first one is straight, plain, and statistical. When I served as the Head of the History Department at an American liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, USA, I conducted a job survey of the Department’s BA graduates in the past three years. It turned out that history graduates could find jobs in more than 80 different fields, including secondary schools, archives, libraries, publishing houses, travel companies, research institutions, and so on. Interestingly, many employers like to hire history majors because they usually have critical thinking and creative insights and can efficiently make a business report with clear analysis and logics and compelling points. So, in fact, many of the roles that history graduates perform, such as managers, market researchers, project coordinators, agents for sales, secretaries, clerks, assistants, government officials, etc., have little direct relationship with their historical knowledge.
From this phenomenon, thus, comes my second response to the above question, which is indirect, abstract, and hard to refine. In fact, the statistics tells us that history major could do various jobs. Why? It is mainly because history training does not only equip students with a generic and cognitive capacity of social sciences that makes them more adaptable and more employable, but it also, more importantly, lays down a solid foundation for a continuing growth of their intelligence necessary for future career development. I have found out that overall, after four-year professional training, a history major usually has gained an insightful and multifaceted perspective, a broad and balanced view of the world and society, an in-depth understanding and profound concern of human beings and humanity, and an ability of writing excellent research papers independently. With such a capability and sober and healthy mind, the graduate is well ready to not only compete in the workplace but also meet with challenges of life from all sides. Many people think that history is a subject about the dead past, and that to study history is to mechanically memoize unfamiliar and boring names, places, events, and dates. Obviously, this is the most common misperception of history. What is history? For historians, history is as much about the present as it is about the past; Peoples and matters that are dead and forgotten are very much as those are alive and relevant; The present is born and developed from the past. History is a subject that endeavours to foster an intelligent dialogue between the present and the past, to give voice and meaning to the records and peoples that cannot speak, and to discover the root and cause of the contemporary problems. Its stimulating and dynamic force comes from the response to the enlightening questions of “why” and “how” rather than the rigid questions of “what” and “who”. Ever since ancient times, although eras have kept changing, never did all the fundamental issues faced by mankind throughout history— good and evil, crime and punishment, inequality and justice, poverty and luxury, war and peace, love and hate, life and death, etc. Nor was the mankind ever able to make these challenges disappear. Thus, through the study of history—the knowledge we acquire from the investigation of historical data and records in various forms—we can not only get a true sense of the wide world around us but also see where our own local communities and environments came from. Above all, history is an effective means to understand the human evolvement and how our predecessors addressed and dealt with the same things and problems we face today. History is a possibility of seeing the trajectory from the past to the present and the future. By studying history, it is possible to make a youth wise and mature.
Situated on the top of Braemar Hill at the North Point of Hong Kong and overlooking the beautiful Victoria Harbor, the uniqueness of our Department is well displayed by its geographical position. The University’s exquisite private campus is separated from the bustling outside world, but full of academic vitality. To achieve the common goal of an excellent liberal arts education, our teachers and students interact frequently in and out of the classroom, which is a typical scene of Western elite schools. From our vantage point, the Department plans, from the fall of 2021 on, to make the conventional teaching scope, namely Chinese history and world history, more systematised on the one hand, and on the other hand, urban history and the cultural and social history of Hong Kong as a new focus of teaching and research, in comparison with other cosmopolitan cities at San Francisco Bay, New York Bay, Tokyo Bay, etc. We will study Chinese history within world history, and urban history and Hong Kong history within Chinese history and world history. Hong Kong is a city with its own vibrant history and global reach, but so far, the imperative task to study the history of cities and Hong Kong has not yet been collectively taken by any history department in Hong Kong. Thus, we will, with English, Cantonese and Mandarin as the instruction medium and all Sino-Foreign academic sources available, provide a unique learning environment and the updated research information and source for those who are interested in Chinese history, world history and the urban life of big cities in general and Hong Kong in particular. The new program is interdisciplinary and incorporates some courses offered by other departments including sociology, communication, economics, etc. It will broaden the horizon of learning experience and job prospects for students via exchange programs with other schools in mainland China, Macao, Taiwan, Japan, the U.S., etc. as well as an internship program in partnership with institutions and companies in Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta. In doing so, our students will receive well-rounded, well-grounded, and well-oriented trainings and rich working experience. Indeed, what could be more fascinating and meaningful to one’s life than reading the stories and experiences of one’s ancestors? What can be more beneficial to one’s career development than linking one’s college education with the environment and history of a location where one is going to work for lifetime? On top of that, we are eager to promote the interest among the entire Hong Kong community, especially the youth, in learning from their own past for Hong Kong’s bright future!