How is the course structured?
The degree in History is clearly divided into three main periods: antiquity, medieval times and modern history. Ancient History covers the times of the Greeks and Romans; Medieval History looks at Charles the Great, among others. Modern History does not begin with Napoleon or even with Bismarck, but back in 1500. Some historians consider the discovery of America in 1492 to be the decisive turning point; others the start of the reformation in 1517. In the first few semesters, Bachelor's students gain an insight into three periods through lectures and seminars. However, the individual elements often do not build on one another, but rather cover specific aspects. The range of options within the individual modules are accordingly diverse. A seminar on Modern History can consider the French Revolution or the Cold War. Students prove their expertise in exams and coursework; they hold presentations, write essays, and demonstrate their knowledge in oral exams. In exercises, the aspiring historians learn how to produce academic work and to apply the discipline's methodologies. The reading of sources constitutes one particularity; at some universities, the according courses are even mandatory. During these, students learn "how to make the sources speak volumes," explains Peter Funke, a Professor for Ancient History at the University of Münster. "The approach to dealing with all types of written documents is a historian's core task." Critical distance is essential when working with records, legal texts and correspondence. History students learn how to verify their authenticity, and to ascertain the motive for writing them before drawing any conclusions. Johanna Körner is in the fourth semester of a Bachelor's degree in History in Gießen and analysed a letter from Columbus to a friend and supporter in Portugal in a source analysis exercise: "I found the number of comparisons made by Columbus to give his friend back home an impression particularly interesting. He wrote, for example, that the mountains in America resembled those on Tenerife." Practical modules are a feature at many universities. Most entail a work placement ? in an archive or museum, for example. Students must find their own work placement. Sometimes field trips also form part of the syllabus. Heidelberg student, Inéz-Maria Wellner, recalls: "We spent three days in Berlin conducting archive research. It was super ? hands-on history! There were some GDR documents in little boxes, and I thought to myself that they might contain something sensational that I would be the one to unearth." In later semesters during the Bachelor's degree, students can decide on their own specialisation ? they can choose to concentrate on the 20th century or the 8th century, for example. They can also specialise in a sub-area, such as Economic and Social History, Constitutional History, Eastern European History, the Regional History of the Rhineland, the History of Technology or Gender History. At some universities, such specialisations are already offered in the first semester. However, Münster professor Peter Funke recommends: "Those wishing to consider history in depth should begin with as broad a degree as possible." "The Master's degree that almost all students go on to take after the Bachelor's degree is then there to specialise." Besides general Master's courses in History with a focus on a particular era, many universities offer special courses. In Regensburg, for example, it is possible to become a science historian; in Potsdam, to specialise in Military History; in Frankfurt (Oder) and Magdeburg, to focus on European Cultural History. It is also worth considering changing universities for the Master's course. Particularly those, who took their Bachelor's degree at a university with a small History department, should take advantage of this opportunity, recommends Funke: "A degree in History flourishes on its diversity, and in this respect, large departments tend to have more to offer than small ones." Many students of History wish to become teachers. The degree to gain a teaching qualification differs from state to state.
Historians increasingly work with colleagues from other disciplines or use their methodologies. Darmstadt University of Technology offers a Master's course in "History, the Environment and the City", during which architectural and technical aspects are considered in addition to historical ones. In Hanover, both historians and students of American Studies, Cultural Studies and Social Sciences learn how Europe, Africa and America were intertwined centuries ago (Master's degree in Atlantic Studies in History, Culture and Society). This approach that attempts to consider historical processes globally, free from national perspectives, has been adopted for some time now. The focus is increasingly on the history beyond Europe's borders: in Heidelberg, for example, the focus is on the history of South Asia; in Bayreuth on Africa. The European Master's degree in Classical Cultures is interdisciplinary and international. Students attend at least two universities in two different countries for this. All aspects of Antiquity ? from history to architecture through to language ? are covered. Twelve universities participate in the programme: besides the German universities in Hamburg, Freiburg and Münster, those in Rome, Toulouse, Athens and Istanbul are also involved.
Aptitude, obstacles, misconceptions
An enthusiasm for reading is a must for students of History. "It has sometimes been the case that we have had to read 70 pages within the space of just one week for a seminar," tells Johanna Körner from Gießen. Though databases for literature research and digitalised copies of historic documents have become a standard component of the course in recent years, there is still no way around books. Many of those to start the degree also underestimate how long it takes to verify sources. Those decoding a Medieval record word by word will need far more time for this than those working on newspaper reports from the Weimar Republic, for example. Because there is no wrong or right in Historical Science, people must reach their own conclusions ? and then be able to justify these well. "Proof does not exist for everything; you must be able to deal with that," says Heidelberg student Inéz-Maria Wellner, and tells of the coursework she completed on the Roman barracks emperors period. "Only a few sources exist for this time, and the literature is almost pure speculation. I found it a bit frustrating to be honest." Those wishing to study History must master several foreign languages. Language skills can often also be refreshed during special courses in the first semester. Given that historians must publish a great deal in English, students should be able to read English as well as they can German. Latin is no longer mandatory everywhere, however most universities require students to either have obtained the 'Latinum' qualification in Latin or to have at least have taken a course in the subject. Depending on the orientation, skills in other languages are also required: those wishing to specialise in Antiquity will need to understand Ancient Greek; those interested in Latin America should be proficient in Spanish or Portuguese. Those interested in studying History should apply directly to the universities. A local numerus clausus applies at around half of universities. This varies from year to year and is often around a 2.9 or higher. There mostly aren't any admission restrictions for the Master's courses, although a mark of at least 2.5 in the Bachelor's degree is sometimes required.
The two classic fields of work for historians are archives and museums. Those wishing to work in an archive must complete further training at a library or archive school, which normally takes around two years. The route into a career at a museum generally involves voluntary work. Historians are also active in other fields however. Many work in another discipline later on: in press or personnel departments, as tour guides or speech writers. Other opportunities exist in advertising and further education, at publishing houses and foundations, in political consulting and at associations. However, such positions are also of interest to other humanities graduates. "That problem is that there is no clear-cut profession," explains Professor Peter Funke. Thus many historians find it difficult to break into the work market. According to a survey conducted in 2010 by the Hochschul-Informations-System GmbH, just 32 per cent of graduates had managed to find a job within one year of graduating. Just 13 per cent had a permanent full-time job. "It isn't enough to say 'I studied History'. Work placements are also a must," tells Martina Kütterer, 24. She is currently doing a Master's at the University of Tübingen, and works in the department work placement office, advising other students on their applications and on the search for a suitable job. Humanities graduates can generally structure information well and explain complex issues: "History students are in fact generalists, but unfortunately there are still too few employers aware of this."
REPORT BY: KATHRIN FROMM
historicum.net:An introduction to a variety of research areas ? from the Swabian War to Napoleon. Good to gain an initial impression of historical topics.
clio-online.de:A course database and series of scholarship opportunities are listed under "Jobs and funding".