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History

Treston Chandler ’16

When you arrived at Lake Forest College, did you know you wanted to major in history?

I arrived at Lake Forest undeclared, but after the first week of classes I was fairly certain I would double major in History and Politics.  Throughout high school I had become more and more interested in both topics, and exposure to them at a college level was enough to draw me in.  I remember discussing my FIYS summer paper, which analyzed various autobiographical statements written by Abraham Lincoln, with my professor and knowing I wanted to continue doing that.  I realized that I would not only gain valuable life and career skills studying history, but that I would get to engage in fascinating and stimulating intellectual pursuits as well.

You double majored in History and Politics. Describe how these two areas of study complemented each other.

History and Politics are natural complements. Throughout my college career, I found my work in one major regularly helped the other, whether it be through having additional historical context to a particular political theory or discussion, or being able to employ a particular skill that I had learned in my other major. For example, I was able to draw on my knowledge of the abolition movement gained through history courses I took on the antebellum period in the United States to better understand the differing political approaches of William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass vis-à-vis abolition. Similarly, the essays I wrote summarizing and analyzing political philosophies of various thinkers proved valuable in Professor Steve Rosswurm’s History Methods course when we were given the task of critiquing 300-page books in under three pages. On a personal level, I find having a good understanding of the political system and the history behind it is quite valuable in today’s political climate.

Can you describe a History professor who had a particular influence on you?

Professor Anna Trumbore Jones pushed me outside my comfort zone of U.S. history and deeper into the past, and for that I am forever grateful. Not only did she help me improve my writing and historical analysis, but she pushed me to further engage my intellectual curiosity about the past—learning for the sake and enjoyment of learning. The seminars I took with Professor Jones on the history of Christianity were my favorite classes of my college career. I highly recommend them.

Was there a particular piece of work that you remember as especially rewarding or challenging?

My thesis on the 1978 Camp David Accords and the relationship between Jimmy Carter and Anwar el-Sadat would be the natural answer for a challenging and rewarding piece of work I encountered while at Lake Forest.  It is the hardest and most ambitious project I have ever attempted. However, I would like to highlight two other assignments here.  First, an assignment for Professor Jones’s medieval history survey that tasked students with putting undated primary sources in chronological order.  It was a brilliantly designed exercise that forced me to simultaneously consider the context, word choice, and motivation behind each text that I might have otherwise neglected to consider after drawing assumptions from the source’s production date.  Second, the final assignment for Professor Rosswurm’s History Methods course that gave students a historical figure’s collection of letters and asked them to find and solve an historical problem.  I picked Theodore Roosevelt’s letters and ended up writing about an incident in 1906 known as the Brownsville Affair.  The challenge of sifting through eight volumes of letters and discovering an historical problem I wanted to solve helped prepare me well for my thesis.

Please describe your jobs and/or graduate study after college.

I currently work as a research associate at a small non-profit that works to counter the proliferation of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems by profiling the companies and individuals involved in proliferation-related transactions.  On a daily basis I am engaged in extensive open source research on various companies and individuals—essentially learning everything I can about these entities in order to write miniature histories of them. I scour the Internet, government and international organization publications, trade data, printed materials, and anything else I can get my hands on to gain the most complete picture possible of a particular entity.  I then determine what is relevant to include in the profile and write a concise summary of what I have found.  These profiles are used by governments and corporations around the world to screen transactions and shipments to ensure no suspicious parties are involved. 

Many of our students worry that traditional liberal arts majors (particularly in the humanities) will not translate to job skills. Share your advice.

I understand why students are hesitant to major in the Humanities given the “What can you do for me now?” work culture present today, but I posit that a Humanities major—particularly History—is the perfect balance between pursuing one’s intellectual curiosities and gaining practical, applicable job skills.  Indeed, I find that employers I interact with highly value individuals that have a good understanding of the past and the ability to place the present within the context of the past—both things that History majors gain while in college.  In my experience, employers want to see well-rounded and articulate individuals who are able to convey interest in, and knowledge of, the world around us. Humanities majors are taught a particular way of thinking that naturally lends to such an ability.  I also encourage students to combine a Humanities major with another major outside the field and allow the two degrees to complement each other.                                                                                                      

How do the skills and knowledge you acquired in your history major inform your day-to-day work?

I use my “History skills” on a daily basis.  One of the most important skills I learned at Lake Forest was how to evaluate sources and consider the reliability of information the sources present.  I often come across sources that present conflicting information, and I have to determine which source to glean information from or whether I should discard both sources as unreliable.  Another useful skill I learned at Lake Forest is the ability to take large amounts of information and produce concise summaries of it.  I recall an assignment that involved summarizing a fifty-page article in less than 250 words.  Most of the entity profiles I write are about that length and sometimes come from a similar amount of information, so I regularly employ that skill. Finally, I still follow the same general research and writing process writing entity profiles that I used when writing history papers at Lake Forest.  Also, footnotes are your friends—embrace them, enjoy them, learn to live and breathe them!  My experience with footnotes in college has certainly helped me in my current position.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Don’t let someone discourage you from majoring in History by telling you History majors are not employable.  They most certainly are!  I encourage students to worry less about the skills one may be gaining and focus more on the learning and the process.  Students will find that if they focus on doing their best and learning as much as possible, they will suddenly discover they have a vast array of valuable skills they never knew they had.

I also encourage History majors to take courses in a number of different historical concentrations.  I found a passion for areas of history I had never considered through diversifying my history portfolio.