MA in History

Ann Steensland, 2013

Ann Steensland

Why did you decide to pursue an M.A. in History?

When I graduated from college, someone told me that if I ever went to graduate school I should study something that I love.  I instantly decided that “someday” I would pursue a graduate degree in history.  “Someday” turned out to be a lot longer than I imagined, but it was worth the wait.

What was your most rewarding class? Why?

I chose to focus on South African history during my first African history class with Ben Carton. One memorable evening, Prof. Robert Edgar from Howard University visited our class.  I was inspired by his remarkable experiences in researching and writing SA history.  Prof. Edgar encouraged the class to consider focusing our research on SA.  As he said, South Africa is a place where telling stories really matters.  This was also the class where I discovered the topic of my M.A. thesis: The Carnegie Commission Report on the Poor White Question in South Africa.                                                                           

How has the M.A. program helped you with your career or your personal interests?

The research, analytical and writing skills that I developed during my M.A. studies are essential to my work as a policy analyst.  There is also a great deal of overlap between my policy work and my historical research in that both focus on agricultural development, rural poverty, environmental degradation, and health and nutrition.  My training as a historian also helps me critically examine the policies I am analyzing and ask questions that (hopefully) reveal new perspectives and approaches to issues such as developing agricultural value chains for small farmers or creating healthy food systems.

Any career advice you would give to students in the program?

I think more employers are realizing the value of skills that historians use every day: gathering and evaluating data, critical thinking, and writing.  I would encourage students to look for opportunities to write about their academic research in a shorter form for a general audience (i.e. a blog).  These can serve as writing samples for potential employers who will never read a 20-page paper.  

Tell us something that people would be surprised to know about you.

I know how to shingle a roof.  Every time I volunteer with Habitat for Humanity I end up on the roof laying down shingles – usually in 90 degree weather.