When I was a student in primary school and high school (many, many years ago), we were taught that Captain James Cook 'discovered' Australia in 1770 and the 'first people' to arrive in Australia were convicts, free settlers and soldiers who disembarked the eleven ships of the First Fleet in Botany Bay on January 26, 1788. This day became known as 'Australia Day' celebrating the 'discovery' of Australia. We were also taught that the members of the First Fleet were met by 'savages' who spoke no English and were largely unclothed and uncivilised.
There was little acknowledgement of the Dutch explorers who reported the existence of the Australian continent in the early 1600s, let alone mention of the long-standing presence or culture of the indigenous Australian peoples.
That was our history.
These days, Australian history education in school looks different. There is acknowledgement, first and foremost, of the fact that Australia was inhabited by our First Nations peoples long before the British arrived. And there is a deeper exploration of the richness of their culture and their past and ongoing contributions.
I recount this story by way of making the point that history is so often open to interpretation. Scholars can choose to leave aspects out or tweak the facts somewhat. Often, we rely on secondary sources of information to piece together a representation of what happened.
This article is going to explore the types of history students can study, the importance of history education and where you can find some of the best history degrees in Australia.
Why Study History?
When they think of history studies, many students immediately associate this with having to memorise names, events, dates, times and locations. Certainly, 'who, what, when and where' is a foundational part of any history degree or course but learning these facts is only a small part of this subject and merely paves the way to deeper and more fascinating historical knowledge and experience.
There are many other benefits of studying history, at any level from primary school through to a university bachelor, honours or master's degree.
- History helps us understand ... other cultures, our society, our identity and change.
- History builds ... reading and writing skills, interpretation and analysis skills and global citizenship.
- History allows us to learn from the past.
- History gives us insights into present-day problems.
Above all, history is the best story. It's a tale full of intrigue and adventure. Of romance and tragedy. It spans eras and has a vast global reach, allowing students to travel the world and through time.
What about after the degree?
You may be thinking that taking history courses in Australia won't set you up for much when it comes to your future career prospects — but you'd be wrong. With the skills and knowledge you gain from studying one of the many history degrees in Australia offered by universities and TAFE institutions, both online and on campus, your career options are diverse.
Career options directly related to history courses
- arts historian
- economic historian
- museum curator
- cultural heritage officer
- geographical historian
- research officer
- school teacher or university tutor
Other career options with skills from your history degree
- indigenous health worker
- interpreter or translator
- information management
- policy adviser
- intelligence work
- journalism and communications
- international relations
- international development and humanitarian work
- business management
Types of History Courses in Australia
There are a number of history degrees in Australia you can enrol in at the undergraduate level (bachelor or diploma) or postgraduate level (honours, master's etc).
As you start to look around at university courses, the first thing to consider is what area of history you want to specialise in. The major branches of history are:
- diplomatic (international relations)
- science and medicine
Within these branches, you may then elect to focus on ancient history, Australian history or modern history (among others depending on what your university offers).
Another decision students need to make is whether they want to study history as a full degree, as a major in another degree or as a dual degree.
For example, students can choose to study a full history degree such as an Advanced Diploma in Local, Family and Applied History, a Bachelor of Historical Inquiry and Practice or a Master of History.
Alternatively, history studies can be undertaken as part of an Undergraduate Certificate in Arts, a Diploma (or Advanced Diploma) in Arts, a Bachelor of Arts (with or without honours), a Bachelor of Arts with a Bachelor of Business, Laws or Science, a Graduate Certificate in Arts, a Graduate Certificate in Professional Practice, a Graduate Diploma in Professional Practice or a Master of Arts.
The dual degrees can be a good idea if you are interested in another field as well, such as science or law. Otherwise, if you know you want to work as a historian, a full history degree will be the way to go to best further your career.
Let's take a look at a few of the best places to get history degrees in Australia.
Best Places to Get a History Degree
With the upsurge in online study and learning options these days, particularly since all the lockdowns and caution around the pandemic, anyone can enrol in a university degree at any university in Australia and complete their studies from the comfort of their own home.
However, studying online requires more motivation and independence than some students realise and it can be a lonely three or four years completing your education if you're only interacting with fellow students and your tutors in the online world.
Online university study might suit your requirements at the moment, especially if you work or live in a more rural Australian region. However, there are also plenty of 'on campus' options for history courses in Australia that are thankfully opening up again if the full online education experience doesn't work for you or meet your requirements as a student.
Courses in Canberra
There are three major universities in Canberra, all of which offer historical study degrees at some level.
- Australian National University (ANU) offers a range of undergraduate bachelor and postgraduate degrees in history and short courses through its School of History and Australian Centre for Indigenous History.
- University of Canberra (UC) offers a range of Bachelor of Arts degrees where history can be taken as the major unit of study.
- Australian Catholic University (ACU) offers history as a major within various bachelor degrees, including global studies and theology.
Degrees in Sydney
There are lots of options for students who want to study at university level in Sydney.
- University of Sydney offers a history major that can be incorporated into almost any of their other degree courses. The course falls under the Arts and Social Science area.
- Macquarie University has a full time (or equivalent part time) Bachelor of Ancient History degree as well as other related degrees in archaeology, the arts and social science.
- University of New South Wales describes their history major as uniquely global with knowledge bases and modules covering Australia, the Pacific, the United States, Europe and most of Asia.
Courses in Melbourne
Melbourne is considered to be one of the best study locations in Australia and offers a number of courses in a range of fields.
- The University of Melbourne offers a global history major spanning medieval history through to modern.
- Deakin University is known for its historians who teach a range of history major courses.
- La Trobe University majors explore how migration, wars, colonialism, race and gender shaped social change, cultural identity and institutions in various countries, including Australia.
Study in Adelaide
With a relaxed and affordable student lifestyle, Adelaide is a beautiful place to spend four or so years studying.
- The University of Adelaide equips students to think historically about the world, drawing on new research as well as family knowledge to provide a well-rounded experience.
- Flinders University offers topics over three history specialisations each semester — Australian, European and World.
Historical learning in Perth
When it comes to studying at a tertiary level, many students forget about Perth simply because of its isolation from the rest of Australia. But, this is to their detriment as Perth is a well-kept study secret.
- University of Western Australia allows students to combine their subjects to reflect their interests. For example a student can choose to study classic literature and ancient history.
- Curtin University offers an undergraduate history major.
- Murdoch University brings history to the present with modules such as The Empire Strikes Back: Imperialism and Colonialism in Modern History.
With the climate and lifestyle, let's be honest, who doesn't want to study in Brisbane?
- Griffith University believes that historical study plays an important part in developing valuable career skills and offers history as a major in most of its undergraduate and postgraduate courses.
- University of Southern Queensland offers a Bachelor of Arts in History with major subjects in anthropology, indigenous studies and international relations (among many others).
A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.
Will you be part of that generation?
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