Dear 100 Hour Board,
I am a history major, one of three I know outside the coven of my history classes. I was talking to a friend who is an engineering major and takes a bunch of super-tough math and physics classes and werf remarked how hard history is! I disagreed and remarked that I am an absolute duffer at math, to which werf remarked how easy math is.
Mathophiles, what makes math so easy and history so hard for some of you peoples? Historyphiles, why are some of us so bad at math?
What could potentially even make history hard?
- Sultan Hafiz ibn Risaas
I'm a math person. Math is easy, it makes sense, and things follow logically from one element to the next. I find history fascinating and enjoy reading historical non-fiction, but studying for history tests are brutal. It's just so much rote memorization. It's the same thing with learning a language, you have to simply memorize so many little things that don't actually connect in any way that it's just hard. I can follow a logical sequence of events from start to finish and understand the whole thing. But if you make me memorize a set of random facts I will have a much harder time.
That's how it plays out from my perspective anyways.
-Curious Physics Minor
I'm another math person, and for roughly the same reasons as CPM outlined. I've heard history majors say that the more you learn, the less it's about rote memorization, which makes sense since you'd get to a level where you start seeing more immediate cause and effect. However, I've never had enough interest to get anywhere near that level so history tests remain, as CPM said, "brutal."
Interestingly, I love foreign languages. They are definitely less logical than math, but they're still more logical and regular than history, in my opinion. I've always had a strong love of language and words, so my innate interest in the field makes up for any memorization difficulties.
My, but we have a lot of science-oriented people responding here. I'm another math/physics person, and I more or less agree with CPM's take on why math and science make sense. I also enjoy history (to some extent) and have a pretty good memory. As a result, I do well in it, but I don't enjoy it enough to want to pursue a degree in it. Though I can do the rote memorization (and a fair amount just sticks from reading/hearing it), it's still kind of a chore.
I'm not a history person per se, but I am absolutely not a math person. I never cared for math. It makes robots out of people. Everyone has to get the same answer, and often they have to use the same method to get that answer. In math, everyone had best have the exact same answer, in English, if anybody has the exact same answer somebody cheated. I prefer the creative freedom of the humanities over the rigidity of the hard sciences (I'm certain that the sciences allow tons of freedom eventually, but I never got far enough to enjoy that). I never really liked math (though oddly enough, I love creating Excel formulas...), I liked history quite a bit, but I prefer English. And I much prefer Cultural Studies.
Dear SHiR (Good thing you weren't in Tajikistan or something.):
I like to consider myself something of a Renaissance woman. In my ideal world, majors wouldn't exist, and we could just all have well-rounded, interdisciplinary educations.
I hope this doesn't come across as cocky, but I really can say that I was, hands down, the best student in my AP European History class. (It was a bit funny to read my sophomore year's journal and remember the tension my curve-breaking caused with some of my friends.) If I read something, I could very well remember it indefinitely. The memorization of facts isn't a chore to me: it's fun! I could still tell you about the French Revolution, Queen Victoria, and the events leading up to World War I. The Civilization courses here at BYU have been among my favorite.
But still, I can't picture myself majoring in history. The grossest thing about that major to me would be the endless research papers of doom. You don't have to worry about that in high school.
Despite my literary bent, there is still a part of me that craves scientific knowledge. Something about a well-formed integral or a perfect stoichiometric balancing is just so beautiful, so pure. It was really fun to grade Calculus homework this semester, and be able to have that level of precision: no subjectivity required. History will change depending on who's interpreting it, but math? The underlying principles of math cannot change! Definitionally, it is a self-contained logical system. And it's all around us.
But then, I didn't want to be a math major either. Anything gets boring if you have too much of it. That's probably part of why I ended up in one of the shortest majors possible, so I would have time to fill my schedule with interesting classes from several departments. Probably the best fields of study in my mind are those which incorporate scientific, historical, and humanities-like tools. I like linguistics, because it's a much more methodical, rule-governed approach to language than, say, "But what did Voltaire mean?" I like bioethics, because you have to back up your arguments with scientific proof, but it's not just plug-and-chug all the time. I like working in a genetics lab better than I liked genetics classes, because I'm actually using it. I liked a molecular biology class I took in high school, because we not only went in the lab, but also watched relevant movies, had readings, etc.
Those are my thoughts. I think some people are more unilateral thinkers, and others, like me, like to make connections between different things they learn, and sometimes end up with no more than two classes per department per semester.
I'm totally a history guy. I used to be excellent at math, but it's such a linear discipline that you have to really follow through all the way to get to the end. It's not that I don't have the capacity for it, but I'm just not that focused, and it's not that interesting. I'm a much more scatterbrained, random learner, and that's what I like about history. You can learn about any different era with equal effectiveness, and put it all into context later. I understand best by looking at the "big picture." The arcs of civilizations, governments, language and cultural diaspora, and how geography affects the march of history. I love how everything builds on what came before. I love how you can break down systemic political and economic policy into individual people and events. The vast swathe of history is one big epic story that never ends. History is real. Until you get to physics and chemistry, math is just abstract ideas with no really interesting application.
Sure, math majors will end up making twice as much... but I guess that's the way it is.