Past opens the door to fortune in future

November 15, 2002

History may be bunk, but its graduates are the future of UK plc, according to research that reveals that the subject turns out more directors of top companies than any other.

The research being conducted by David Nicholls, head of history at Manchester Metropolitan University, began as a personal crusade to persuade sceptics that a history degree offered excellent career prospects.

Professor Nicholls said: "With a history degree you can aspire to be prime minister, a press baron, overlord of the BBC, famous lawyer, archbishop of Canterbury, diplomat, Oxbridge vice-chancellor, famous comedian, business multimillionaire or celebrated pop musician."

His research into the careers of thousands of history graduates has shown a disproportionate number of high-fliers. "Not only do history graduates enter a wide range of careers, many rise to the top," he said.

Historians holding political power include Gordon Brown, Alan Milburn and John Prescott. At least four historians have become bishops in the past ten years. And in business, historians have swept the board. Among the company directors, chief executives and managing directors who studied history are supermarket supremo Lord Sainsbury, Sir Roland Smith, chairman of Manchester United plc, and Anita Roddick, founder of Body Shop.

Professor Nicholls said his research had a serious aim. "There is an increasing threat to history in schools and universities," he said, citing anecdotal evidence that headteachers were persuading pupils to take "easier" subjects - "so league-table results will improve", he said.

"The UK is the only country where it is not a compulsory part of the curriculum post-14. Albania used to be the only country that had that dubious honour."

The research, backed by a National Teaching Fellowship award, will now look into the skills of historians at school and university to discover why, for instance, significant numbers of cabinet ministers (six at present) and vice-chancellors are historians. As history graduate Sacha Baron Cohen, aka Ali G, might say: "For real."

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