Katherine C. Harris '10
Position: Student; Former policy worker at the U.S. Department of Treasury
Field: Law & Politics
Thesis Title: “The Rise and Fall of the Practical Man: Debates over the Teaching of Economics at Harvard”
For those who doubt the utility of history, I would point to the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis exposed the failure of economic models to accurately forecast the future. It was a reminder of the value of history: the same themes recur, albeit under different circumstances. As Federal Reserve and Treasury officials designed TARP, developed the stress tests, and enacted other emergency measures, history served as an important guide. As an undergraduate, I chose to concentrate in history without much thought as to its potential use. I simply found it fascinating and liked the intimate feel of the department. I am still grateful for my faculty advisors, who remain ongoing mentors to me. Only later did I realize that history had helped to develop my analytical skills. It pushed me to looks at events through different lenses – skills that are transferrable to virtually any field. When I graduated, I spent two years at the U.S. Department of Treasury working on economic policy. The experience was simply remarkable. Today, I am at Yale Law School and my history degree continues to be of value. It not only prepared me for law school, but also created a community that exists beyond Harvard. There are many analytical tools that can help one solve problems. History is certainly an important one, particularly in areas like policy, law, and journalism, where judgments are often required without the time or ability to model all possible outcomes. I would encourage any student to take a leap of faith and join the history department because the old adage 'history repeats itself' is truer than one might suspect.