Elizabeth Brodie David '08
Position: Law Student; Former consultant at McKinsey and Company
Thesis Title: “History for a Changed World? Geoffrey Barraclough, the Campaign for University History, and the English Historical Profession in the Mid-Twentieth Century” Awarded the Hoopes Prize
During recruiting for post-college jobs, interviewers often asked me how my major, unlike degrees in Engineering or Economics that taught hard skills and “relevant” substantive knowledge, could help me in the workplace. In an attempt to defend the concentration I loved and to get a job(!), I proclaimed, albeit without total confidence, that History had taught me how to identify what causes change and that to have an impact in the real world required understanding how it could change and what could change it.
Fortunately, my one-liner in defense of History got me a job and proved true. At McKinsey & Company, where I worked for three years following graduation, each project required, at its most basic level, figuring out how to make change happen, how to come up with solutions that actually changed corporations, industries, and markets, sometimes even government and intergovernmental policy. As I worked to design a large-scale program to transform organizational behavior in a leading pharmaceutical company's research and development divisions to get more drugs through the pipeline, I thought of my intellectual history courses, which had taught me about the spread of ideological movements and how the world from the neck up could change the world from the ankles down. As I analyzed the dynamics of international cooperation on climate change in an effort to develop a global risk institution that could help to finance climate change adaptation, I recalled the Concert of Europe and the successful—and failed—strategies used to secure European peace in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Now, in my second year at Yale Law School, my day-to-day life involves fewer efforts to change the world or at least some of its major organizations and more time just studying it. Here, too, however, my History degree has been invaluable. I've taken and loved legal history courses but my History training—the moments I know that I'm thinking like a History concentrator—has extended far beyond classes that formally, titularly engage the historical. As I learn about a turn in the law, a shift in policy, or an otherwise altered environment, my History concentration leads, pushing me to question why the change happened when and as it did and to ask whether and how that transformation has created a new and different context.
My historical education has surely provided me with an interesting and rich store of knowledge to which I can return in my mind on a rainy day or in a long line at a coffee shop. However, it has crucially also given me exciting and useful ways of looking at and analyzing the world—understanding why and how it changes—which I've taken with me in the professional world and in law school and I know will accompany me wherever I go.