Answering people's polite queries about what I studied at college is something I'll probably have to deal with for the rest of my life. I'm trying to get used to all the ways I can explain and/or defend my choice when people give me the split-second blank stare when I say I studied history. South Asian history specifically. There are so many predictable ways that people respond to this I think it merits several essays, but I'll try and condense them all into one.
1) "Why didn't you study European history?"
I think it goes to my credit that I have never, ever replied to this with a lecture about post-colonial complexes or Eurocentric world views. As badly as I have wanted to, good manners prevent me from telling people that if they try very hard, they might be able to get past the idea that the only history worth studying is that of England and France. In the event that they succeed in doing this, they might even ponder whether students in Europe are ever asked "yuck, why did you choose to study your own history, you should probs learn about Latin America first". I should add that if I flip it around and say I studied how colonial policies influenced South Asia and therefore admit to having learned about British history in a slightly roundabout way, most people are relieved that that I didn't just study "Pak. Studies". Oh, Pak. Studies. I want to say more, but I'll save it for another day.
2) "Why did you waste so many years studying history? It's over. You could have become a doctor or something instead and done something more with your life."
This is not an adaptation of a likely question, these are the exact words I have had to hear from several people on different occasions. As sorry as I am that I didn't have the interest or the stomach to go to medical school, I resent the notion that I am doing nothing important with my life. I like to believe that educating idiots like above-mentioned questioner is a very important goal to have. Also, for future reference, history is not over. Just the fact that people are able to say that makes me cry a little on the inside and wonder what the world is coming to. Of course, I have a slightly better idea of what the world might come to than the askers of this question, because they are most probably too busy congratulating themselves on having picked a practical field to actually think about anything.
3) "Why do you like memorising dates?"
I don't. I haven't had to memorise a date since tenth grade, which was long before college majors came along. I have never satisfactorily answered this question though, for one that's so common. It leaves me completely baffled as to what people think History majors do. Do you really think we all sit with our little timelines and memorise a comprehensive list of when everything happened in the world, ever?? Perhaps you think my final papers for my classes read like a chapter from an almanac, in which case I completely forgive you for wondering why I studied history.
4) "Why would you study South Asian history in America? Isn't it all biased?"
No. Contrary to what you might believe about all Americans (Indians? Jews?) having a hidden agenda to teach us the "wrong" history, it's not nearly as "biased" as the nonsense you're taught in South Asia. In fact, doesn't the whole idea of bias get negated when you're studying something through a neutral third party-in this case, Mount Holyoke College, which couldn't care less what I believe Pakistan's true place in the world to be?
5) "What are you going to do with your life?"
This is probably the only response out of the entire list of Why-did-you-study-history queries that actually makes sense, and the only one I can answer. Oh, I have no idea what I'm going to do with my degree! Then again, dear Economics and Political Science and Biochemistry majors-do you?