At this very moment, a U of C student is asking "history? What the hell am I going to do with a history degree?"
But the University of Calgary's Director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, Dr. David Bercuson, is proving just how far a history degree can go, as he prepares to be named an Officer to the Order of Canada, receiving the country's second-highest honour for a lifetime of achievement.
"I can't even describe the feeling," said Dr. Bercuson, as he recalled the excitement of receiving the news late November. "I mean, the first reaction is, do they have the right guy?"
Dr. Bercuson admitted it was humbling to be amongst the ranks of Canada's most distinguished people, ranging from hockey legend Wayne Gretzky to renowned writer Timothy Findley. But a quick look through Dr. Bercuson's resume provides ample support for his nomination.
He graduated from Sir George Williams University in Montreal with Honours in History in 1966, winning the Lieutenant Governor's Silver Medal for the highest standing in history. He received his MA in 1967 and his PhD in 1971, both from University of Toronto.
An energetic career path ensued, as he dabbled in journalism, academic writing, teaching and political commentary. To name just a couple of his achievements, he was elected into the Royal Society of Canada in 1989 and received the J.B. Tyrell Historical Medal in 2002.
Dr. Bercuson's fondest career memory is a phone call he received in the fall of 1996, when he was asked to be part of a four-person panel of special advisors to the Minister of National Defence on the future of the Canadian military. It was there he was able to "get out of just commenting, and actually [have] an impact." He is now a member of the Minister's Monitoring Committee and Vice-President of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.
Dr. Bercuson admits he never dreamed of this kind of success when he was a student, but maintains he never felt anxious about pursuing a degree in history.
"History was the only thing that interested me," he said. "It saved me, really."
As Dr. Bercuson becomes a role model for all Canadians, he offers this advice to students.
"Be honest with yourself all the time," he said. "You need to be constantly looking in the mirror and asking 'am I doing the right thing?' And not just academically, but morally as well."
Dr. Bercuson is currently on sabbatical, co-authoring a book examining a drawn-out conference between British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II. He will return to the U of C, resuming his role as Director of CMSS in September 2004.