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Alumni Spotlights

Alumni Spotlight: James Perkins, NPR

James Perkins is a former BYU History student who now works at NPR! We reached out to ask him to tell us about his experiences!

Could you just tell us a little about yourself?

I'm the son of a research scientist, and spent my early years bouncing from university towns in the US and Europe, until the family finally settled in San Diego, California. After a youth spent riding bikes and playing Dungeons and Dragons, I stumbled into intellectual history and film-making. My interest in media coalesced around radio, and I graduated from BYU in 2015 with a B.A. in History, and a Minor in Communications. I worked at BYU Radio while going to school, and interned with NPR at their DC headquarters shortly thereafter. I'm now a producer with NPR, working on national shows like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Here & Now.

Why did you choose to study history for your undergrad?

I was a History major from day one until I graduated, because it always seemed to be the most comprehensive way to study the breadth of human knowledge. Everything has a history--from medieval Japan to early cinema to even the scientific theory of evolution. Intellectual history especially appealed to me: I took Dr. Kerry's "History of Ideas" course my first semester and found my academic home.

How did your history major help you to get into the career you have now?

I would not be in radio if not for a history professor introducing me to a host at BYU Radio. I had dabbled in podcasts and had made a few short films, but my media career really began with "The Morning Show" with Marcus Smith, and then continued through "Top of Mind" with Julie Rose. At BYU Radio, I was blessed to learn from generous and immensely talented people who showed me how to go beyond the headlines and bring compelling stories to fruition.

How does your history major help you with your day-to-day work?

Working in a hectic newsroom in the nation's capitol, I still try to bring a historian's attention to sources and causality to every news story I produce. You see, journalists are an eclectic bunch, ranging broadly in background and expertise--and I honestly think that a critical acumen matters a heck of a lot more than a journalism degree. Just don't tell my broadcasting professors that!

Do you have any advice for history majors who are looking to use their major as a tool to help them get a career outside of history?

Learn how to communicate the value of your skills. History majors should know how to read, how to research, and how to write--and these are vital wherever you go. Learn how to describe a research project in layman's terms--explain how the processes you used can apply broadly: from the way you structured an argument to your investment in finding the right sources. Make the case that you know how to translate your skills, and that there's more to historical methodology than old books and long lectures (as much as I love both)!