Making History by Majoring in History at MIT
Meet Haydn, a 2026 studying 21H at MIT
Hello! The Student Spotlight column is back. The purpose of this column is to feature students at MIT from all walks of life with various perspectives. To start off this series, we have a sophomore studying 21H at MIT: Haydn Long.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Name and Class: Haydn Long, Class of 2026
Areas of Study: Major in Course 21H (History)
Living Group: Burton Conner (Burton 2)
Home State: New York, New York
Board of director for MIT Gala
Launch director for Infinite
Marketing chair for Burton-Conner government
What made you declare 21H at MIT?
I always loved history. I applied to MIT wanting to major in history. There's something about history that’s interesting to learn about, looking back and seeing how everything connects and builds on each other to where we are today.
Why 21H, and not other majors like Course 17 or 21A?
I have done political science work before. I wrote a political science research paper in high school. I just enjoy the work in history more. I find political science and anthropology interesting, but history just has a special place in my heart since I have loved this subject ever since I was young. I have always loved my history class. It’s just been that way for a very long time.
How are your classes in 21H, a less common major at MIT ?
It’s interesting. I mean it’s not like there’s no one in my History classes — there are definitely people taking these classes, which I think is great. It is strange being the only person in my major because when I have meetings with my advisor, I’m the only person that they have meetings with. And there’s not really anybody else to bond with over being a History major. But I think it’s cool to do something unique like that. I think it’s really, really fun.
Do you “specialize” in an area of history?
Not yet. For 21H, you have to write your thesis in senior year. Before that, there’s a class about methods in history you take, which is a class about researching and gives you insight on how to do historical research and come up with topics you want to dive into.
What does your typical class schedule look like?
This semester, I am taking two history classes. When I take more history classes, I don’t have the space to focus on the readings and the coursework, so I am trying not to take too many history classes at a time.
I am in two history classes; one is Inventing the Samurai (21H.154), with my advisor. It’s an introductory class on Japan. The other class is American Consumer Culture (21H.315), which is an upper level seminar that has a lot of reading.
History classes are designed to fit around other classes, which means that I have a weird schedule consisting of a long break in the middle of the day.
What’s your process for choosing history classes? Why the interest in Inventing the Samurai and American Consumer Culture?
I have been taking classes that have a broad scope so I can see as much as possible. I want to start off with something very wide that narrows as I go further down. In freshman year, I took a class on Islam and the Middle East (21H.160) and another one called Gender: Historical Perspectives (WGS.303J).
I also took a Concourse class called Making Books in the Renaissance and Today (CC.120J) because it was something that intrigued me. I love books. As you see, I have a full bookshelf in my room right here.
For American Consumer Culture, it is important to think about consumerism in our daily lives because it is so ingrained in our society. Generally, I try to take classes that have a broad view and for some classes certain things stand out.
How many History classes have you taken? Any recommendations for non-History majors?
I have completed three and then I’m taking two more this year. I would recommend all of them. I think there’s something fun about each of them. One class I took last semester, Making Books in the Renaissance and Today (CC.120J), is such a cool class. In this class, you get to make a book, and there’s the Beaver press — a replica of the Gutenberg press. Basically, they have all the lead types, and you get to write a book, set it, carve it, and put this book together. It is completely student-led. The only thing you don’t decide is the length of the book. And that’s just because there’s a certain length needed to fill the pages, but you do all the work.
I TA that class right now, so I do a lot of the behind the scenes work. I’m sorting all the type and cleaning the press up, and it’s a really cool class. There’s a lot of things that you learn in it that you would never think of. Like, paper for a lot of times used to be made out of underwear because it is made out of cotton. Instead of putting new cotton in, they just reused it.
I also really love Gender: Historical Perspectives (21H.109) because it taught me how to do research in a way that I haven’t done before. We got to go to archives — the Schlesinger Archives at Harvard — and actually touch the works and artifacts, and things throughout history. It was completely up to you; whatever project you wanted to do for your final paper, you got to do anything. And then you just had to research it yourself; it was really cool.
I remember I was a little unsure about what I wanted to do, and my professor just gave me the phone number of a historian friend of hers that had been at a bunch of these events from the past. So, what I ended up writing about was the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which was this music festival that had this huge controversy surrounding transphobia. I talked about transphobia and lesbian spaces, and I got to speak to somebody who went to this event before the whole scandal.
What advice would you give to yourself in the past year?
I would have definitely told my freshman year self to take the readings a lot more seriously. I was reading to get through the readings, but now I’m taking a lot more time to take notes on everything and really annotate the readings. It has really helped me understand the classes and contribute to the discussions so much more.
A lot of the learning does happen from the readings. It would be hard to go through it in an hour and a half lecture. So, it’s really important to really spend time on the readings, even though it might take like an hour to read ten pages, which happened this year with a lot of my textbook readings for Inventing the Samurai (21H.154). It really helps me understand a lot more.
If you weren't a Course 21H major, what Course would you do?
I would be an Art and Design major (Course 4B), I think. I do a lot of art. I am taking two design classes this year as well, so I think that’s what I would do if I wasn’t a History major.
What classes do you plan to take in the future, specifically 21H classes?
I definitely want to take The Modern Middle East (21H.161). It is a CI-H class with Prof. Alimagham. I took his class freshman fall. He’s a great professor and I would love to take his classes again. I don’t know for my other classes what I would want to do.
For history, it is hard to plan classes because the classes are released a semester before and it is up to the professor. They will have things in the course catalog and then they are not offered. I see the course offerings right before, so I get to look now instead of planning ahead.
What do you see yourself doing in the future with a degree in 21H?
I have no idea. I came here not knowing what I wanted to do. Just knowing that I wanted to do this feels like “I’ll figure it out!” That’s still kind of what it is now.
What's your favorite memory as a Course 21H student so far?
I think something I really loved was in [Making Books in the Renaissance and Today], when we got to see books from the 1500s and hold them. These were some examples of the first printed books, and we just got to hold them in our hands without gloves. I learned that it’s actually safer to hold them without gloves as long as you wash your hands beforehand because then you can feel what’s happening to the papers. Getting to open these books and see that they are illustrated with gold leaves and incredible detail, to see how much care people put in these books, to see that they’re still alive.
You can tell when the books were put back together by the conservation or other groups before they made their way to MIT. It was so cool getting to see these books and that they’ve survived because there was so much care put into them. I think it was also really funny. There is a bookplate in the front of the books, and it was actually my friend’s last name. And I texted this person who’s like, “Yeah, that’s my great-grandfather.” So, my friend’s great-grandfather donated a bunch of signed books that we have from the 1500s; he just had a collection of them.
[Also] check out the Distinctive Collections more. There’s like such insane things in there. There’s a copy of the Reynolds Pamphlet that belonged to George Washington, the Federalist Papers that belonged to George Washington, Buzz Aldrin’s thesis dedicated to the people going to space one day. It’s like, “To the people who are going to space one day, I wish you luck. I wish I could be up there with you.”
They have such incredible things. And people don’t seem to really know about the Distinctive Collections.
What can MIT students learn from history? Do you take any lessons to heart yourself?
Something that you can learn from history is how to not repeat it. We don’t want to see some events happen again. These events don’t come out of nowhere. There are a lot of discoveries and interactions with people and decisions that lead to everything. It is important to look back and see where things come from and how you prevent things from happening. If you are inventing things without considerations, there can be consequences, but if you are discovering and creating keeping that in mind, you will be a much better inventor for it.
What's your favorite historical event? If you could live in any historical period, what would it be?
I don’t know. People keep asking me this question, but I can never really decide. There are so many things that would be cool to see happen, but also I would be like, “Do I want to actually be there when it’s happening?” So, I don’t know, actually.
Which historical figure would you want to invite to dinner?
That’s a hard question because there are people I would want to pick the brains of but I would be intimidated. I am indecisive.