Recent research on historical thinking has instigated important disciplinary conversations and changes in pedagogical practice. They have, however, largely focused on the primary and secondary school sector, highlighting the gap in corresponding research into tertiary education. It is important to look at the experiences of history students at tertiary level, to assess the impact of perceptions and practices on graduate employment outcomes and transitions to research careers. In 2008 a national scoping study on student and staff perceptions of the nature and purposes of historical thinking was undertaken at 12 Australian universities, involving 1455 student questionnaires and 50 interviews with academics. This article examines student and staff perceptions of the social benefits of historical thinking, highlighting the great potential for transformative learning and civic contribution, and the vital role of agency in this process.