These go-to resources often find employment within colleges and universities, with most job positions in the field requiring a master’s degree or Ph.D.
Whether just entering into adulthood and deciding on an education and career path, or seeking a complete job overhaul in mid-life, adequately researching fields that spark your interest is the key to making a wise choice. If you would enjoy turning a love of history into a paying gig, you should explore the job of a historian. Read on to learn more about this fascinating career option and gauge if it might be a good fit for you.
What Is A Historian?
Regarded as experts and persons of authority when it comes to the events of the past, historians study, interpret and write about history. Historians, both professional and amateurs alike, enjoy digging deep to immerse themselves and learn as much as they can about historical events. They are then generally enthusiastic about sharing their extensive knowledge with others. These people are considered go-to resources when someone seeks detailed and accurate information about the past.
It has long been a human desire for people to understand their past and share their narrative with others. In fact, some of the earliest known historians trace back to ancient Greece. Although the field has clearly been around for quite some time, and there has long been a need for history experts, the modern historian profession didn’t begin to take shape until the late 19th century. The field grew alongside the rise of German research universities.
What Does A Historian Do?
Although there can be a wide range of responsibilities from one historian to the next, a large number of professionals in the field go to work at colleges and universities. These are the institutions that employ roughly about 70 percent of working historians.
The Higher Education Connection
When working in scholarly settings, professionals will oftentimes find their time divided between several different roles. Most will spend at least some of their time teaching students or will fill positions within the school’s history department. Outside of teaching, historians working in higher education will likely dedicate time to extensive research. This research generally leads to authoring books or articles focused on their specific areas of expertise.
Speaking of areas of expertise, it can be difficult to pinpoint what exactly each historian does day-to-day because there is such a wide variety of specializations to choose from. For example, as a professional historian, one could elect to dedicate their studies and become an expert on a certain country, region or time period. There is any number of history concentration options, such as ancient history, US history, women’s history and African history, just to name a few. In fact, there are so many focused areas you could choose to study that there simply isn’t enough space here to possibly discuss them all.
Historians with a concentrated specialization are certainly expected to be experts in that particular focus area, but it is also assumed they will possess a broad knowledge of and interest in other historical information. No matter the chosen specialization, historians study as many historical written records as they can find. They interpret and create narratives based off of the information they gather and then piece together those findings to form a complete picture of events.
The Career Path Of Historians
There’s no doubt that to become a historian, you must enjoy research and the constant learning and growing of your knowledge base. If becoming a professional in this field is your ultimate goal, there is a clear educational path to follow to make your future dreams a reality. As you’ll see, although you will strive towards earning multiple degrees in order to find work as a historian, learning will remain a constant for you in this field, even long after your own schooling has come to a close.
Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree
Future prospective historians generally choose a major or focused area of study in history or another closely related field. Many students will double down on a highly specific area of history studies when they enter graduate school. If you have the option, you could benefit from adding in specializations as an undergrad.
Also, use this time for taking advantage of internship opportunities. Strive to seek out chances for learning practical skills directly from experienced professional historians while gaining invaluable hands-on experience. Soaking in a depth of knowledge and experience at the undergrad level will prove to be a fruitful use of time when applying for graduate school.
The Master’s Degree Or Ph.D.
While you could choose to hit the brakes on continuing with higher education after earning a bachelor’s degree, this will likely leave you only qualified for some entry-level positions or for work in a different field. If your goal lies in becoming a professional historian, following your bachelor’s with an advanced degree is a must. No matter if working in a college or university setting as many historians do, or in related fields such as historic preservation, museum studies or public history, just to name a few, you’ll find that having a master’s degree is a requirement. Earning your master’s, or graduate degree, could get your foot in the door to work at the college level as a researcher or professor. If you have your sights set on a tenure-track university position, however, you’ll find yourself needing to strive for your Ph.D.
This is the time when, if you haven’t already, you’ll narrow down your focused and specialized field of study in which you will become an expert. You’ll find that the areas of research you could choose are nearly endless. Examples include world, European or American history, but varied options abound.
During this era of your studies is an exceptional time to take advantage of graduate assistant positions. Doing this work will reward you with the benefits of honing your research skills and gaining the experience of instructing other students.
Begin The Job Search
Upon graduation, you may have luck finding a position at the college or university where you received your education. If this isn’t the case, definitely utilize any career services offered by your school in conjunction with your own job searches. Whether or not you have assistance in your career hunt, great institutions to check out include other colleges or universities, governmental organizations and museums.
Don’t overlook the importance of networking when conducting the search for a new job. Seek out events held by historically-affiliated establishments, including conferences and lectures. These are great opportunities for meeting other professional historians, or individuals with similar interests, who may either be in the position to offer you a job in the future or may connect you to someone that can.
The Research Continues
While for many working professionals, completing their education and landing the perfect job means that they can take a breather and solely focus on work, continuous learning and research is the bulk of the work for a historian. You’ll find that most occupations that allow you to work as a historian in a professional capacity require you to research continually, learn and likely publish documents. The goal for many in the field is to distinguish themselves from the rest in their particular area of expertise.
Historian Job Options
As previously mentioned, the most common career track for historians is to become a researcher or professor in a university setting, but these certainly aren’t your only options. Museums are also a frequent employer in the field, generally hiring historians for such roles as:
Your search need not be limited to schools and museums, however. There are plenty of varied careers in which your history studies will prove useful:
As with most professions, there can be quite a wide range of salaries from one job to the next. Historians have reported earning roughly between $28,000 and $103,000 per year, with the median wage falling around $59,000. You could expect that the lower end of the pay spectrum may refer to some entry-level positions, while the higher end may reflect the pay of historians with many years of experience under their belts. You can expect that your salary when stepping into a position will greatly depend on your accrued expertise and completed education level.
Whether just starting down your professional path, or choosing to make a career change, you may find yourself well-suited to the job of a historian if you have a strong desire and interest in keeping the events of the past alive in the minds of others. If talking about history and proving your theories correct brings you pleasure, then this career where you never stop researching and learning may hold your interest for years to come. When it comes down to it, if the idea of following this career path excites you, and if you’re ready to commit to several years of studies and degree-earning, then it may be in your best interest to start scouting out colleges and universities with strong history programs.