Historians


Historians research, analyze, interpret, and write about the past by studying historical documents and sources.

Duties

Historians typically do the following:

  • Gather historical data from various sources, including archives, books, and artifacts
  • Analyze and interpret historical information to determine its authenticity and significance
  • Trace historical developments in a particular field
  • Engage with the public through educational programs and presentations
  • Archive or preserve materials and artifacts in museums, visitor centers, and historic sites
  • Provide advice or guidance on historical topics and preservation issues
  • Write reports, articles, and books on findings and theories

Historians conduct research and analysis for governments, businesses, individuals, nonprofits, historical associations, and other organizations. They use a variety of sources in their work, including government and institutional records, newspapers, photographs, interviews, films, and unpublished manuscripts, such as personal diaries, letters, and other primary source documents. They also may process, catalog, and archive these documents and artifacts.

Many historians present and interpret history in order to inform or build upon public knowledge of past events. They often trace and build a historical profile of a particular person, area, idea, organization, or event. Once their research is complete, they present their findings through articles, books, reports, exhibits, websites, and educational programs.

In government, some historians conduct research to provide information on specific events or groups. Many write about the history of a particular government agency, activity, or program, such as a military operation or space missions. For example, they may research the people and events related to Operation Desert Storm.

In historical associations, historians may work with archivists, curators, and museum workers to preserve artifacts and explain the historical significance of a wide variety of subjects, such as historic buildings, religious groups, and battlegrounds. Workers with a background in history also may go into one of these occupations.

Many people with a degree in history also become high school teachers or postsecondary teachers.

Historians held about 3,300 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of historians were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 22%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 20
Professional, scientific, and technical services 18
State government, excluding education and hospitals 16

Historians work in museums, archives, historical societies, and research organizations. Some work as consultants for these organizations while being employed by consulting firms, and some work as independent consultants.

Work Schedules

Most historians work full time during regular business hours. Some work independently and are able to set their own schedules. Historians who work in museums or other institutions open to the public may work evenings or weekends. Some historians may travel to collect artifacts, conduct interviews, or visit an area to better understand its culture and environment.

Although most historian positions require a master’s degree, some research positions require a doctoral degree. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree may qualify for some entry-level positions, but most will not be traditional historian jobs.

Education

Historians need a master’s degree or Ph.D. for most positions. Many historians have a master’s degree in history or public history. Others complete degrees in related fields, such as museum studies, historical preservation, or archival management.

In addition to coursework, most master’s programs in public history and similar fields require an internship as part of the curriculum.

Research positions within the federal government and positions in academia typically require a Ph.D. Students in history Ph.D. programs usually concentrate in a specific area of history. Possible specializations include a particular country or region, period, or field, such as social, political, or cultural history.

Candidates with a bachelor’s degree in history may qualify for entry-level positions at museums, historical associations, or other small organizations. However, most bachelor’s degree holders usually work outside of traditional historian jobs—for example, jobs in education, communications, law, business, publishing, or journalism.  

Other Experience

Many employers recommend that prospective historians complete an internship during their formal educational studies. Internships offer an opportunity for students to learn practical skills, such as handling and preserving artifacts and creating exhibits. They also give students an opportunity to apply their academic knowledge in a hands-on setting.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Historians must be able to examine various types of historical resources and draw clear and logical conclusions based on their findings.

Communication skills. Historians must communicate effectively when collecting information, collaborating with colleagues, and presenting their research to the public through written documents and presentations.

Foreign language skills. Historians may need to review primary source materials that are not in English. This makes knowledge of the other language useful during research.

Problem-solving skills. Historians try to answer questions about the past. They may investigate something unknown about a past idea, event, or person; decipher historical information; or identify how the past has affected the present.

Research skills. Historians must be able to examine and process information from a large number of historical resources, including documents, images, and material artifacts.

The median annual wage for historians was $61,140 in May 2018.

The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $110,670.

In May 2018, the median annual wages for historians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $97,840
Professional, scientific, and technical services 61,680
State government, excluding education and hospitals 50,040
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 30,980

Most historians work full time during standard business hours. Some work independently and are able to set their own schedules. Historians who work in museums or other institutions open to the public may work evenings or weekends. Some historians may travel to collect artifacts, conduct interviews, or visit an area to better understand its culture and environment.

Historians

Median annual wages, May 2018

Social scientists and related workers

$78,650

Historians

$61,140

Total, all occupations

$38,640

 

Employment of historians is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Many organizations that employ historians, such as historical societies and historical consulting firms, depend on donations or public funding. Thus, employment growth from 2018 to 2028 will depend largely on the amount of funding available.

Job Prospects

Historians may face very strong competition for most jobs. Because of the popularity of history degree programs, applicants are expected to outnumber positions available. Those with a master’s degree or Ph.D. should have the best job opportunities.

Practical skills or hands-on work experience in a specialized field such as collections, fundraising, or exhibit design also may be beneficial. Jobseekers may gain this experience through internships, related work experience, or volunteering. Positions are often available at local museums, historical societies, government agencies, or nonprofit and other organizations.

Because historians have broad training and education in writing, analytical research, and critical thinking, they can apply their skills to many different occupations. Thus, many people with history degrees do not compete for the limited number of historian positions.

Employment projections data for historians, 2018-28
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2018 Projected Employment, 2028 Change, 2018-28 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Historians

19-3093 3,300 3,500 6 200 Get data

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of historians.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2018

Anthropologists and Archeologists

Anthropologists and archeologists study the origin, development, and behavior of humans.

Master’s degree $62,410

Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers

Archivists and curators oversee collections of historic items or artwork. Museum technicians and conservators prepare or restore items in museum collections.

See How to Become One $48,400

Economists

Economists collect and analyze data, research trends, and evaluate economic issues for resources, goods, and services.

Master’s degree $104,340

Editors

Editors plan, review, and revise content for publication.

Bachelor’s degree $59,480

Geographers

Geographers study the Earth and the distribution of its land, features, and inhabitants.

Bachelor’s degree $80,300

High School Teachers

High school teachers teach academic lessons and various skills that students will need to attend college and to enter the job market.

Bachelor’s degree $60,320

Political Scientists

Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems.

Master’s degree $117,570

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and technical subjects beyond the high school level.

See How to Become One $78,470

Sociologists

Sociologists study society and social behavior.

Master’s degree $82,050

Writers and Authors

Writers and authors develop written content for various types of media.

Bachelor’s degree $62,170

For more information about historians, visit

American Association for State and Local History

American Historical Association

National Council on Public History

Organization of American Historians

O*NET

Historians


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Historians,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/historians.htm (visited ).


 

Tracey Lamphere

Tracey Lamphere, M.S. IMC is the editor of Job Affirmations, a publication that provides information and ideas to use mindfulness, positive affirmations, and visualizations to transform your career.

Recent Posts