Historians

What Historians Do

Historians research, analyze, interpret, and write about the past by studying historical documents and sources.

Work Environment

Historians must travel to carry out research. Most work full time.

How to Become a Historian

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 find jobs in different fields.

Pay

The median annual wage for historians was $63,680 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of historians is projected to grow 3 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Competition for jobs may be very strong because there are few positions available relative to the number of people seeking jobs in the field.

Historians research, analyze, interpret, and write about the past by studying historical documents and sources.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sources in their work, including government and institutional records, newspapers, photographs, interviews, films, and unpublished manuscripts, such as personal diaries, letters, and other primary source documents.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 3,500 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of historians were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 22%
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 19
Professional, scientific, and technical services 17
State government, excluding education and hospitals 15

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.

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 2019

Anthropologists and Archeologists

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

Master’s degree $63,670

Curators and museum technicians

Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers

Archivists and curators oversee institutions’ collections, such as of historical items or of artwork. Museum technicians and conservators prepare and restore items in those collections.

See How to Become One $49,850

Economists

Economists

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

Master’s degree $105,020

Editors

Editors plan, review, and revise content for publication.

Bachelor’s degree $61,370

Geographers

Geographers

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

Bachelor’s degree $81,540

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 $61,660

Political Scientists

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

Master’s degree $122,220

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 $79,540

Sociologists

Sociologists study society and social behavior.

Master’s degree $83,420

Writers and authors

Writers and Authors

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

Bachelor’s degree $63,200

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,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/historians.htm (visited ).