Historians

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Historians Do[About this section] [To Top]

Historians research, analyze, interpret, and present the past by studying historical documents and sources.

Duties of Historians

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, 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sources in their work, including government and institutional records, newspapers, photographs, interviews, films, and unpublished manuscripts, such as personal diaries, letters, and other primary documents.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 historical context for current policy issues. For example, they may research the history of Social Security as background for a new bill or upcoming funding debate. Many write about the history of a particular government agency, activity, or program, such as a military operation or the space program.

In historical associations, historians preserve artifacts and explain the historical significance of a wide variety of subjects, such as historic buildings, religious groups, and battlegrounds.

Historians who work for businesses may examine historical evidence for legal cases and regulatory matters.

Many people with an educational background in history become high school teachers or postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment for Historians[About this section] [To Top]

Historians hold about 3,500 jobs. The industries that employ the most historians are as follows:

State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 39%
Federal government, excluding postal service 22
Professional, scientific, and technical services 21

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

Historian 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.

How to Become a Historian[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Historians near you!

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.

Historian 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. 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.

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.

Many people with an educational background in history become high school teachers or postsecondary teachers.

Important Qualities for Historians

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

Communication skills. Historians must communicate effectively when collaborating with colleagues and when presenting their research to the public.

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.

Writing skills. Writing skills are essential for historians as they often present their findings in reports, articles, and books.

Historian Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for historians is $55,800. 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 $27,920, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $101,880.

The median annual wages for historians in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $89,450
Professional, scientific, and technical services 60,290
State and local government, excluding education and hospitals 39,420

Most historians work full time during standard business hours. Some work independently and are able to set their own schedules.

Job Outlook for Historians[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of historians is projected to grow 2 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations.

Employment in the federal government, where more than 1 out of 5 historians work, is expected to decline slightly over the coming decade, due to expected reductions in federal spending.

Historians who are employed in settings outside of the federal government, such as historical societies and historical consulting firms, are expected to see some job growth. However, many of these organizations that employ historians depend on donations or public funding. Thus, employment growth over the next ten years will depend largely on the amount of funding available.

Historians 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. Job seekers 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—for example, as writers and authors, editors, postsecondary teachers, high school teachers, or policy analysts.

Also, there are many history-related jobs that do not have the title of historian. Workers with a background in history often look for closely related jobs, working as archivists, curators, and museum workers, social science or humanities researchers, and cultural resource managers.

Employment projections data for Historians, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Historians 3,500 3,500 2 100


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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