Historians

Career, Salary and Education Information

Following is everything you need to know about a career as an historian with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 3 Historian Jobs

  • Process Automation Engineer - Chemicals - Job Juncture - Joliet, IL

    Demonstrated ability to learn new chemicals or refining processes  • Demonstrated ability to work effectively in a team environment.  • Written

  • Historian - SNA International - Washington, DC

    Minimum Education and Experience Requirements: • 5 years of professional historical research experience (includes educational experience

  • Historian - Smithsonian - Washington, DC

    B. Combination of education and experience:courses equivalent to a major in history, or a major in a related field that included at least 18 semester

See all Historian jobs

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

Historians research, analyze, interpret, and write about the past by studying historical documents and sources.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, 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sources in their work, including government and institutional records, newspapers, photographs, interviews, films, and unpublished manuscripts, such as personal diaries, letters, and other primary source documents.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.

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

Historians hold about 3,300 jobs. The largest employers of historians are as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals 25%
Federal government, excluding postal service 23
Professional, scientific, and technical services 17
State government, excluding education and hospitals 17
Self-employed workers 5

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.

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.

Education for Historians

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 for Historians

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 for Historians

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.

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

The median annual wage for historians is $55,110. 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 $28,050, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $102,830.

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

Federal government, excluding postal service $92,400
Professional, scientific, and technical services 54,590
State government, excluding education and hospitals 47,750
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 31,230

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.

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

Employment of historians is projected to grow 5 percent over the next ten years, 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 over the next ten years will depend largely on the amount of funding available.

Job Prospects for Historians

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, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Historians 3,300 3,500 5 200


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

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