What Do Historians Do? Career Pathways Explained

Historian holding artifact in museum

Is history your favorite subject in school? If you love history and are thinking about pursuing a career in this field, it's natural to wonder what types of career opportunities are available. Learn about what professional historians do and what level of education is required for the various job options.

Types of Jobs for Historians

There are several career pathways for professional historians, each of which requires formal education. Most options require a master's degree or higher.

High School Teachers

Many historians work as high school history teachers. This type of work requires formal education in both history and teaching. Some history teachers earn a bachelor's degree in secondary education with a concentration in history. Others earn a Bachelor's degree in history, then complete a master's degree program in secondary education. Upon completion of either educational path, one must meet their state's requirements for teacher licensure.

College or University Professors

Historians often teach at the collegiate level. In order to work as a history professor at a college or university, a Ph.D. is required. History professors may teach classes to students enrolled in undergraduate or graduate-level programs. They are also expected to devote a portion of their time to conducting academic research and publishing their findings.

Community College Instructors or Professors

Community colleges provide another teaching option for historians. In order to teach history at a community college, a master's degree is required. Community college instructors work with first- and second-year college students, most of whom are completing core curriculum requirements before transferring to a four-year school.

Museum Curators

Many historians work as museum curators. This type of job involves designing exhibits, selecting which items will be displayed, and acquiring new items to add to the museum's collection. This type of work typically requires a master's degree specific to the particular type of collection the individual works with. For example, an art museum curator will benefit from holding a graduate degree in art history.

Archivists

Historians also often work as archivists, typically in museums or for government agencies. Their duties include organizing, cataloging, preserving, and valuing items that are stored in the archives of the organization. They are responsible for ensuring that items are properly stored for safekeeping, and for making sure that they can be easily located as needed. In museums, they work closely with curators. A master's degree is generally required for most archivist roles.

Researchers

Some historians work as professional researchers who spend their time researching, analyzing, and interpreting events that have occurred. Historians who work as researchers may be employed in a variety of settings, including government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or businesses. They use a wide variety of sources to piece together a clear picture of past events, then write up fact-based reports of their findings. Some historical research jobs require a master's degree, while others require a Ph.D.

Historian Salary Expectations

According to Payscale.com, the average salary for historians is just over $53,000 per year. There is a good bit of variability in pay, with base compensation for historian jobs ranging from $31,000 to $99,000 per year.

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What Do Historians Do? Career Pathways Explained