The study of history allows the human race to learn from our past mistakes and triumphs to impact future decisions. Historians play a vital role in the way our past accomplishments (and failures) are presented and interpreted. Read ahead to learn about different career options in this exciting field, projections for job growth within the history sector, and educational opportunities for aspiring historians.
Part I. What is a Historian?
Historians research, analyze, record, interpret, and present the past. They work as archivists, preserving and documenting different materials and artifacts, and also provide guidance on historical topics or issues related to preservation. As a historian, you may teach or conduct research at the university level; you’ll be expected to publish your findings and collaborate with other, academic-minded individuals. Government historians may provide historical evidence used to create policy or help leaders grapple with current issues.
As a historian, you’ll need to be thorough as you analyze historical information and use it to draw logical conclusions. Your communication skills are also important, as you’ll likely present your findings during oral lectures or as published work. However your life as a historian plays out, being an effective communicator, researcher, and educator is crucial to your career development.
Salary and Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, historians earned a median salary of $53,520 in 2010. The lowest 10% earned a median salary of $26,370, and the top 10% earned $95,690.
According to the BLS, employment is expected to increase 18% between 2010 and 2020, which is about average. As of 2010, there were roughly 4,000 historian jobs in the country; more than half of those were in the government. Historians are also employed in archives, museums, historical societies, research organizations, nonprofits, and consulting firms. Some historians travel for fieldwork. Some work independently as contractors. Most work full-time, but part-time positions also exist. Many historians’ jobs depend on the amount of funding available. Expect strong competition, but rest assured that your academic background is more than applicable outside the history sector.
Anthropologists and archaeologists earn close to $50,000 per year; economists and political scientists generally earn more than $90,000; and geographers and sociologists earn roughly $70,000. Historians may also be employed as curators, museum technologists, archivists, or high school/post-secondary educators.
Part II. Top U.S. Programs for Historians
Historians should plan to have at least a master’s degree to break into the field. A doctorate will be significantly more marketable at the university level, and some research positions will require this degree. A bachelor’s degree may qualify you for a limited number of jobs, but not traditional historian jobs. When you move from your undergrad work into your master’s degree, your field of study will narrow to your chosen specialty, such as museum studies, historical preservation or archival management. A doctoral program will narrow even further to include a particular country or region, period in history, or a type of history such as social, political, or cultural.
Southern New Hampshire University
Located in the city of Manchester, this well-renowned college offers a combination of online or campus classes that award a B.A. in history.
- Course Requirements: Curriculums for the online degree include all core courses students will be required to take. SNHU takes up to 90 hours of transfer credit.
- Specialized Degrees: SNHU offers 4 online undergrad programs focusing on American, European, Military or Middle Eastern studies.
- Accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
- Cost: For undergrad degree programs, expect to pay $960 per course, or $320 per credit hour. Active duty military receive a discount at $675 per course or $225 per credit hour.
- Financial Aid: There are several financial aid options for online students, but undergrad day students have the most options.
- For the FInancially Savvy: Use their net price calculator to get a good idea of your total costs. Live cheaply and take advantage of the online courses.
- Who Should Enroll? If you want to finish up a degree you’ve already started, SNHU accepts 90% of transfer credits.
University of Illinois
The history program at U of I encourages students to conflate present culture with other groups and time periods. The competitive nature of the program and diverse student body makes this a stimulating environment in which to earn a bachelor’s degree.
- Course Requirements: Courses can be taken in a classroom or online. Online admissions are considered for those who live more than 50 miles from the school, or who meet other disability requirements.
- Specialized Degrees: You must have 45 credit hours of lower level courses and a 3.2 GPA to be admitted to the online undergraduate program. UIS has a master’s degree option as well.
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of College and Schools.
- Cost: For online undergrads, each credit hour is $352.50. UIS estimates an independent student will spend roughly $21,000 per year including tuition, books, and room and board. If you’re a dependent, expect that to drop to near $17,000.
- Financial Aid: UIS offers traditional financial aid to its students.
- For the FInancially Savvy: You can earn your teaching certificate at the same time. If you live at home, your room and board cost will drop significantly.
- Who Should Enroll? Students who are driven to complete a degree online, complete an applied study internship, or who want to go straight into a graduate program at UIS.
This Vermont institution offers an online Master of Arts program in Military History that takes a comprehensive look at global military history through chronological, geographical, political and economic lenses.
- Admission Requirements: Admissions is largely based on your bachelor’s degree from an accredited university with at least a 2.75 GPA, however, your letter of intent and your references are also major admissions criteria.
- Accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
- Cost: The entire program will cost you $27,753; this includes tuition and fees. That’s about $8,000 per semester.
- Financial Aid: Norwich has military discounts, Veteran’s assistance and partner programs.
- For the FInancially Savvy: This program can take as little as 18 months and can be completed while working full time. They’ll accept up to 12 transfer credits.
- Who Should Enroll? Someone with a strong interest in global military studies whose schedule, location, or occupation prevents them from earning their degree full time.
American Military University
This web-based college offers an M.A. in military history. The program is conducted entirely online for the greatest flexibility when completing an advanced degree. In addition, AMU offers two M.A. degrees in history and a B.A, in history, all online.
- Course Requirements: The online curriculum examines actual battles as well as social structures, military attitudes and organizational relationships between officers and troops. Prepare to improve your skills in researching, writing and communication while studying relevant military history.
- Specialized Degrees: Available concentrations include American Military History, American Revolution, Civil War, Military and Diplomatic History, War Since 1945, or World War II.
- Accreditation: American Public University System.
- Cost: For an MA, tuition is $11,700, plus expect to spend another $1,500 in books, supplies and fees. Room and board are not applicable as the entire program is online.
- Financial Aid: Federal loan and grant programs are available. AMU boasts they’re 33% lower than other master’s programs.
- For the FInancially Savvy: Military TA awards $4,500 per year for full time students.
- Who Should Enroll? If you’re in the military, it’s a no-brainer.
This Atlanta school offers a fully funded history Ph.D. program. Emory develops strong cross-connections with other programs to fully immerse students.
- Course Requirements: Course schedules and course archives demonstrate the depth of the program.
- Specialized Degrees: Doctoral candidates flexibly blend concentrations, connecting to other disciplines.
- Cost and Financial Aid: The 10-12 students matriculating each year are given full funding with tuition scholarship and living stipends. Funds are available for research and travel early in a graduate career, which prepares students for a dissertation and facilitates applications for external grants.
- Who Should Enroll? Students who can meet the highly selective application process, fulfill the Ph.D. requirements, and think they are ready for a university-based teaching career.
Part III. Breaking Into the Field
Where to Start
- Resumes: As you are just setting out, your resume should contain all of your experience in the history world. If your resume still feels thin, make a point of mentioning your internships, contracted work, and even volunteer experience. Don’t forget that each hiring manager or HR supervisor is looking for specific job skills for a specific position. If you don’t feel like your resume matches a position you are vying for, you need to go back to the drawing board. Sometimes confidence on paper is as obvious as confidence in person.
- Portfolios: Your portfolio is your chance to demonstrate your applied skills. Even if you haven’t been in a paid position as of yet, your classes and internships should have given you plenty of essays and research samples to add to your portfolio. Be sure you have photo documentation for any relevant work.
- Online Platforms: If your school isn’t hooking you into a great internship or practicum, explore options online. Contract positions can help you build your resume. Volunteer your time to a non-profit wishing to document their growth, or a library that needs a historian for a short-term project.
Tips For Historians, By Historians
- Plan for After Education: The American Historical Association promotes ‘Careers for Students of History’ as a must-read for history lovers who aren’t sure what to do once their education is earned.
- Official U.S. History: The Office of the Historian of the U.S. Department of State is staffed by professional historians who prepare and publish the officially documented history of the foreign relations of the United States. They deal with classified and unclassified documents hoping to make government actions more transparent.
- Stay Connected: The World History Association is a collective of teachers and students that aims to study the various geographical, cultural, and political factors that influence the course of human history. The WHA has resources from summer institutes to teaching prizes for students and teachers.
- Oral History: StoryCorps’ provides an outlet for Americans of different backgrounds to share their personal families stories and read the accounts of other contributors. StoryCorps has recorded over 45,000 interviews, and preserves an oral history at the Library of Congress.
- Living history: This is a form of theater in which participants create a world, tell a story, entertain, and teach lessons. ALHFAM’s mission is to share practical knowledge and skills amongst people who make history relevant to contemporary lives. ALHFAM brings history to life; the program is a dynamic bridge between historical worlds and the present.
Past, Present, and Future
Documenting our history is an important way to carry our roots with us. While the education can be arduous, the rewards – such as animating or uncovering the past – are significant. Becoming a historian allows you to connect with the memories that surround us, to document our current world, and to deliver the past to the residents of the present.