Table of Contents

Most historians focus on a either a specific place (country or region), a specific time period (middle ages, renaissance, industrial revolution), or a specific field (social, political, intellectual, cultural, or diplomatic history). Some research and analyze data, and others help to preserve historical sites, buildings, artifacts, or archival materials.

In order to research history, historians use any type of material they can, including:

  • Films
  • Governments
  • Institutional records
  • Interviews
  • Letters
  • Newspapers and other periodicals
  • Personal diaries
  • Photographs

Students obtaining a degree program in social science in history can often wear a variety of different hats in their careers. For example, a historian working at a museum or an archivist might interpret collections, research objects, write and edit reports or other publications, review historical source materials, as well as educate others.


Most historians teach at colleges or universities, and therefore they must learn to balance their teaching with writing, researching, publishing, consulting, and administrative responsibilities. Historians may also prefer to pursue teaching at the pre-collegiate level, either as one aspect of a general curriculum in primary school or as their only subject at the high school level. For teaching at in middle or high schools, you traditionally need to study education, as well as obtain a teaching certificate in history.

History Degrees and Career Training

Becoming a postsecondary teacher at most colleges and universities requires a PhD. Community colleges, however, usually only require instructors to have master's degrees. Some historians-in-training attend archeological field schools where they learn how to excavate and preserve historical sites. Bachelor's degrees can get you started in the field by leading to a position as a research assistant, and during this time you can gain important work experience, or even take on an internship or volunteer at a museum or historical society. Employers almost always value work experience, and it may lead to a higher starting salary.

Career Prospects for Historians

As of 2006, 3,400 historians worked in the United States, and that number of jobs for historians is expected to grow by 8 percent by 2016, which is almost equal to the national average for all occupations. Public interest has grown recently in preserving and restoring historical sites, which has led to growing job opportunities within historical preservation societies. Wages for historians have been rising 3 percent annually, going up to $50,790 in 2007.

Local governments employ the most historians, followed by the federal executive branch, management, scientific, and technical consulting services, state governments, and scientific research and development services. The top paying industries for historians are, in order (mean annual wages):

  • The federal executive branch ($80,280)
  • Management, scientific, and technical consulting services ($69,400)
  • Architectural, engineering, and related services ($65,760)
  • Colleges, universities, and professional schools ($53,280)
  • Museums, historical sites, and similar institutions ($51,070)

Washington D.C., New York, Delaware, Maryland, and Wisconsin have the highest concentration of historians, but Washington D.C., California, Virginia, Ohio, and Colorado offer the highest average salaries.

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