Historians

Summary

Historians
Historians may engage with the public through educational programs and presentations.
Quick Facts: Historians
2012 Median Pay $52,480 per year
$25.23 per hour
Entry-Level Education Master’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 3,800
Job Outlook, 2012-22 6% (Slower than average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 200

What Historians Do

Historians research, analyze, interpret, and present the past by studying a variety of historical documents and sources.

Work Environment

Historians work in government agencies, museums, archives, historical societies, research organizations, nonprofits, and consulting firms. Some must travel to carry out research. Most work full time.

How to Become a Historian

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.

Pay

The median annual wage for historians was $52,480 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of historians is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations. Competition for jobs should be very strong because there are a small number of positions relative to the number of people seeking jobs in the field.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of historians with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about historians by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Historians Do

Historians
Historians often study and preserve archival materials.

Historians research, analyze, interpret, and present the past by studying a variety of historical documents and sources.

Duties

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 and letters). They also may process, catalog, and archive these documents and artifacts.

Many historians present and interpret history in order to shape 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

Historians
Historians may spend much of their time researching and writing reports.

Historians held about 3,800 jobs in 2012, of which 58 percent were in government. 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.

The industries that employed the most historians in 2012 were as follows:

State and local government, excluding education and hospitals36%
Federal government, excluding postal service22
Professional, scientific, and technical services20

Work Schedules

Most historians work full time during regular business hours. Some, including those who are self-employed, 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 travel to conduct practical work in different environments, which may involve collecting artifacts, going to sources, conducting interviews, or visiting an area to better understand its culture and environment.

How to Become a Historian

historians image
Historians may use primary sources, such as letters and photographs, in their research.

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

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. Many programs require an internship or other onsite work experience as a part of the degree program.

Research positions, including many jobs within the federal government, 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.

Other Experience

Many historians benefit from previous history work, internships, or field experience when they look for positions outside of colleges and universities. 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.

Those without internship experience can benefit from volunteering or working in an entry-level position to gain similar practical experience. Positions are often available at local museums, historical societies, government agencies, or nonprofit and other organizations.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Historians must be able to examine the information and data in historical sources and draw logical conclusions from them, whether the sources are written documents, visual images, or material artifacts.

Communication skills. Communication skills are important for historians because many give presentations on their historical specialty to the public. Historians also need communication skills when they interview people to collect oral histories, consult with clients, or collaborate with colleagues in the workplace.

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 documents, texts, and other sources.

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

Pay

Historians

Median annual wages, May 2012

Social scientists and related workers

$69,290

Historians

$52,480

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for historians was $52,480 in May 2012. 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 $27,020, and the top 10 percent earned more than $97,930.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for historians in the top three industries employing historians were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service$85,640
Professional, scientific, and technical services54,200
State and local government, excluding education
and hospitals
37,540

Most historians work full time during standard business hours. Some, including those who are self-employed, work independently and are able to set their own schedules.

Job Outlook

Historians

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Social scientists and related workers

11%

Total, all occupations

11%

Historians

6%

 

Employment of historians is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.

Federal government, which employed nearly one-quarter of all historians in 2012, is expected decline 12 percent over the coming decade, which will limit overall employment growth for historians.

Historians will experience faster employment growth outside of the federal government in historical societies, research organizations, and historical consulting firms. However, many types of organizations that employ historians depend on donations or public funding. Thus, employment growth from 2012 to 2022 will depend largely on the amount of funding available.

Job Prospects

Historians should face very strong competition for most jobs. Because of the popularity of history degree programs, applicants are expected to outnumber positions available. Those with practical skills or hands-on work experience in a specialized field such as collections, fundraising, or exhibit design, should have the best job prospects.

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 teachershigh 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, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Historians

19-3093 3,800 4,000 6 200 [XLS]

Similar Occupations

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of historians.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION 2012 MEDIAN PAY
Anthropologists and archeologists

Anthropologists and Archeologists

Anthropologists and archeologists study the origin, development, and behavior of humans. They examine the cultures, languages, archeological remains, and physical characteristics of people in various parts of the world.

Master’s degree $57,420
Curators and museum technicians

Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers

Archivists appraise, edit, and maintain permanent records and historically valuable documents. Curators oversee collections of artwork and historic items, and may conduct public service activities for an institution. Museum technicians and conservators prepare and restore objects and documents in museum collections and exhibits.

See How to Become One $44,410
Economists

Economists

Economists study the production and distribution of resources, goods, and services by collecting and analyzing data, researching trends, and evaluating economic issues.

Master’s degree $91,860
Editors

Editors

Editors plan, review, and revise content for publication.

Bachelor’s degree $53,880
Geographers

Geographers

Geographers study the earth and its land, features, and inhabitants. They also examine phenomena such as political or cultural structures as they relate to geography. They study the physical and human geographic characteristics of a region, ranging in scale from local to global.

Bachelor’s degree $74,760
High school teachers

High School Teachers

High school teachers help prepare students for life after graduation. They teach academic lessons and various skills that students will need to attend college and to enter the job market.

Bachelor’s degree $55,050
Political scientists

Political Scientists

Political scientists study the origin, development, and operation of political systems. They research political ideas and analyze governments, policies, political trends, and related issues.

Master’s degree $102,000
Postsecondary teachers

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and vocational subjects beyond the high school level. They also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.

See How to Become One $68,970
Sociologists

Sociologists

Sociologists study society and social behavior by examining the groups, cultures, organizations, social institutions, and processes that people develop.

Master’s degree $74,960
Writers and authors

Writers and Authors

Writers and authors develop written content for advertisements, books, magazines, movie and television scripts, songs, and online publications.

Bachelor’s degree $55,940
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Historians,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/historians.htm (visited April 24, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014