Becoming an Historian: Job Description & Salary Information

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An historian's median annual salary is around $56,000. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an historian is right for you.
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Pros and Cons to Becoming an Historian

Historians research and study the past in order to analyze patterns and present new and useful data to businesses, governments, historical associations, nonprofits, and other organizations. Some of the other upsides and downsides to becoming an historian can be learned by reading below.

Pros of Becoming an Historian
Above-average salary compared to all occupations (median annual income of $55,870 in 2014)*
Options to work in related fields, such as research or education*
Flexible work schedule if you're employed independently*
Variety of professional settings (governments, museums and historical societies)*

Cons of Becoming an Historian
A master's or doctoral degree is generally necessary*
Keen job competition because the number of openings were expected to be lower than the number of historian applicants*
Job growth in some types of organization may be affected by a lack of funding*
Travel may be required for fieldwork*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

As an historian, you will research and analyze the past in order to present findings about specific events or information from a particular time period. In 2013, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that local, federal, and state governments had the highest levels of employment of all historians. You might also find work at an historical consulting firm or a research organization.

Historians conduct research on laws, policies, regulations and government programs, among other things. Film, photographs, recorded interviews, newspapers and personal letters are all items you could examine as an historian. You may publish your findings in a book, article, or a thesis paper, and you can use your findings for educational purposes.

Salary Information and Job Outlook

According to the BLS, historians earned a median annual salary of $55,870 in May 2014. Those in the 90th percentile took home over $101,000, while those in the 10th percentile earned less than $28,000. From 2012-2022, the BLS reported that historians would see a 6% growth in employment, which is slower than average.

Educational Requirements

If you want to be an historian, you'll typically need at least a master's degree in or related to history. According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor's O*Net Online, about 48% of all historians have a master's degree. In some cases, such as research positions, a doctoral degree in history may be required, and a Juris Doctor could also be preferred. A limited amount of positions may accept a bachelor's degree. At the graduate level, you can focus your studies on a particular field or specialization within history. For example, you might gear your studies towards a specific culture, country or time period. In addition to or as part of these formal education requirements, historians are typically expected to have completed an internship or some form of field experience.

Aspiring historians should all have some fundamental skills that are important to the work that's conducted in the field. Typically, an historian must have skills in reading-comprehension, problem-solving, communications, writing and analysis.

What Are Employers Looking For?

A graduate-level education and many years of experience in the field is generally required by employers. Some require fluency in a second language. You can learn what real employers were looking for in historians in April and May 2012 by reading below.

  • In Louisiana, a technical, engineering and construction services firm needs an architectural historian with at least six years of experience, some of which involves Gulf Coast buildings and residences. A historic preservation or related bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement.
  • A global consulting firm in Washington D.C. is looking for architectural historian candidates with a master's degree and 10-15 years of experience. Fluency in either Spanish or French is preferred for this job, which involves preparing agreements for federal agencies and creating networking relationships.
  • A museum in Virginia was seeking an historian to lead a team in accurate historical research based on art, documents, books and oral accounts for the purposes of publication and museum exhibits. The applicant needed to have either a degree in history or at least some history education combined with work experience.
  • A historical consulting firm in Maryland posted an ad for a senior historian with a doctoral degree in U.S. history. Experience in economics and business was also required, and the job tasks included generating historical writing for the Internet, videos and books.

How to Stand Out

Taking the time to acquire some field experience is beneficial to standing out amongst your peers as an historian. Studying a specific subject, such as public history or architectural history, could help better prepare you for jobs that require an expert knowledge of such an area. Because some research positions require that you hold a Ph.D., according to the BLS, you may stand out for certain positions by earning a doctoral degree. Additionally, a Ph.D. program in history may offer you a greater opportunity to specialize in your area of study.

In addition to education, you may benefit from a membership with the American Historical Association (AHA), which is the largest association of its kind in the country. Through AHA membership, you will have access to historical publications and job listings, as well as professional networking opportunities and historical research resources. These advantages could help you professionally.

Other Career Choices

History Professor

If you're interested in historical research and academic work, but you would rather work as an educator than a private historian for a government agency, corporation or other organization, you may choose to become a history professor. History professors spend a great deal of their time educating college students, but they can also engage in their own historical research. In 2011, the BLS reported that postsecondary history teachers earned a median annual salary of about $62,000, which is higher than that of historians. From 2010-2020, the BLS stated that postsecondary teachers in general were expected to see a 17% growth in employment. A doctorate is a common requirement.


If you're interested in working in a hands-on historical capacity, you could consider becoming an archeologist. You'll visit locations and begin digging for artifacts. You might be able to find items like paintings, pottery, ruined buildings or tools. Some archeologists even find fossilized remains. The purpose of your work is to learn more about the past. In May 2011, the BLS found that archeologists had median annual earnings of $56,000 or so. Even though you'll still need a master's degree or Ph.D., job prospects for archaeologists were predicted to be better than that of historians. From 2010-2020, archaeologists and anthropologists were expected to see a faster-than-average rise of 21% in employment rates.


Earning a graduate degree not for you? You could become an archivist with a bachelor's degree. You would preserve and take care of historical documents. These records are normally of some value or historical importance. The records you maintain might be used in classes, lectures or tours. You might gear your work towards a specific historical time period, like colonial history. Some archivists work towards creating electronic copies of the historical documents they work with. In May 2011, the BLS reported that archivists generated a median yearly salary of roughly $48,000. Job growth was expected to be average at 12% between 2010 and 2020.

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