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What Historians Do About this section

Historians
Historians often study and preserve archival materials.

Historians research, analyze, interpret, and write about the past by studying historical documents and sources.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, individuals, 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sources in their work, including government and institutional records, newspapers, photographs, interviews, films, and unpublished manuscripts, such as personal diaries, letters, and other primary source documents. They also may process, catalog, and archive these documents and artifacts.

Many historians present and interpret history in order to inform 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 information on specific events or groups. Many write about the history of a particular government agency, activity, or program, such as a military operation or space missions. For example, they may research the people and events related to Operation Desert Storm.

In historical associations, historians may work with archivists, curators, and museum workers to preserve artifacts and explain the historical significance of a wide variety of subjects, such as historic buildings, religious groups, and battlegrounds. Workers with a background in history also may go into one of these occupations.

Many people with a degree in history also become high school teachers or postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment About this section

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

Historians held about 3,300 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of historians were as follows:

Professional, scientific, and technical services 25%
Federal government, excluding postal service 23
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 15
State government, excluding education and hospitals 15

Historians work in museums, archives, historical societies, and research organizations. Some work as consultants for these organizations while being employed by consulting firms, and some work as independent consultants.

Work Schedules

Most historians work full time during regular business hours. Some 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 may travel to collect artifacts, conduct interviews, or visit an area to better understand its culture and environment.

How to Become a Historian About this section

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

Historians typically need at least a master’s degree to enter the occupation. Those with a bachelor’s degree in history may qualify for some entry-level positions, but most will find jobs in different fields.

Education

Historians typically need a master’s degree or Ph.D. to enter the occupation. 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.

In addition to coursework, most master’s programs in public history and similar fields require an internship as part of the curriculum.

Research positions in the federal government and positions in academia 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.  

Other Experience

Many employers recommend that prospective historians complete an internship during their formal educational studies. 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.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Historians must be able to examine various types of historical resources and draw clear and logical conclusions based on their findings.

Communication skills. Historians must communicate effectively when collecting information, collaborating with colleagues, and presenting their research to the public through written documents and presentations.

Foreign language skills. Historians may need to review primary source materials that are not in English. This makes knowledge of the other language useful during research.

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 resources, including documents, images, and material artifacts.

Pay About this section

Historians

Median annual wages, May 2021

Social scientists and related workers

$80,890

Historians

$63,940

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for historians was $63,940 in May 2021. 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 $37,310, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $118,380.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for historians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $101,910
Professional, scientific, and technical services 61,910
State government, excluding education and hospitals 51,460
Local government, excluding education and hospitals 45,940

Most historians work full time during standard business hours. Some 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 may travel to collect artifacts, conduct interviews, or visit an area to better understand its culture and environment.

Job Outlook About this section

Historians

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Social scientists and related workers

5%

Total, all occupations

5%

Historians

4%

 

Employment of historians is projected to grow 4 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

About 300 openings for historians are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Organizations that employ historians, such as historical societies and government agencies, often depend on donations or public funding. Thus, employment growth will depend largely on the amount of funding available.

Employment projections data for historians, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

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

Historians

19-3093 3,300 3,400 4 100 Get data

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