What does a Historian do?

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: November 17, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Education
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If you enjoy history, you might be considering a career as a historian. Before you go into this field or take steps towards this career, it’s best to understand what a historian does.

The job duties and the day-to-day life of a historian might be perfect for you. However, there may be a better career out there, as well. Let’s answer the question, what does a historian do, and look a little closer at this career option.

What does a Historian do?

What is a Historian?

A historian is someone that helps to interpret the past by studying history. They look at the details about the past and dig to get the facts. Typically, historians will write and publish articles and books on many different topics including places, people, and times.

As a historian, you may focus your studies on a specific time or specific events. You will be a fact-finder that shares information with the public.

What does a Historian do?

Historians come in many different types. It’s possible to specialize in a very specific area of history for your career. As a historian, you will have many different things you will do revolving around your specialty.

You will spend most of your time studying the written records of history. It’s also possible to study artifacts and other things from the past. As you research written documents, you will piece together information to create a historical narrative.

The main goal of any historian is to figure out what happened, why it happened, where it happened, how it happened, and who was involved. Some of the main job duties of a historian include:

As a historian, these could be your job duties. Your actual duties will depend on where you work and the type of specialty you go into.

Common Specialties for Historians

Most historians will specialize in a specific area of the world or time period. Ancient and Medieval history are both very popular time periods to study. It’s also common to specialize in a historical viewpoint, such as counterfactual, anarchist, or abolitionist.

Historians may also choose a general category, such as art history, maritime history, or Christianity. There are many specialties to choose from if you become a historian.

Along with specializing, historians can go into many different careers. Let’s look at a few of the common careers you can enjoy as a historian.

Types of Careers for Historians

1. Professor

Many historians are professors, as well. You will likely teach courses in your area of specialty. Along with teaching, you may perform research, give lectures, and even author a book.

2. Archivist

It’s also common for historians to work as archivists. This type of career will include organizing and maintaining artifacts and historical documentation. You may be responsible for the historical documents in a facility and the online archives.

It’s common to take and upload pictures of artifacts for online archives in this career. You might also help with preparing exhibitions for a museum or another facility.

3. Lecturer

You might be employed by a university or college to give lectures on your area of expertise. This could include traveling from one institution to another to present information to students or the general public.

4. Archeologist

As an archeologist, you can enjoy a very exciting career. This type of career for a historian will include maintaining, discovering, and excavating historical sites. You may unearth new artifacts and discover new historical facts from long ago.

Common Skills of Historians

If you want to become a historian, you will likely need to develop specific skills. The most common skills historians need include:

There are many skills you need to be a good historian. These are just a few of the main skills you want to develop.

Frequently Asked Questions About Historians

How much can I make as a historian?

According to Indeed.com, you will likely earn an average salary of about $84K per year as a historian. Some employers pay a higher salary, especially the armed forces and other government entities.

Those working in Virginia, D.C., and Pennsylvania will likely make a higher salary, too. These areas tend to pay an above-average salary for historians.

What type of benefits will I get as a historian?

When you work as a historian, you will likely get health insurance, vision insurance, and dental insurance. You may have access to a 401(k) and also get paid time off. It’s common for some historians to be able to work from home. In some cases, tuition reimbursement will be a benefit you get.

Where do historians work?

Most historians will work for universities and colleges. Usually, you will teach courses and also do research for the specialty you have chosen. If you are a professor, you will be expected to author a book or multiple books about your specialty.

Some historians will work as archivists or work for government agencies. It’s also possible to become a consultant to help with TV, film, radio and other forms of media.

What type of work environment can I expect as a historian?

When you work as a historian, you will likely work in a museum or on a university campus. The environment will include time in an office and you may need to do some traveling. You may travel to view artifacts or other sources as you perform research.

What type of hours do historians work?

If you become a historian, you will work regular hours with some work on evenings and weekends. Working at a university will give you a class schedule and very common 9-to-5 type of hours. If you work at a museum or another institution, you may work night and weekend hours when events are going on.

Some historians can work independently and set their own schedules. It will depend on your specialty. You may also work longer hours when traveling.

What type of degree should I get to become a historian?

When you go off to college to become a historian, expect to earn a bachelor’s degree and a more advanced degree. Many historians will earn a master’s or a Ph.D. Your area of specialization will help to determine the major for your advanced degree.

The most common bachelor’s degrees for historians include majors, such as history, historical preservation, public history, archival management, museum studies. Any of these majors will work well as you go from your undergraduate to your graduate studies.

What is the job outlook for this career?

historians are expected to grow by about 6% over the next ten years. This is about the same as the average of all occupations. This isn’t a fast-growing career, but it is growing at a steady rate.

If you enjoy history and you want to go into a career in history, becoming a historian makes sense. This is a great career for those that love to learn about the past. You will likely need to do well in your high school history classes and enjoy them.

Those seeking a rewarding career as a historian will want to learn more about what they do. Knowing what a historian does will help you to determine if this is the right career for you. If you can, shadow someone that works in the field before deciding this is the career path you’d like to pursue.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story is coming soon!