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 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:
- Collecting information from trusted sources
- Evaluating information to answer questions about a specific time, event, place, or person
- Analyzing historical records, artifacts, and other evidence from the past
- Creating reports to explain findings and the significance of the findings
- Making comparisons between current affairs and historical events
- Providing consulting for museums and historical sites when it comes to monuments, sites, and artifacts
- Working with museums and historical societies to promote preservation
- Preparing exhibitions for museums
- Gathering information to create biographies
- Teaching courses in a specific area of specialty and holding lectures
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Excellent research skills – You will spend quite a bit of time doing research and pouring over historical documents. This can take up quite a bit of your time, so excellent research skills are necessary.
- Critical thinking skills – You will need to review records and data to figure out what it means. Being able to think critically will help you as a historian.
- Historical interpretation – You will need to be able to interpret past events and documents. Historians have to come to a conclusion on how an artifact or document related to the time. It’s important to be able to interpret history properly if you go into this career.
- Communication skills – Historians need to be able to communicate well. You will need to present your findings verbally and author papers. Some historians will even author books.
- Work with a Team – You will need to work with a team as a historian. The ability to work with others is very important for this career.
- Speak a foreign language – Depending on your area of expertise, you may need to speak a second language. This isn’t always necessary, but in some specialties, it will be a required skill.
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.