Historians held about 3,300 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of historians were as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||22%|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||20|
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||18|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||16|
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.
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.
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.
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.
In addition to coursework, most master’s programs in public history and similar fields require an internship as part of the curriculum.
Research positions within 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.
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.
Historians typically have an interest in the Thinking interest area, according to the Holland Code framework. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws.
If you are not sure whether you have a Thinking interest which might fit with a career as a historian, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Historians should also possess the following specific 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.
The median annual wage for historians was $63,680 in May 2019. 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 $29,760, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $114,810.
In May 2019, the median annual wages for historians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||$97,850|
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||65,060|
|State government, excluding education and hospitals||52,780|
|Local government, excluding education and hospitals||31,450|
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.
Employment of historians is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations.
Many organizations that employ historians, such as historical societies and historical consulting firms, depend on donations or public funding. Thus, employment growth from 2018 to 2028 will depend largely on the amount of funding available.
Historians may face very strong competition for most jobs. Because of the popularity of history degree programs, applicants are expected to outnumber positions available. Those with a master’s degree or Ph.D. should have the best job opportunities.
Practical skills or hands-on work experience in a specialized field such as collections, fundraising, or exhibit design also may be beneficial. Jobseekers may gain this experience through internships, related work experience, or volunteering. Positions are often available at local museums, historical societies, government agencies, or nonprofit and other organizations.
Because historians have broad training and education in writing, analytical research, and critical thinking, they can apply their skills to many different occupations. Thus, many people with history degrees do not compete for the limited number of historian positions.
For more information about historians, visit
American Association for State and Local History
American Historical Association
National Council on Public History
Organization of American Historians