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8 Compelling Careers in History



History is a discipline whose foundational elements are driven by the thrill of discovery. Studying history at the graduate level means researching and analyzing the many periods of human civilization—everything from the agricultural revolution, colonialism, and industrialization to epidemics that wiped out populations.

Diving into the past can be compelling, and discoveries are being made even today. Recently, historians found Sally Hemings’ living quarters at Monticello and the National Archives released some top-secret files from President John F. Kennedy’s assassination to the public. Discoveries like these and the technological advancements that allow for new types of research and data collection means that history students have many exciting career path options open to them, including the eight possible careers in history discussed in this article. Each of the eight career opportunities includes a breakdown of what those jobs look like and the necessary skills, typical responsibilities, earning potential, and industry growth projections for each career.

Historian

A career as a historian is one of the most prominent tracks a Master of Arts in History graduate can pursue. Many historians work for local, state, or federal government entities, curating and preserving important documents, artifacts, and memorabilia. Other historians manage museum archives or conduct public outreach in the tourism industry.

Historians must possess a strong capacity to conduct thorough research, but this skill transcends the realm of merely digging through archives. They must have the ability to analyze the information culled from their research objectively so the facts surrounding historical events can be determined accurately. Historians must also have robust organizational and detail-oriented skills, as a weak acumen in either may threaten to compromise the integrity of their research. Historians also need sharp communication skills to be able to present their findings in an engaging manner.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2017, historians earned a median salary of $59,120 per year. Those working in high-level industries like the federal government earned an average of $94,800, according to the BLS. The BLS projects the job market for historians to increase by 6 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is close to the average job growth for all industries.

Educator

Completing a Master of Arts in History degree can prepare students for a career in the education field, either at the high school or postsecondary level. In these roles, individuals can act as stewards of human development, sharing key achievements and failures of civilizations over thousands of years with the next generation. They must employ sharp communication and speaking skills to share this information in a lively manner, but they should also have critical thinking and active listening skills to properly engage with students. Ultimately, these skills coalesce to provide students with the opportunity to explore the past, which can help them shape the future. An educator can use his or her acumen to drill down to a specific focus, such as U.S. History or the history of ancient civilizations. Educators can also take on advisory roles for students seeking guidance on career goals.

Salaries for history educators vary; high school teachers’ median income in 2017 was $59,170, according to the BLS, while postsecondary history instructors earned a median wage in the same year of about $80,000. The BLS projects the industry’s employment to increase by 8 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is about average.

Researcher

People who are interested in historical research as a career often turn their research findings into documentaries, museum exhibits, books, or scholarly articles. Researchers must possess strong analytical and critical thinking skills to craft complete, unbiased presentations on historic events. They must also have solid organizational skills to ensure accuracy within their findings, and they need sharp communication skills to convey their findings to people in an intriguing manner. Their collective reporting assists other researchers with different historical questions lead to other historical inquiries and serves as the basis for other historical research. History researchers can also offer their skills to museums, federal agencies managing cultural resources, or the private sector, where they’re often hired to create publications or exhibits meant for public distribution.

Professional historical researchers who pursue careers as archivists or curators earned a median salary of $47,360 in 2017, according to the BLS. BLS has also predicted that this occupation group will see a faster than average employment growth at 13 percent between 2016 and 2026.

Library Science

Earning a graduate degree in history could be the foundation for a career in the library science field. Library scientists assist others in finding reputable sources and materials for research,  including by showing people how to utilize the Internet’s research capabilities efficiently. Library scientists must possess robust organizational, data collection, and analytical skills, which could be key in guiding people toward sources and information efficiently. They need strong written and oral communication skills to effectively convey information and ideas to people. Library science specialists must have excellent customer service skills in order to properly interact with patrons seeking guidance.

According to the BLS, individuals in this occupation group earned a median salary of $58,520 in 2017. The BLS also projects a 9 percent employment increase in the industry by 2026.

Archivist

There are many options for those seeking a career in history as an archivist. Archivists traditionally work with a company or organization’s staff or donors to organize, catalog and process historic records and collections, which can range from cultural artifacts to works of art. They are also often charged with organizing and classifying these materials systematically to make them easily accessible for researchers. Depending on the organization, an archivist could be responsible for preserving photographs, audio and film components, or digitizing an existing collection.

Archivists must possess strong research skills, which can be applied to determine the historical origin, context, and importance of the artifacts they encounter. They must be able to work independently and in groups—often including members of the public. They must also have impeccable problem-solving skills, since some of the artifacts they encounter may demand special care for preservation purposes. Archivists should also have strong computer skills to allow them to create and manage complex artifact-related databases.

Archivists earned a median salary of $47,360 in 2017, according to BLS. The job outlook for archivists is also excellent, with the BLS predicting a 13 percent growth in this occupational segment between 2016 and 2026.

Journalist

While journalists gather and disseminate information to inform the public about current events, they write about those current events in context by recalling past events, especially on historic anniversaries or milestones. These types of stories do more than “keep history alive;” they often provide a deeper, more personalized context that can compel people to view the event from an empathetic viewpoint. To execute this competency, a journalist must possess a strong acumen for storytelling that engages audiences on a personal level. Journalists need to exhibit strong research skills to gain a full understanding of the story they’re covering. To commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a journalist might interview someone who shared the stage with Dr. King during his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and to explain how Dr. King made a difference in her life. A journalist can show footage from the area volunteers who honor Dr. King’s memory to illustrate how they keep his dream alive today. A good story, well told, is part of the allure of both history and journalism. Additionally, journalists must have excellent objective listening skills, so they can discern important information from interview subjects. According to the BLS, journalists earned a median salary of about $41,000 in 2017.

Editor

Students with a Master of Arts in History degree may decide to pursue a career in editing, a profession that can provide guidance to a history-related project from start to finish across multiple mediums. An editor can apply their craft to several formats, including magazines, textbooks, film, and university presses. Regardless of the medium, editors are tasked with carefully tailoring content while preserving its historical accuracy. Successful editors are detail-oriented and polish projects meticulously. Because editing projects are often set with deadlines, excellent time management skills and a keen knowledge of the production process are essential. Editors will also have a firm understanding of a project’s design and layout needs, as they will use this acumen to determine the level of editing needed.  

Editors in 2017 earned a median salary of almost $59,000, according to the BLS. While a bachelor’s degree may be sufficient in some cases, many publishing houses prefer their editors to hold a master’s degree. There were approximately 127,000 editing positions in the United States in 2016, and the job outlook for this position is predicted to remain constant over the next decade.

Writer and Author

Historians can combine their knowledge base and affinity for research with creative skills to embark on a career as a writer or author. People in this profession can use their creativity and observational skills to craft compelling narratives on historical events and eras, bringing them to the masses in a manner that can be entertaining and easily digestible. In some cases, writers and authors can use history to create the essential context within a work of fiction. They also may be able to use their writing ability to bring engaging intrigue to non-fiction works. Those in this field must have a firm grasp of grammar and syntax, and they must have a knack for problem-solving for purposes of narrative flow.

In 2017, writers and authors earned a median salary of $61,820, according to the BLS. The projected industry employment growth between 2016 and 2026 is 9 percent.

Numerous Possibilities

Pursuing a career in history opens you up to a wide array of potential professions spread out across numerous industries. The level of professional choice afforded to those with a history degree provides a certain dose of intrigue that may not necessarily be replicated by more rigid majors. While the degree ties its holders to the past, it can simultaneously propel them into an exciting future.

Learn More

Norwich University is an important part of American history. Established in 1819, Norwich is a nationally recognized institution of higher education, the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and the first private military college in the United States.

With Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History, you can enhance your awareness of differing historical viewpoints while developing the skills you’ll need to refine your research, writing, analysis and presentation skills. The program offers two tracks – American History and World History, allowing you to tailor your studies to your interests and goals.

Recommended Reading

Career Outlook: History Professor

5 TED Talks for Aspiring Historians

Careers with a Master’s Degree in History

Sources

Historians as Researchers, American Historical Association

What Librarians Need to Know, American Library Association

Some Archival Career Advice, Smithsonian Institution Archives

Librarians, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics

Image, Norwich University