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Careers in Historic Preservation: Options and Job Requirements

A career in historic preservation requires a significant amount of formal education. Learn about the education, job duties, and requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Humans create museums and preserve historic sites to help us learn about our ancestors, our world, and the cultures that compose it. Carrying out this work requires a high level of education, generally at least a master's degree, and can lead to a career as a historian, a curator, an archaeologist or anthropologist.

Essential Information

Historic preservation is the act of identifying, saving and sharing items that are significant because of qualities like purpose, provenance or rarity, including artifacts, structures and locations. Careers in historic preservation can be found in a variety of fields and require special training and education.

Careers Historian Archaeologist/Anthropologist Curator
Required Education Master's or doctoral degree Master's or doctoral degree Master's or doctoral degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 2% 4% 7%
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $55,800 $61,220 $51,520

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

A bachelor's degree and additional education in history, art history or museology prepares a student for a career in historic preservation. Historic preservation jobs include historian, archeologist and curator.

Historian

Historians scrutinize the past using primary and secondary sources and may choose to take an active role in historic preservation by becoming historic preservationists. Historic preservationists maintain historic places and things, often by applying guidelines from the National Historic Preservation Act. Many historians find employment with federal, state and local government agencies, main street associations, as consultants or with nonprofit historic preservation advocacy groups. As of May 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that the median annual wage for historians was $55,800 (www.bls.gov).

Job Requirements

Historians with a bachelor's degree may find some entry-level options for employment as historic preservationists, but more advanced degrees are necessary to truly open up the field. During their undergraduate and graduate education in history or historic preservation, historians may participate in hands-on lab work, including time at field schools where they practice analyzing and preserving history first-hand. Additional experience may be garnered during internships, and many schools have historic preservation departments where prospective historians can network and work on building career plans. Historic preservation coursework may include, but is not limited to, design, preservation planning, legal issues in preservation, landscaping, economics, period-specific history and research techniques.

Archaeologist

Archaeology is a subfield of anthropology, which is the study of culture. Archaeologists focus on finding, learning from and preserving historical artifacts like pottery and tools. The majority of archaeologists work for cultural resource management firms and are often occupied via contract by private, public and federal agencies to plan archaeological preservation projects. These firms are also responsible for ensuring historical preservation during building projects. The BLS collects salary statistics for archaeologists and anthropologists together and estimated a median annual wage of $61,220 for people in this career field as of May 2015.

Job Requirements

Career-specific education is a necessity for prospective archaeologists. Completing a bachelor's degree program in archaeology or anthropology with an archaeology major or concentration might prepare students for entry-level positions as research assistants, while master's degree or doctoral programs can lead to career advancement on a professional level. Many educational courses for archaeologists include hands-on laboratory work and fieldwork or internships.

Curator

Most curators work with collections of historical artifacts at museums or historical sites, acquiring, authenticating, storing, preserving and displaying items for the public. Their duties may also include conducting research, acting as museum director, interfacing with the public, planning exhibits and completing various administrative duties. The BLS predicted this field would see job growth of 8% between 2014 and 2024, due to ongoing public interest in museums. As of May 2015, the BLS estimated that curators earned an annual median salary of $51,520.

Job Requirements

Curators are required to obtain a high level of education by obtaining a bachelor's degree in a field like art history or museum studies, at the very least, and are often required to obtain one or more master's degrees or Ph.D.s to compete in this field. Curators are expected to have experience in museology as well as their specialty field, in addition to an aptitude for the latest technology in their field and design fundamentals if they manage exhibits. Museum study programs are available for undergraduate and graduate students, and they often cover advanced research techniques and archaeology. These degree programs may also include internships or a practicum for hands-on experience.

Whether you want to work as a historian, an archaeologist, an anthropologist, or a museum curator, you'll need an advanced degree and a great deal of specialized training. This field is expected to experience slow-to-average job growth over the next decade, so field experience and good connections combined with a doctoral degree will offer you the best advantage when looking for a position.

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