Film Historian: Job Description and Educational Requirements

A degree in film history focuses on analysis of culturally, historically, or socially significant films. Find out about program requirements and learn about career options, job growth, and salary info for film history graduates.

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Individuals interested in pursuing film history careers have several job options available, including historian, archivist, and film teacher in post-secondary schools. Most film historians hold a bachelor's, masters, or PhD depending upon the career they wish to pursue. Both film historians and archivists need master's degrees to research and analyze films of historical or cultural significance, or preserve and catalog films for a university, museum of library. In contrast, post-secondary teachers need a PhD.

Essential Information

Film historians study and analyze films of some importance to society for historical or cultural reasons. Most film historians hold bachelor's and master's degrees in film studies. Post-graduate studies involve intense and frequent analysis of film techniques, direction, writing, and other aspects of film production relevant to a film's historical significance. Students with degrees in film history have many career options available.

Career Historian Postsecondary Teacher Archivist
Education Requirements Master's degree Master's degree or PhD Master's degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 2% for all historians 13% for all post-secondary teachers 7% for all archivists, curators and museum workers
Median Salary (2015)* $55,800 for all historians $65,340 for all art, drama and music college teachers $50,250 for all archivists

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

There are many opportunities for job opportunities for students interested in a career in film history. One might become a research historian, an educator, or an archivist. Continue reading to find out about the job growth expected in these areas and the average salaries earned in these careers.

Film Historian

Like many historians and archivists, film historians frequently hold graduate degrees. They might work independently or find employment at universities, libraries, museums or government agencies. Film historians preserve, catalog and maintain films of all genres, cultures and time periods and publish their findings for scientific and public education. Film historians research, study and analyze films of historical, social or cultural significance. They could use their knowledge to interpret and present theories and information to other professionals and the public, or they might publish independent works to preserve significant films and documents. Most film historians focus on particular niche areas, such as a certain genre, a particular era or a specific film director. As part of their research, film historians might watch films, read scholarly and mainstream literature, conduct interviews or travel to areas where films were shot.

Expected job growth for historians is projected to be 2% between 2014 and 2024 which is below average for all occupations. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary historians earned in May 2015 was $55,800.

Film Historians as Educators

In addition to performing research, film historians can work at educational institutions teaching and lecturing. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), professors who work at 4-year colleges and universities devote a significant percentage of their time to research, while educators at 2-year colleges spend more time teaching (www.bls.gov). Working as a film historian requires an extensive amount of research, analysis and writing for the purpose of interpreting historical data in order to form and present conclusions. Teachers of cinematic studies could present the research they conduct, or that of other film historians, within their classrooms.

Post-secondary teachers can expect to see approximately 19% job growth between 2014-2024 according to the BLS, a rate that is above average. Art, drama and music post-secondary teachers in May 2015 earned a median salary of $65,340.

Film Historians as Archivists

Archivists locate, catalog and preserve historically significant documents, records and films. Similar to their counterparts working at universities, film historians employed as archivists might specialize in particular film genre or cultural area. This obscure knowledge assists archivists in identifying and dating films as well as determining which films are significant enough to incorporate into an existing collection. Some archivists actively work to acquire new films, while others focus on cataloging and studying existing film libraries. Additionally, film historians working as archivists could coordinate or host exhibits and events to entertain and educate the public.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic projects 7% job growth for archivists between 2014-2024. This is about average. In May of 2015, the median salary for an archivist was $50,250.

Educational Requirements

The BLS stated that historians and archivists usually obtain graduate degrees in their field of study. For a film historian, that could be cinema, film studies or a film-related discipline. In rare cases, film historians might only possess a bachelor's degree, but they can usually offer other qualifications, such as establishing credibility through cinematic research or published works.

A bachelor's degree in film studies typically requires students to take general education courses followed by classes that teach the fundamentals of film history, theory, production and research techniques. As students progress to the master's degree level, courses become more specialized, and can focus on the study of particular types of films, advanced film production techniques and advanced research methodology. Students of a Ph.D. program also seek out specialized studies and conduct independent research in film to incorporate into a dissertation.

Those interested in pursuing a film history career may consider becoming a film historian, post-secondary teacher, or an archivist. People in these career paths are expected to have at least a master's degree in a film program or a PhD. These careers involve researching and analyzing film, teaching students about film, or preserving and cataloging film for academic institutions.

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