How to Become a Sports Historian: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements of a sports historian. Learn about the job description, education requirements and the step-by-step process to start a career as a sports historian.

Should I Become a Sports Historian?

Sports historians have an extensive educational background in history with a specific focus on sports. Many also possess a journalism background and associated communications skills. Travel might be required in order to visit sources and conduct interviews.

Becoming a sports historian requires a great deal of history-related education, up to and including doctoral degree work with a focus on sports history, as well as experience in the field.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Doctorate
Degree Field Journalism, history
Experience Jobs may require more than 5 years' experience
Key Skills Written and oral communication, critical thinking, knowledge of historical events, use of email, databases and word processing
Salary (May 2014) $61,180 per year (Mean annual salary for all historians)

Step 1: Complete Undergraduate Education

The two common areas of study for aspiring sports historians are typically history and journalism. Both paths can lead to this career, depending on the specific student focus, but because graduate school is usually required, aspiring sports historians must obtain a bachelor's degree.

Most history programs require undergraduate students to choose some aspect of the subject to focus on. Sports history is generally not an option at this level, but certain specialties might be more appropriate than others; political history or contemporary American history, for example, would likely be a more useful focus for a sports historian than ancient history of the Middle East.

Journalism majors are also often encouraged to choose a specialty, although again, sports journalism is rarely an option. Instead, journalism students might choose to focus on magazine journalism and news reporting, since both of those are aspects of sports journalism. Like history programs, journalism programs are diverse. They can involve a wide range of subject matter. However, they usually include basic coursework such as writing, editing, reporting and ethics, as well as internships and field work.

Success Tip:

  • Gain experience through internships. Some schools can assist journalism majors in finding internships where the aspiring sports historian may have an opportunity to work with the paper's sports reporter to learn about the job. History majors may have opportunities as well.

Step 2: Complete Graduate Education

Most sports historians come away from graduate school with at least a master's degree, and more frequently a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). While graduate degree programs offer a student the opportunity to specialize, a specific sports history degree program was very rare at this level as of December 2012. The most common path toward this career through graduate school involves the completion of a master's degree or doctorate in history or journalism, continuing to focus on whichever specialty the student focused on during his or her undergraduate education.

Coursework at this level becomes more intense, with seminars, internships and professional programs taking precedence over lecture classes. The subject matter also becomes more specific. The true focus on sports history usually doesn't come until the student researches and writes a master's thesis or doctoral dissertation.

Success Tip:

  • Complete your Ph.D. dissertation in a sports history topic. During graduate school the sports history specialization can take center stage. A dissertation is what singles out a graduate as an expert sports history or sports journalism. This step is what makes someone a sports historian, instead of simply a historian. Your dissertation should be ready for publication upon defense in front of an academic panel. Seeking publication in a recognized sports journal or media outlet is another way to achieve professional credibility as a sports historian.

Step 3: Find a Job

Once the aspiring sports historian has obtained the necessary education, he or she must then find work in the field. Many sports historians become history professors and find jobs teaching at colleges or universities. Those who focused on journalism in their education may find work writing for sports magazines or reporting on sports news. Another option is to work in a museum, as a program coordinator or museum technician. The advanced education required to become a sports historian also serves as qualification for advancement into managerial roles, such as a managing editor or curator.

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