Difference Between a Historian & an Archaeologist

Historians and archaeologists are professionals who specialize in researching historic events, cultures and sites. They do have some distinct differences in their specific duties, work environment and focus, which are discussed here.

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Comparing Historians to Archaeologists

Historians specialize in the study of the past, and archaeologists also study historical information. These professions are similar, but serve different purposes. While historians may help determine who has a legitimate claim to a piece of property or why a building should be preserved, archaeologists often seek out and locate the historic sites and artifacts that historians study.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary Job Outlook (2014-2024)*
Historian Master's Degree $55,110 (2016)* 2%
Archaeologist Master's Degree $47,566 (2017)** 4%

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **PayScale

Responsibilities of Historians vs. Archaeologists

The work that archaeologists do often informs the work of historians. Archaeologists locate potential sites where ancient civilizations may have lived or where historic events may have occurred. They excavate sites and determine their historic significance. Historians may also determine the historic values of things like local buildings, but they typically use their study of history to inform their reports on other topics. For example, a historian may be involved in determining whether an Aboriginal group has a legitimate claim to a section of land, or they may write documents about historic events or figures.

Historian

Historians typically need to have a master's degree in their field. They often work for the government, and they may enjoy regular business hours. Others may work evenings and weekends as well if they are employed by places such as museums. Historians are studious individuals who benefit from an interest in research and enjoying writing about their findings. Their study of past events can focus on things as varied as the history of a political policy to property claims.

Job responsibilities of a historian include:

  • Reading historic documents
  • Locating other relevant documents or data
  • Ensuring information is authentic
  • Determining if a building has historic significance
  • Providing data about historic figures
  • Educating people about historic locations or groups

Archaeologist

Archaeologists use their knowledge about ancient cultures and historic events to help locate historic sites. They play an important role in preserving structures and things that have historic significance. A master's degree is the standard requirement for this career, although a doctoral degree may be an advantage when seeking work. Travel is common for archaeologists, although some do work at regular locations such as museums.

Job responsibilities of an archaeologist include:

  • Conducting research
  • Traveling to potential historic locations
  • Setting up digs to search for evidence of historic artifacts
  • Cataloguing artifacts found
  • Providing information about historic sites

Related Careers

Since historians spend a lot of time writing about history, aspiring historians may be interested in pursuing a career as a textbook writer. Those considering a career as an archaeologist may also want to think about working as an anthropologist, since anthropologists also study ancient cultures and may also use historic sites and artifacts in their research.

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