Be a Historian: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a historian. Research the various educational requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in history.

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  • 0:01 Becoming a Historian
  • 1:12 Step 1: Earn a…
  • 2:59 Step 2: Earn a…
  • 4:11 Step 3: Find Work
  • 4:57 Step 4: Continue Researching

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Becoming a Historian

Historians research, analyze and interpret the past using data from various sources, including newspapers, archives, film, photos and letters. Some historians perform research and interpretation in colleges or universities as history professors, while others work in museums, government agencies, or other settings. Travel, weekend, and evening work may be required, depending upon the career path chosen. The median salary as of 2014 for historians was $55,870.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree, but many historians typically have a master's degree or PhD's
Degree Field History or other related areas
Experience Internship and/or field experience is beneficial
Key Skills Writing, reading comprehension, critical thinking, communication, detail-oriented

Sources: U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), O*Net Online.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Although many historians have at least a master's degree or even a PhD, one must hold a bachelor's degree in order to enter a graduate degree program in history. Individuals who wish to end their education after earning a bachelor's degree could find that many careers for historians require an advanced degree. Those with only a bachelor's degree in history usually end up working in entry-level positions, or other fields.

One career possibility involves pursuing certification as a high school history teacher. All individuals who plan to become K-12 teachers in public schools are required to participate in their state's required preparation and coursework for certification. Additionally, some states require exams for individuals desiring certification. If a student decides to become a history teacher prior to or during undergraduate studies, he or she can complete certification requirements while earning the bachelor's degree.

Success Tips:

Complete an internship or a field experience. Many undergraduate programs may offer internships. If not, future historians should seek out and apply for internships or field experiences suited to their particular niche and goals. Internships and field experiences provide hands-on training and the opportunity to learn practical skills from experienced historians.

Choose an area of specialization. Typically, history students at the graduate level study a specific area of history. You could be better prepared for this if you begin studying a certain area at the undergraduate level. In some cases, you may be able to choose a concentration that will allow you to emphasize a certain area of history, such as public history, world history, history of law, or history of science.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree or PhD

The majority of positions for fields such as public history, historical preservation, archival management, or museum studies require a master's degree. An individual who wants to work as a history professor or perform research at the college level needs to earn a graduate degree. One can teach at a community college with a master's degree, but a PhD is required to be eligible for a tenure-track position at a university.

Individuals who opt to attend graduate school, especially at the doctoral level, often narrow their focus to a particular geographical, cultural, or time frame in history. Areas in which one can specialize are almost endless. In addition to history staples, such as American and European history, one may find diverse areas of specialty, including Jewish history, world history, and diplomatic history, to mention just a few.

Success Tip:

Complete an assistantship. Most positions for historians require a good deal of research. Working as a graduate assistant will hone research skills, and if an individual who would like to become a professor participates in a teaching assistantship, he or she will obtain helpful experience in instructing university students.

Step 3: Find Work

After finishing graduate school, potential historians may be able to find work through the university they attended. If no positions are available, career services can help interested candidates locate opportunities at another university, museums, or government institutions. New graduates may also find careers through searching online job listings.

Success Tip:

Attend conferences and lectures. Events held by organizations like the American Historical Association help potential candidates find careers. These events may host on-the-spot interviews and provide invaluable networking opportunities. Making a good impression may open the door for future opportunities for jobs and possible collaborations.

Step 4: Continue Researching

Learning, for a historian, does not end with the acquisition of a graduate degree. Many occupations within this field require their historians to publish documents in their area of expertise, so attending lectures, visiting museums, and personal research are paramount for distinguishing oneself in their field. Doing so may allows a historian to contribute their personal perspective to the historical annals of time.

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