Jobs in Historic Preservation: Salary and Career Facts

Find out about the education requirements, possible career paths, job duties and potential earnings for historic preservation professionals to discover if this might be the right career choice for you. Schools offering Museum Studies degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is Historic Preservation?

Historic preservation involves the careful analysis, inspection, and preservation of historic documents, building, artifacts and other objects of historic significance. Some jobs in this field include archivist or historian, who work in both the private and public sectors, as well as preservation-focused carpenters.

Archivists are mainly concerned with keeping records of historical objects and making sure the knowledge gained from them is not lost. A historian may use information provided by archivists in their research of the past, in which they may focus on a specific time period or culture. Carpenters can be involved in preservation by rebuilding and repairing historic structures in their original style. The chart below outlines the education requirements, career paths, key skills, and potential earnings for these historic preservation professionals.

Historian Archivist Carpenter
Degree Required Master's degree Master's degree High school diploma
Education Field of Study History, library science History, library science Architectural history, conservation
Key Skills Research, analysis, record keeping Research, analysis, record keeping General carpentry, historic preservation knowledge
Job Growth (2014-2024) 2%* 7%* 6%*
Median Salary (2015) $55,800* $50,250* $42,090*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Jobs Are Available in Historic Preservation?

Historic preservation is a growing field that focuses on the protection of cultural heritage through the restoration and conservation of buildings, documents, art and artifacts with historic significance. As a preservationist, you evaluate, interpret and preserve what is historically and culturally valuable to make it accessible to the public. Many jobs are found in government. At the federal level, you can work at institutions such as the Department of Defense and the National Archives, or you might work at state historical sites, local museums and community preservation projects. The most common jobs at these facilities are for archeologists, preservation architects, curators, archivists and public historians. Specially trained craftspeople such as masons and carpenters are instrumental in the restoration and maintenance of historical structures.

What Will My Job Duties Be?

Generally, in historic preservation jobs, you work with historical documentation and artifacts; however, the job duties of archivists and public historians often overlap. They work together to prepare museum exhibits and preservation projects for public access. Public historians are generally researchers who focus on the interpretation of history for the public, using documentation often preserved and provided by the archivist. Archivists are manual, digital and electronic record keepers who manage historic evidence to ensure and maintain its usefulness for the public and for researchers. Both an archivist and a historian understand documents in their historical context and analyze and assess their relationship to other sources as they prepare them for the public.

Preservation carpenters and trade workers perform many typical renovation and maintenance tasks, including repairing windows, brickwork and other structural elements; however, in historic preservation, craftspeople must consult historic documents to ensure that repairs and upkeep to historic buildings maintain the original appearance of the building and surrounding landscape. Craftspeople may also plan and execute retrofits of historic buildings to enable modern use with minimal impact to the structure, under the supervision of a historical architect or preservationist.

What Education Do I Need?

According to the American Historical Association, an archivist needs both a history and a library science degree (www.historians.org). A few joint programs at the graduate level focus on both public history and archival information management. As a prospective archivist, you can find master's degree programs in library science that offer concentrations and certificates in archival studies and preservation. Generally, a master's degree in public history with a certificate or concentration in archival studies will help you develop your skills in historic preservation. A doctorate is preferred for most professional advancement, and several Ph.D. programs in history with a public history or preservation concentration are available. The majority of doctoral programs are in library science and information management; through these, you can continue to focus on archival studies and historic preservation.

As part of its continuing studies program, The Society of American Archivists (SAA) offers a special certificate for professionals to update their skills in order to meet the recent demand in digital and electronic record keeping. The Academy of Certified Archivists offers a yearly exam that leads to a renewable, 5-year certification. Certification is not required to work as an archivist, but you can voluntarily sit for the exam with a master's degree and professional archival experience.

Master of Science in Historic Preservation degree programs provide a background for supervising and managing broader projects, like the preservation of a building complex or an entire region's historical sites. These typically cover architecture and design history, preservation theory and hands-on work planning and executing a preservation project for a city or private client.

A few preservation carpentry programs are available through trade schools and professional organizations to train woodworkers for jobs in historic preservation. In addition to general carpentry principles and practices, these specialty programs emphasize architectural history, conservation practice and research to determine historically accurate repairs and renovations.

What Could I Earn?

According to the BLS, graduate degrees in history and library science and updated computer skills in record keeping give you the best chance at an archivist job. The BLS reports that in May 2015, the median annual salary for an archivist was $50,250. Archivists working for the federal executive branch of the government earned the highest salaries, making $83,030 on average. Historians, as of 2015, earned a median annual salary of $55,800; as with archivists, the average for federal government historians was much higher, at $91,050, than the occupation as a whole.

According to the BLS, jobs for historians were expected to grow by only 2%, below the national average of 6%, while jobs for archivists were expected to experience growth of 7% from 2014-2024. If have good analytical, research and writing skills as a historian, or solid electronic and digital record keeping skills as an archivist, you can be more competitive in this field.

Preservation carpenters are often self-employed, so earnings are contingent upon the number and types of restoration projects they work on. Some may be employed by historic sites or societies, and earn a regular wage. The median annual salary for all carpenters, including those working in new construction and historic preservation, was $42,090 according to the BLS in May 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

You could also pursue a job as an anthropologist or archeologist, which requires a master's degree. These professionals are involved in the study of the origin and development of different peoples and cultures around the world. They may study different artifacts and items from historic cultures in order to gain a fuller understanding of how they used to live. You may also be interested in a career as a librarian, which requires a master's degree in library science. Librarians are generally experts in how to conduct research, and they share these skills with individuals who want to research various subjects and topics.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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