Architectural historians study the work of architects and building styles that are representative of a particular culture or time. While many schools offer degree programs in architectural history, you may also get a job with a background in art history, architecture or cultural geography. Read on for career and employment information, and degree options.
Many architectural historians examine structures and neighborhoods to make recommendations regarding historic designations. You could also find work in museums, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and restoration companies. Curators, archivists and conservators must have at least a master's degree. These careers involve administering museums, historical sites and exhibits. They may research buildings to determine their architectural history and style, create plans to restore them to their original condition or preserve them. You could also find employment as an architecture critic, building preservationist, historic site manager or heritage organization consultant.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that the demand for historians would increase by 6% between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov), while curators could see job growth of 13%. In May 2012, the median annual salary for historians was $52,480, and curators earned $49,590, the BLS reported.
If you choose to study architectural history, you can learn about architects and their work through various periods in history. Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs in architectural history are available through art and architectural departments of colleges and universities. As an architectural history student, you can explore architectural theory; Baroque, East Asian and ancient architectural styles; the history of urban planning and landscape styles. You can also learn about design theory and specific architects, such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Giorgio Vasari and Giotto di Bondone. These degree programs include courses that cover history, geography and art history. You can often gain experience and contacts in the field through school-sponsored internships in museums or historic buildings.
Undergraduate degree programs may have foreign language requirements in French, Italian or German. Some programs offer specializations in specific architectural styles and eras, such as the Renaissance or Medieval periods. You can also specialize in historic preservation or architectural design. A bachelor's degree program in architectural history can be a starting point for earning advanced degrees in art, architecture or history. These programs can qualify you for a career in architectural criticism or historic preservation planning.
Graduate degree programs typically require heavy amounts of research, independent studies projects and a thesis related to a specific aspect of architectural history. Although architectural history programs include studies in architectural theory, design and drawing, they don't qualify you for a career as an architect.
Research and writing skills are essential in this field. You'll also need a strong understanding of local history and familiarity with relevant building codes and environmental compliance laws.