How Do I Become a Historian?

Find out what it takes to work as a historian. Learn about education requirements, salary potential and job outlook to determine if this is the right career path for you. Schools offering American History degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Historian?

Historians study the past by researching and analyzing artifacts, as well as written and electronic accounts of events gone by. They may interpret and report the significance of these events for the benefit of government entities, historical organizations and clubs as well as educational institutions. Historians work in a variety of places, including museums, universities or government agencies. Some focus on writing historical articles and books. The main purpose of historians is to inform and educate.

The chart below outlines the education requirements, salary potential and job outlook for historians in general.

Degree Required Master's or Ph.D
Education Field of Study History, specialized historical topic
Key Skills Writing, research
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 2% (all historians)*
Median Salary (2015) $55,800 (all historians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Educational Requirements Are There for Historians?

Historians, like most other workers in the social sciences, most often need a graduate education. You can prepare in high school by taking strong foundational classes in social sciences and different types of history. Next, as an undergraduate, you may major in history and begin to think about which areas of history you want to specialize in. Specializations are usually categorized in terms of geographical location (e.g., history of Norway), topic (e.g., history of gender), group of people (e.g., history of the Vikings) or science (e.g., history of modern machinery). You will need good grades at this stage if you choose to continue on to graduate school.

While some positions related to history - like being a high school educator or doing work of a historical nature for a campaign, corporation or newspaper - are open to you after completing your bachelor's degree, if you aspire to be a professional historian, you must seek a graduate education. Master's programs in history usually last about two years, while Ph.D. programs typically take a minimum of five years to complete; you'll have the best job prospects with a doctoral degree.

Graduate-level curricula include advanced courses in historiography (the writing of historical narratives) and your specialization, which will help to lay the groundwork for the writing of publishable historical articles, findings and inquiries. Ph.D. programs usually culminate with two years or more of work on a dissertation, which could have you flying across the world and huddled for hours in a library, surrounded by dozens of books.

What Might My Normal Day Look Like?

Whether you work for a museum, university or the government, or even if you work on projects like writing history books on your own time, you will spend lots of time with books, manuscripts, artifacts, steles (stone markers or slabs, typically bearing inscriptions) and other relevant historical documents. Being good at sifting through these large quantities of information and finding what is adequate quickly is necessary.

You might have to brush up on arcane geographical, political and technological terminology; research methods; and ancient languages for your next meeting with visiting professors, researchers, fellows or other experts. Be sure to work out all the technological kinks in your audio-visual material before your big book promotional presentation or lecture, since these will often define your public reputation as a historian.

How Do I Advance?

What can you do? What have you done? You need diverse and high-quality answers to these questions in order to advance. Have you written numerous articles for peer-reviewed, esteemed journals linked to the American Historical Association (AHA)? How many well-received books have you written? How many research and analysis methods are you familiar with?

And how broad is your range of historical knowledge? The more you've accomplished and the more you know, the better your chances are of receiving a promotion. How many languages can you speak, read and write? Many doctoral-level programs have a foreign language requirement, so historians with Ph.D.s typically know at least two languages; being able to understand even more can be beneficial to your research. These achievements can help you reach upper-level posts as a senior fellow, department chair or historical society head.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Sociologists are closely related to historians. They investigate society as well, though not necessarily from a historical perspective. They examine the behavior and interaction of various cultures, groups and organizations, analyze the information and develop theories on how these groups affect society and vice versa. Some sociologists specialize in a certain area such as criminology or statistics.

A political scientist incorporates many of the characteristics of historians and sociologists. They are concerned with the origin and development of political systems and how the operation of these systems can shape individual and societal behavior. They investigate the workings and interactions of political systems in various contexts such as international relations, national and local politics, and pure political theory.

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:

  • 1. Degree Options:
The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools

  • Southern New Hampshire University

    Southern New Hampshire University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Southern New Hampshire University:

    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • Regent University

    Regent University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Regent University:

    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • Grand Canyon University

    Grand Canyon University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Grand Canyon University:

    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • Purdue University Global

    Purdue University Global responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Purdue University Global:

    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • Liberty University

    Liberty University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Liberty University:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Colorado Christian University

    Colorado Christian University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Colorado Christian University:

    • Associate Programs

    Online Programs Available

  • Concordia University Portland

    Concordia University Portland responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Concordia University Portland:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • Penn Foster High School

    Penn Foster High School responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Penn Foster High School:

    Online Programs Available

  • Ohio Christian University

    Ohio Christian University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Ohio Christian University:

    • Bachelor Degrees
    • Associate Programs

    Online Programs Available

  • Saint Leo University

    Saint Leo University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Saint Leo University:

    • Bachelor Degrees
    • Associate Programs

    Online Programs Available

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. Next »