Research Historian: Salary and Career Facts

Research historians may work in libraries, archives or universities. Find out about the education required to be a research historian, essential skills and career prospects to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering American History degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Research Historian?

Research historians gather data and analyze information about important past events and prominent people. After completing their research, they usually present their findings through the use of books, articles, exhibits, reports, and other types of literary platforms. They are considered authorities in chronicling history. Research historians may work in the public sector, in libraries or universities, while others might be employed as university professors. The following chart provides an overview of education requirements, job skills, and salary projections.

Degree Required Master's or doctoral degree
Education Field of Study History, with a focus in specific sub-field
Key Skills Research skills, writing, critical thinking
Job Growth (2014-2024) 2% (all historians)*
Median Salary (2015) $55,800 (all historians)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Kind of Education Do I Need to be a Research Historian?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), historians and other social scientists typically need at least a master's degree. You'll generally begin by earning a bachelor's degree in history from an accredited university. Your education in a history degree program should include a core curriculum, survey courses and more focused studies in specific areas of history. Because of the selective nature of graduate programs in this field, you should work toward developing a strong academic record.

Many universities offer terminal master's degrees in the field of history. These programs will emphasize independent research skills and a proficient knowledge of a specific area of history. Master's degrees are common among historians who work in the public sector.

In addition, you may pursue a doctorate in history. These programs are highly selective. You'll generally be required to submit a writing sample, letters of recommendation, a personal statement and scores from the Graduate Record Examination. The emphasis in doctoral programs is on independent research and producing a publishable work that represents a significant contribution to the field. These programs may last 5-10 years and are generally the prerequisite to working in an academic position.

What Will My Work Be Like?

You might work in the public sector, as most historians do. You will dedicate the vast majority of your time to research, often in library or archive settings. Your hours should be regular and the work should not be unusually stressful.

Those historians who pursue an academic career may work as professors. As a professor, you would teach classes, assist graduate students with their research and continue to perform and publish your own work. Academic historians may also be granted sabbatical years to focus on their research.

What Kind of Skills Do I Need?

Historians must be able to engage and interpret large volumes of information effectively. You should have strong critical reading and thinking skills. You should also have strong writing skills, since you will be publishing your research and conclusions. You might also find it helpful to have a passion for foreign languages and a desire to learn.

What Kind of Salary Can I Expect?

In May 2015, the BLS reported that the median annual salary of all historians was $55,800. At that time, the highest-paying employers of historians were the federal executive branch, civic organizations, consulting organizations, and postsecondary schools. The BLS expected employment for all historians to grow by 2% from 2014-2024, below the average for all occupations.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

As an alternative, you can work as an archivist, a curator, or a museum worker, as well as an anthropologist or an archaeologist. Archivists, curators, and museum workers deal with ancient artifacts and other historically valuable items and are responsible for preserving them. While museum workers typically need a bachelor's degree, archivists and curators need at least a master's degree. Anthropologists and archeologists, on the other hand, are focused on studying human origins, culture, and development from all over the world. Archeologists often carry out fieldwork and recover any evidence such as human remains and other artifacts from past cultures and early eras. Both anthropologists and archaeologists need at least a master's degree, with many holding doctoral degrees.

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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