History majors explore topics like art, architecture, and politics throughout the past. Earning a history degree qualifies graduates for career opportunities at museums, schools, and libraries.
Read on to learn about degree options, possible career paths, and professional resources related to the field of history.
Why Pursue a Career in History?
History careers span several disciplines, including the arts, business, and government. Graduates can pursue a job that aligns with their goals and interests. History majors typically pursue a specific discipline to focus their studies and develop a strong understanding of their subject area.
Historians explore and interpret past events and eras. Successful professionals in this field typically possess strong analytical, research, writing, and foreign language skills.
History Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), historians earn a mean annual wage of $68,690. The highest-paying areas of employment include the federal executive branch; architecture and engineering; and management, scientific, and technical consulting services. Other top industries include research, development, and postsecondary education.
Many careers in this field require a master's degree, and employment tends to be competitive. The BLS projects that historian jobs will grow by 3% between 2019 and 2029. Pursuing a history career may be rewarding, but you must commit a lot of time and energy to earning a degree.
A worker's salary potential depends on variables like their education, location, and experience level. The table below provides average annual salaries for a few common history careers based on a professional's experience.
|Job Title||Early Career
Skills Gained With a History Degree
During a history program, students complete coursework focused on a variety of time periods, regions, and thematic areas. Studying history helps students develop critical thinking, analytical, and writing skills, which are important qualities for the profession.
Regardless of whether graduates take history-related jobs or work in different fields, these skills can help history majors succeed in many industries.
- Analytical Thinking
History students examine primary sources, secondary sources, and other documents to identify relevant information and build arguments based on their analysis. They often use analytical skills when writing research papers, integrating their conclusions into an argument supported by evidence.
History classes require verbal and written communication skills, as students debate in class and write persuasive essays and papers to support their positions. History also trains students to understand a document's audience, purpose, and goals — a valuable skill that can translate into strong communication abilities.
- Foreign Languages
As a liberal arts major, history students often build strong foreign language skills as part of their programs. Curricula include a foreign language requirement, and most graduate programs expect reading proficiency in a foreign language. These skills can lead to history jobs in government, such as working for the U.S. Department of State.
- Problem Solving
History students use research and analysis skills to answer questions about the past. They act as investigators, studying the past for clues to better understand history and link past events to the present. A history degree builds strong problem-solving skills, which can benefit graduates pursuing many different jobs.
During a history program, students often conduct original research. They learn how to identify relevant and reputable sources, find the most relevant documents, and answer questions based on their analysis. At the graduate level, history students conduct extensive research that culminates in a thesis or doctoral dissertation.
History Career Paths
Pursuing a history degree develops strong research and writing skills, which may prove useful in many career paths. Some programs offer specializations that allow you to align your degree more closely with your goals. Possible career paths for a history major can be found in the areas of law, journalism, government, education, and business.
Law may be the right fit if you have a passion for helping people and seeking justice. A background in the history of constitutional law or government could help you define precedent and understand how laws evolve over time.
Journalism offers several specializations, including business, art, politics, and news. A background in history gives you perspectives on a variety of topics, which can help you draw comparisons to current trends and issues. A history degree also develops the research and writing skills you need to effectively write for journals, newspapers, magazines, and blogs.
Government careers span a variety of disciplines, including project management, civil engineering, archiving, social work, and administration. The curriculum of a history degree prepares you to succeed in government jobs by developing an extensive understanding of how governments evolve over time.
Education careers include opportunities to work with a variety of age groups. Education professionals often teach a single subject, like American history, art, architecture, economics, or social history. History teachers commonly teach secondary and postsecondary students.
This field includes career opportunities as museum curators, archivists, librarians, and historians. These roles typically require significant content knowledge and strong research, communication, foreign language, and writing skills.
Pursuing a career in business as a history major may not seem like an obvious choice, but a history degree develops the skills you need to analyze market trends and help organizations create strategic business plans. Common positions include consultants, economists, and market analysts.
How to Start Your Career in History
History majors can pursue a variety of career paths after building their research, writing, and analytical skills. Jobs you can get with a history degree include positions in schools, museums, archives, and libraries.
Many history majors go on to work as social studies teachers at the middle school or high school level, using their knowledge of history to teach young learners. At the highest level, historians with a doctorate can become university professors.
Associate Degree in History
In an associate program, history students gain analytical and writing skills by conducting independent research and presenting their findings in papers. An associate degree prepares graduates for jobs as administrative assistants or teaching assistants who provide support services for business or education professionals.
After earning an associate degree in history, graduates can also transfer into a bachelor's program to earn a four-year degree. Prospective history students looking for a more flexible option might be interested in earning an online associate degree in art history.
What Can You Do With an Associate in History?
- Administrative Assistant
Administrative assistants work as support staff in an office environment. They enter data, keep records, and conduct correspondence. Administrative assistants must possess strong writing and organizational skills. Some positions may also require direct contact with customers.
- Teaching Assistant
Teaching assistants help teachers work with students of all ages. They may perform administrative tasks, provide teaching support, and work with students who have special needs. Some public school positions may require a license.
- Tour Guide
Tour guides escort visitors at a tourist attraction or historically important site. They educate visitors about the location, answering questions and providing additional resources. History students often possess strong public speaking skills, research ability, and historical knowledge, which help them succeed as tour guides.
Bachelor's Degree in History
Students earning a bachelor's degree in history complete general education requirements and upper-level major courses. Many programs let students specialize in an area of history, such as modern U.S. or medieval Europe history.
History majors gain valuable research, writing, and analysis skills, which can lead to careers in education, public history, and preservation. The top online history programs prepare graduates for a variety of careers, including roles in fields outside of history. Students can also consider enrolling in an online art history program.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in History?
- Museum Educator
Museum educators provide educational support at museums by teaching visitors about the collections. They create learning strategies, give lectures, and create activities designed for visitors. Museum educators may also teach classes or oversee museum volunteers.
- Museum Technician
Sometimes called museum registrars or collections specialists, these workers are responsible for ensuring the safety of the many pieces within a museum's collections. These professionals may interact with the public by giving talks and answering questions.
Source: BLS and Payscale
Master's Degree in History
By earning a master's degree, graduates can expand their history career options. Many jobs that directly draw on the skills of a historian, such as adjunct instructor or museum curator, require a graduate degree.
During a master's program, students complete advanced coursework, build their analytical and writing skills, and write a master's thesis demonstrating their historical knowledge. Some specialties, such as public history, often include an internship in a museum, library, or archive.
What Can You Do With a Master's in History?
Historians study the past, research and interpret sources, and analyze evidence to reach conclusions. Historians draw on the analytical, research, and writing skills gained during a graduate program in history. They may work in academic positions, for museums, or for libraries and archives.
- Museum Curator
Curators help museums function by determining which content to display in exhibits and what the museum should acquire. They also design exhibitions, create support documents and information, and oversee museum operations.
Archivists organize and preserve documents, books, manuscripts, and other items of historical significance. They work for libraries, archives, government agencies, and private organizations. Becoming an archivist may require additional education or an archiving certification.
Doctoral Degree in History
Graduate students who earn a doctoral degree in history typically pursue careers in academia. A doctoral program includes coursework in a specialized field, comprehensive examinations, and a dissertation.
Most doctoral programs in history take at least five years to complete. After graduation, historians can apply for teaching positions at colleges and universities. Professors contribute to their field through scholarship and teaching, and tenured professors can go on to serve as department chairs, deans, and provosts.
Graduates can also pursue nonacademic careers in a public history, museum, or government setting.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in History?
- Postsecondary Teacher, History
College and university professors teach undergraduate and graduate courses in their field. In history, most professors teach 2-4 classes each term. They also engage in community services and help mentor students. Most professor positions require a doctorate.
- Department Chair (College/University)
Department chairs are professors who take on additional administrative responsibilities in exchange for a higher salary and fewer teaching obligations. Department chairs must hold tenure, and they must continue their research while serving the department. They play a role in hiring and promotion decisions, lead department meetings, and represent the department at meetings with the dean.
Provosts are academic administrators at the highest levels of a college or university. Their role includes managing the institution's educational programs, advocating for student affairs, and allocating funds to departments within the institution. Historians with a doctorate can move into administration after working as a professor.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
How to Advance Your Career in History
Pursuing additional education through volunteer work or certification programs can help you to specialize in a specific historical area, which may qualify you for career advancement opportunities and increase your earning potential. Additionally, some careers may require a specific license or advanced degree for entry or advancement.
The following sections explore continuing education options in history. Before investing in further education, research your target career to determine whether an advanced certificate or degree is necessary to achieve your professional goals.
Certifications and/or Licensure
Depending on their role, some history professionals may need to earn a license. For example, teaching careers in public schools require a state-issued teaching license. Other fields may not require a license, but earning a certificate can demonstrate to potential employers you have advanced training, skills, and knowledge.
Relevant professional certifications include the certified interpretive guide credential, offered by the National Association for Interpretation, and the certified genealogist credential, awarded by the Board for Certification of Genealogists. Make sure that the credentials you pursue align with your career goals.
You can qualify for entry-level positions in history with an undergraduate degree, but you typically need to earn a master's to advance into upper-level positions. However, even if you do not want to pursue an advanced degree, there are still ways to hone your skills and continue your education.
For example, Coursera offers access to dozens of free history courses from top colleges and universities. You can also pursue history fellowships, which are funded opportunities to pursue research or residencies in your field.
History careers tend to be competitive, so adding credentials to your repertoire may provide a competitive edge.
It is important to keep your knowledge, skills, and understanding of current history tools sharp. The list below describes a few ways to advance your career in history.
Membership benefits from joining a professional organization often include access to industry publications, online learning opportunities, conferences, blogs, and discounts.
Networking allows you to collaborate and find new opportunities. Professional organizations, museums, and libraries offer networking events for history professionals.
Taking online history courses allows you to advance your knowledge and pursue areas of study that interest you or align with your field. Several websites provide access to free online courses, and some may allow you to add certificates to your resume if you pay a small fee.
Continuing your education may allow you to specialize your career, earn a competitive advantage, and increase your earning potential.
How to Switch Your Career to History
Changing careers may seem daunting, but it is possible. You may need to invest time and money in a new degree or certificate or gain experience to qualify for positions, but the ability to pursue a new career may be worth it.
Begin by researching the career you want to pursue to determine which credentials you need. Many history careers require a master's degree, but if you already hold a bachelor's degree, you may qualify for several graduate programs.
Other positions value experience. If your professional experience includes research, writing, or the humanities, you likely already have many of the skills needed to launch a history career.
Where Can You Work as a History Professional?
History majors can begin careers in many fields. Historians may find work with government agencies, developers, and museums, helping shape educational programs and exhibitions. Some industries or states may offer more lucrative opportunities — salary potential varies depending on demand and cost of living.
History majors can find jobs in many areas, including government agencies, businesses, museums, and education settings. The section below describes five industries with high levels of employment for historians.
- Federal Branch
Professionals in this industry help the federal government operate by providing a variety of public services. Historians typically work with libraries and archives to collect and preserve historical information.
Average Salary: $98,050
- Scientific Research and Development Services
This industry involves researching products or processes. History graduates can work as consultants in this field.
Average Salary: $69,830
- Museum and Historical Sites
Careers in this industry focus on preserving and creating exhibitions for historical sites, objects, and natural wonders that provide cultural or educational value. Tasks may include collecting historical data in the field and curating and leading museum programs.
Average Salary: $60,630
- Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
This industry involves planning and designing residential, institutional, leisure, commercial, and industrial buildings or structures. Historians in this field work with developers and government agencies to help preserve historical structures.
Average Salary: $75,740
- State Government
Within state governments, historians typically work at public libraries or archives to preserve historical documents and artifacts.
Average Salary: $56,730
You can pursue history careers throughout the United States, but some areas offer better opportunities. For example, in the District of Columbia, Alaska, California, and Maryland, historians earn mean annual wages of over $85,000. Salaries typically correspond with an area's demand and cost of living.
Interview With a Professional in History
William “Bill” Svelmoe, Ph.D.
Bill Svelmoe is professor of history at Saint Mary's College in South Bend, Indiana. He grew up in the Philippines and studied English literature and creative writing at the University of California. He then got a master's and doctorate in American history from the University of Notre Dame. He has been teaching at Saint Mary's since 2000.
- Why did you decide to pursue a career in history? Is it something that you were always interested in?
No. As you can see from my bio, I originally wanted to write poetry and fiction. But I grew up in a very particular religious setting. My parents were missionaries in the Philippines. We were very conservative Protestants. I wanted to understand the community I grew up in.
Essentially, my interest in history came from a desire to understand the community that had shaped me. So I came to Notre Dame to study American religious history.
- How is a history program different from other college majors?
A history program is not all that different from other majors in the humanities. There will be a lot of reading and a lot of writing. Instead of reading literature or philosophy, you'll read works of history.
In some ways history is an excellent foundation for the other humanities disciplines. It provides the historical hooks upon which to hang works of philosophy or literature, each of which was written in a specific time period. Understanding the times will help you understand many of the historical causes which produced the work of literature, philosophy, or art.
- What was the job search like after completing your degree?
As with many graduate degrees, job searches are not easy these days. I applied far and wide, from Alaska to Egypt, at least 50 applications.
And then I walked across the street and got a job. It just so happened that Saint Mary's was looking for someone with precisely my academic strengths when I was in my last year of grad school. It's that kind of serendipitous match that leads to a job offer.
- Is history a versatile degree? Or one that has a clear career path?
Again, like many degrees in the humanities, history is an excellent degree for pursuing virtually any career. Studies have shown that business leaders are looking for graduates who know how to think, analyze, and present their ideas in clear ways. They are looking for good writers.
History is a pathway to law school, government work, and careers in museums and libraries. Perhaps the clearest path for a history major is to a teaching career, which often means further work in grad school. But a small percentage of our graduates actually go into teaching. Many more choose other careers.
- Is your career path typical of someone who graduates with a history degree?
A number of our majors have gone on to get a master's in history as a stepping stone to any number of careers.
Very few power all the way through to get a Ph.D. and teach at the college level. That is a long road, and you have to be certain that is where you want to wind up before embarking on it.
- What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job? The most challenging?
A college campus is simply a wonderful place to come to work every day. My colleagues are wonderful. But the most enjoyable aspect of teaching college is going into the classroom and spending time with my students.
At a liberal arts college, we tend to leave our office doors open when we're on campus. Students have the freedom to pop in and out at any time. The relationships I build with students, many of which continue long after graduation, are the best part of my job.
The most challenging part of my job, and I suspect many academics would echo this thought, is committee work. It takes a lot of committees to run a college. College faculty work closely with the administration on key aspects of college governance. That kind of extra work, while necessary, can take away at times from the more enjoyable aspects of what we do.
- What advice would you give to students considering pursuing a degree and career in history?
Take some history classes. Ask other students which classes you should sample, which classes will give you the best look at what studying history is like. You don't need to settle on a career right out of the gate. Settle into the major, work hard at the historical craft, and then as you mature into college life start thinking about what you want to do after college.
Talk to your profs about your interests. They can connect you to graduates who are working in your fields of interest. If you're interested in grad school, talk to your profs about what that experience is like.
Start nosing around early on the internet. Find out which schools and programs appeal to you. If you're thinking about the long haul of a Ph.D. program and eventually teaching at the college level, make sure that you are really committed.
When I started grad school, I knew I wanted more than anything in life to teach in the college classroom. I was committed to knocking down every door until I got in somewhere. It's worth it, but these days it is a prize that few obtain.
- Any final thoughts for us?
The study of history will lead you to the most important questions in life. It might not provide easy answers, but it will definitely guide you to the right questions, and that is the foundation upon which wisdom is inevitably built.
Resources for History Majors
Once you launch your history career, it is important to stay apprised of industry trends and network with your peers. Joining professional organizations, subscribing to publications, and taking free online courses can help you accomplish these goals.
- Professional Organizations
American Historical Association: The AHA is the largest professional organization in the field. It offers access to publications, industry news, learning tools, and research grants. Members can also attend the association's annual meeting to network with peers and learn from industry experts.
Organization of American Historians: The OAH is a professional association dedicated to promoting the teaching and study of history. It publishes the Journal of American History, The American Historian, and the OAH Annual Meeting Program. Members also gain access to teaching tools, podcasts, and career resources.
National Council for History Education: NCHE is a professional association serving history educators. Members receive a digital newsletter and discounts for admission to museums and historic sites across the nation. The council also hosts a two-day conference that offers lectures, networking opportunities, and the latest industry news.
American Association for State and Local History: AASLH is a national professional organization offering resources for any history lover -- professionals, volunteers, students, and enthusiasts. Membership includes a subscription to History News magazine, discounts on online and in-person professional development opportunities, and access to an annual meeting.
World History Association: The WHA is a global professional organization serving scholars, teachers, and students. It hosts an annual conference at varying locations around the world, giving members the opportunity to travel, network, and learn from industry leaders. Members also gain access to history publications and volunteer opportunities.
American Alliance of Museums: AAM is a professional organization for museum professionals, volunteers, and museum-supporting organizations. Membership includes access to an exclusive resource library, discounts on development programs, discounts on books, and a subscription to Museum magazine. Members can also access peer-to-peer networking opportunities to find open positions.
- Open Courseware
Riots, Strikes, and Conspiracies in American History - Massachusetts Institute of Technology: This course focuses on a series of short-term events that had an impact on American politics, culture, and social organization. Students learn the roles these events played in shaping American history and current processes.
Introduction to Digital Humanities - Harvard University: This introductory course develops skills in digital research. Coursework covers using current technology to collect, organize, maintain, and search for information. Students also explore the role file types and digital tools play in streamlining the research process.
Roman Architecture - Yale University: This course provides an introduction to the building and engineering marvels of Rome and its empire. It emphasizes urban planning and monuments in Rome, Pompeii, and central Italy.
History Today: This magazine publishes the works of today's leading scholars on all periods, regions, and themes of history. History Today provides access to some free articles, but a subscription gives you unlimited access to the print publication, website, and digital version of the magazine.
Journal of Contemporary History: This quarterly, peer-reviewed journal publishes articles and book reviews on 20th century history. The journal's content covers social, economic, political, diplomatic, and cultural approaches to history. You can subscribe to a print or digital version.
National Geographic History: This magazine explores history and culture across eras. Subscribers receive six annual issues and access to online videos and featured series.
Smithsonian Magazine: This magazine offers expert articles on world history, U.S. history, and archaeology. A subscription provides 11 issues, access to online videos, a newsletter, and members-only discounts.
American Historical Review: The AHA publishes this review, which consists of articles written by scholars and industry experts. You must be a member of the AHA to access this publication.
The Journal of American History: The OAH publishes this journal four times a year. Content includes articles and reviews of books, exhibits, history projects, and movies. Some content may be available for free, but membership gives you full access to print and online materials.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is a history degree worth it?
Many history careers require at least a master's degree. As such, you must invest a considerable amount of time and money to earn a degree that can lead to your target career. If becoming a historian is your dream job, this investment is likely worth the effort.
- What kind of jobs can you get with a history degree?
Careers for a history major vary across industries and specializations. Graduates can find rewarding opportunities working with museums, parks, schools, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies.
- Is being a historian a good career?
Becoming a historian is a good fit for professionals with a passion for research, writing, and using the past to make informed decisions about current issues.
- Is there a demand for historians?
The BLS projects 3% job growth for historians between 2019 and 2029 — about as fast as the average position in the U.S. However, the field is small, which means that jobs can be incredibly competitive.
- How much do historians make?
According to the BLS, historians earn a median annual salary of $63,680.