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Working as a Historian

What Does a Historian Do

Historians research, analyze, interpret, and present the past by studying historical documents and sources.

Duties

Historians typically do the following:

  • Gather historical data from various sources, including archives, books, and artifacts
  • Analyze and interpret historical information to determine its authenticity and significance
  • Trace historical developments in a particular field
  • Engage with the public through educational programs and presentations
  • Archive or preserve materials and artifacts in museums, visitor centers, and historic sites
  • Provide advice or guidance on historical topics and preservation issues
  • Write reports, articles, and books on findings and theories

Historians conduct research and analysis for governments, businesses, nonprofits, historical associations, and other organizations. They use a variety of sources in their work, including government and institutional records, newspapers, photographs, interviews, films, and unpublished manuscripts, such as personal diaries, letters, and other primary documents. They also may process, catalog, and archive these documents and artifacts.

Many historians present and interpret history in order to inform or build upon public knowledge of past events. They often trace and build a historical profile of a particular person, area, idea, organization, or event. Once their research is complete, they present their findings through articles, books, reports, exhibits, websites, and educational programs.

In government, some historians conduct research to provide historical context for current policy issues. For example, they may research the history of Social Security as background for a new bill or upcoming funding debate. Many write about the history of a particular government agency, activity, or program, such as a military operation or the space program.

In historical associations, historians preserve artifacts and explain the historical significance of a wide variety of subjects, such as historic buildings, religious groups, and battlegrounds.

Historians who work for businesses may examine historical evidence for legal cases and regulatory matters.

Many people with an educational background in history become high school teachers or postsecondary teachers.

How To Become a Historian

Although most historian positions require a master’s degree, some research positions require a doctoral degree. Candidates with a bachelor’s degree may qualify for some entry-level positions, but most will not be traditional historian jobs.

Education

Historians need a master’s degree or Ph.D. for most positions. Many historians have a master’s degree in history or public history. Others complete degrees in related fields, such as museum studies, historical preservation, or archival management.

In addition to coursework, most master’s programs in public history and similar fields require an internship as part of the curriculum. Internships offer an opportunity for students to learn practical skills, such as handling and preserving artifacts and creating exhibits. They also give students an opportunity to apply their academic knowledge in a hands-on setting.

Research positions within the federal government and positions in academia typically require a Ph.D. Students in history Ph.D. programs usually concentrate in a specific area of history. Possible specializations include a particular country or region, period, or field, such as social, political, or cultural history.

Candidates with a bachelor’s degree in history may qualify for entry-level positions at museums, historical associations, or other small organizations. However, most bachelor’s degree holders usually work outside of traditional historian jobs—for example, jobs in education, communications, law, business, publishing, or journalism.

Many people with an educational background in history become high school teachers or postsecondary teachers.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Historians must be able to examine various types of historical resources and draw logical conclusions based on their findings.

Communication skills. Historians must communicate effectively when collaborating with colleagues and when presenting their research to the public.

Problem-solving skills. Historians try to answer questions about the past. They may investigate something unknown about a past idea, event, or person; decipher historical information; or identify how the past has affected the present.

Research skills. Historians must be able to examine and process information from a large number of historical resources, including documents, images, and material artifacts.

Writing skills. Writing skills are essential for historians as they often present their findings in reports, articles, and books.

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Average Salary$53,827
Job Growth Rate6%

Historian Career Paths

Top Careers Before Historian

Volunteer
15.1 %

Top Careers After Historian

Volunteer
10.6 %

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Tell us your goals and we'll match you with the rights job to get there.

Average Salary for a Historian

Historians in America make an average salary of $53,827 per year or $26 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $85,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $34,000 per year.
Average Salary
$53,827

Best Paying Cities

City
Average Salary
Anchorage, AK
Salary Range92k - 136k$112k$112,264
San Francisco, CA
Salary Range57k - 130k$87k$87,007
Reno, NV
Salary Range51k - 119k$79k$78,511
Portland, OR
Salary Range52k - 116k$78k$78,104
New York, NY
Salary Range46k - 108k$71k$71,095
Philadelphia, PA
Salary Range46k - 107k$71k$70,541
$30k
$136k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyCompanyStart DateSalary
National and State Register Historian
National and State Register Historian
Colorado State
Colorado State
01/23/2021
01/23/2021
$54,00001/23/2021
$54,000
Oral Historian
Oral Historian
State of North Carolina
State of North Carolina
09/24/2020
09/24/2020
$42,78009/24/2020
$42,780
BLC Architectural Historian
BLC Architectural Historian
City of Boston, Ma
City of Boston, Ma
09/16/2020
09/16/2020
$52,17509/16/2020
$52,175
Historian-Fort
Historian-Fort
Colorado State University
Colorado State University
07/26/2020
07/26/2020
$40,00007/26/2020
$40,000
ACE Crdip Historian: North East Regional Office-Direct Authority
ACE Crdip Historian: North East Regional Office-Direct Authority
American Conservation Experience
American Conservation Experience
03/31/2020
03/31/2020
$29,21803/31/2020
$29,218
See More Recent Salaries

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Historian Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Historian. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Historian Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Historian resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

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Historian Demographics

Gender

female

56.3 %

male

38.5 %

unknown

5.2 %

Ethnicity

White

71.5 %

Hispanic or Latino

10.6 %

Black or African American

7.6 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

43.1 %

French

12.5 %

Chinese

7.0 %
See More Demographics

Historian Education

Majors

History
13.2 %
Business
10.4 %

Degrees

Bachelors

71.6 %

Masters

9.6 %

High School Diploma

6.7 %

Top Colleges for Historians

1. Harvard University

Cambridge, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$50,420
Enrollment
7,582

2. Columbia University in the City of New York

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$59,430
Enrollment
8,216

3. New York University

New York, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$51,828
Enrollment
26,339

4. University of Michigan - Ann Arbor

Ann Arbor, MI • Public

In-State Tuition
$15,262
Enrollment
30,079

5. Cornell University

Ithaca, NY • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,188
Enrollment
15,105

6. Brown University

Providence, RI • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,466
Enrollment
6,752

7. Duke University

Durham, NC • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,695
Enrollment
6,596

8. Boston University

Boston, MA • Private

In-State Tuition
$53,948
Enrollment
17,238

9. University of Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, PA • Private

In-State Tuition
$55,584
Enrollment
10,764

10. University of Texas at Austin

Austin, TX • Public

In-State Tuition
$10,610
Enrollment
40,329
See More Education Info
Job type you want
Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Top Skills For a Historian

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 14.7% of historians listed cultural resources on their resume, but soft skills such as foreign language skills and research skills are important as well.

  • Cultural Resources, 14.7%
  • Historic Resources, 10.6%
  • Historical Research, 10.3%
  • Oral History Interviews, 8.5%
  • Historic Properties, 6.0%
  • Other Skills, 49.9%
  • See All Historian Skills

Best States For a Historian

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a historian. The best states for people in this position are Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and California. Historians make the most in Alaska with an average salary of $110,706. Whereas in Oregon and Washington, they would average $78,321 and $77,094, respectively. While historians would only make an average of $76,912 in California, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Nevada

Total Historian Jobs:
1
Highest 10% Earn:
$148,000
Location Quotient:
4.48
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Alaska

Total Historian Jobs:
0
Highest 10% Earn:
$160,000
Location Quotient:
0
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Washington

Total Historian Jobs:
1
Highest 10% Earn:
$150,000
Location Quotient:
1.09
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Historian Employers

1. Pi Kappa Phi
3.6
Avg. Salary: 
$62,475
Historians Hired: 
17+
2. Circle K
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$56,721
Historians Hired: 
7+
3. WestCare
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$55,383
Historians Hired: 
6+
4. Sigma Nu Fraternity
2.8
Avg. Salary: 
$65,192
Historians Hired: 
5+
5. Habitat for Humanity
4.1
Avg. Salary: 
$49,612
Historians Hired: 
5+
6. National Park Service
4.7
Avg. Salary: 
$47,235
Historians Hired: 
5+