CAREERS IN HISTORY
WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH A DEGREE IN HISTORY?
Only a small percentage of history majors become full-time, professional historians. Most students pursue a wide variety of careers. With a B.A. in history you can become an educator, researcher, museum worker, public historian, journalist, editor, archivist, librarian, information manager, lawyer, advocate, policy advisor, or politician. You can work in business or for a nonprofit, charitable foundation, think tank, or public interest research or advocacy organization. This section offers a brief review of career opportunities for history majors. It is based on information from the American Historical Association (AHA). Their website has additional information. See www.historians.org If you plan to work as a professional historian, you should consider becoming a member of the AHA, the leading organization for all fields of history (see below).
The very best guide for history majors is Careers for Students of History, by Constance Schulz, Page Putnam Miller, Aaron Marrs, and Kevin Allen (2002: 64 pages, $7 AHA members, $9 nonmembers. ISBN 0-87229-128-6). You may read and download it online from http://www.historians.org/pubs/careers/ This booklet offers in-depth chapters on history jobs in the areas of Education; Museums; Archives; Editing & Publishing; Historical Preservation; and Federal, State, & Local History. Note: Many jobs require a Master’s degree.
Historians as Educators: Secondary Schools, Colleges, Historic Sites and Museums. In addition to schools, educators are important members of many institutions. These include historic sites and museums, where history majors can become docents, education directors, curators, guides, and interpreters. In addition, there are other forms of teaching than standing up in front of a classroom. These include work as historical consultants, contract archivists, public historians, and writers.
Historians as Researchers: Museums and Historical Societies, Historic Preservation, Advocacy and Public Policy. Historians as researchers include public historians as well as policy advisors, who serve as planners, evaluators, and policy analysts, often for state, local, and federal governments. In addition, historians often find employment as researchers for museums and historical organizations.
Historians as Communicators: Writers and Editors, Journalists, Documentary Editors, Producers of Multimedia Material. Because success as a history major depends upon learning to write effectively, many historians become writers and editors. Some write historical books or become journalists. More commonly, they work as editors at a publishing house.
Historians and Library Science: Archivists, Librarians, Records Managers, Information Managers. Because history majors must learn to deal with primary sources, many go on to pursue a one- or two-year graduate program in library studies (MLS degree) or archival management.
Historians in Politics and Advocacy: Lawyers and Paralegals, Legislative Staff, Foundations, Nonprofit Associations. Historians and lawyers share many skills: both need to be able to write and argue persuasively using data to support their arguments. Many lawyers majored in history. Other history majors enter public service and become policymakers, serve as legislative staff at all levels of government, or work at granting agencies and foundations
Historians as Businesspeople: Many overlook the value of a history major in preparing for a career in business. Yet historians learn to track historic trends, an important skill for those developing products to market or engaged in business planning. Historians also learn how to write persuasively. This training can give them an edge in advertising, communications media, and marketing.
CAREERS IN PUBLIC HISTORY:
MUSEUMS & HISTORICAL SITES
Many students are particularly interested in working at museums and historical sites. This field is categorized as “public history.” If this is your goal, we strongly encourage you to complete an internship at a local museum or public history site during your undergraduate career. Many of the following websites have Job/Career sections and some have job listings.
General Public History
- American Association for State and Local History http://www.aaslh.org/
- see their Career Center and Jobs on Line section
- National Council on Public History www.ncph.org
- National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History
- National Park Service
- Oral History Association
- The Public Historian
- Society for History in the Federal Government
- Northeast Documentation Center
- Public History Resource Center
- includes employment information, web site reviews, interviews with public historians about their career path, and other resources.
- Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
- National Trust for Historic Preservation
- National Center for Preservation Technology and Training
- American Association of Museums
- Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums
- Museum Job Resources Online
- provides basic information about museum careers.
- Society of American Archivists
- See their Employment Bulletin.
- National Archives and Records Administration
- Southeastern Library Network Preservation Services (SOLINET)
State and Local Organizations
- Alphabetical list of historical and genealogical organizations in Massachusetts
- Massachusetts Foundation for Humanities
- Massachusetts Historical Society
- Massachusetts Historical Record Advisory Board
- Pioneer Valley Planning Commission
Federal government: See the Office of Personnel Management. This web site lists all available federal jobs, so job seekers will have to do a subject search to find relevant listings. Many (but not all) history positions are classified under the "GS-170 Historian" job category.
Publications: Careers in History:
Public History: Essays from the Field, edited by James B. Gardner and Peter S. Lapaglia (2004), provides a useful introduction.
Directories may also give you an idea of the range of employment opportunities for public historians. Useful sources include the Directory of Federal Historical Programs and Activities compiled by the Society for History in the Federal Government, the Directory of Historical Consultants maintained by the National Council on Public History, and the American Association for State and Local History's Directory of Historical Organizations in the United States and Canada.
UMass Amherst: Masters Degree in Public History.
There are many M.A. programs in public history. Locally, UMass Amherst has a nationally-recognized program. Their website notes that, “Massachusetts boasts a rich network of museums, archives, historical societies, documentary filmmakers, and historic preservation agencies, as well as one of the top public research universities in the nation. Since 1986, the public history program at the UMass Amherst has provided a vital link between the University and the Commonwealth's wide variety of institutions that preserve and communicate history to the public. The public history program prepares graduate students for entry-level positions in museums, archives, and historic preservation; provides historical services for area institutions and government agencies; and develops innovative public projects that engage a broad range of audiences outside the University.” You can learn more about this field by checking out their UMass website: http://www.umass.edu/history/ph/index.html
The American Historical Association.
If you are serious about working in the field of history, plan to become a member of the American Historical Association. Their student membership rates are very reasonable. The AHA journal and Perspectives magazine (both free to members) offer invaluable sources of information for those entering the profession. Perspectives has very relevant articles on the history job market, graduate schools, and job listings.
According to its mission statement, the AHA is a nonprofit membership organization founded in 1884 for the “promotion of historical studies, the collection and preservation of historical documents and artifacts, and the dissemination of historical research. It is the largest historical society in the U.S. The AHA serves more than 14,000 history professionals, representing every historical period and geographical area.” (It’s not just about American history!).
“AHA members include K –12 teachers, college professors, graduate students, historians in museums, historical organizations, libraries and archives, government and business, as well as independent historians. The AHA provides leadership and advocacy for the profession, fights to ensure academic freedom, monitors professional standards, spearheads essential research in the field, and provides resources and services to help its members succeed.”
However, you should be aware that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of different historical organizations in the U.S. (ex. business history, military history, Latin American History, New England History, European History, Women’s History, African-American History, Sports History, Civil War History, Peace Historical Society, etc.) If you don’t like the AHA, find a historical organization that you do enjoy. It’s also important to attend historical conferences in order to stay current on the latest research and engage in on-going education!