How to Become a Historian

historian researching at library

If history was your favorite class in high school, you may have considered a career as a historian. Earning a history degree is certainly a worthwhile endeavor. Studying history is a means of attaining insights into the challenges of present times. It also yields understanding of how certain trends can give rise to historical atrocities—and how to prevent such things from occurring again. So, what exactly do historians do, and how can you become one? It all starts with earning an undergraduate history degree.

Understanding What Historians Do

Historians seek not only to preserve records of the past but also to uncover new insights about it through original research. In their research, historians analyze and interpret facts that they then present in a cohesive narrative.

The specific tasks of historians vary depending on the positions they hold. For example, many historians work in academia, where they conduct research and teach students. Others become authors, publishing books on historical topics for scholars or a more general readership. Some act as consultants for movie studios and documentary producers. Specialists who work at historic sites, archives and museums are responsible for preserving historical artifacts and educating the public.

Earning Your Undergraduate History Degree

The first step toward becoming a historian is to earn your Bachelor of Arts in History. Before you choose a specific program, consider your career goals. If you think you would enjoy teaching, look for a history program that emphasizes secondary education and leads to initial teacher licensure. Note that the licensing requirements for secondary education teachers can vary from one state to the next. Be sure to check the requirements for the state in which you plan to teach.

Regardless of the specific history degree you choose, you can generally expect to gain a broad understanding of the major time periods throughout history, including significant conflicts, ideologies and societal trends. However, a college-level history program involves much more than simply memorizing facts, dates and names. It focuses on developing critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills alongside strong verbal and written communication skills. These skills are readily transferable to virtually all industries and professions. In addition, you will learn best practices in historical research, including methods of exploring and interpreting raw historical data.

Completing an Internship Experience

As you study for your bachelor’s degree in history, you may want to consider an internship. Employers in this field often prefer job candidates who have prior internship experience. In addition, if your internship supervisor is impressed with your skills, acumen or work ethic, you may be offered a full-time position upon graduation. Even if your internship does not lead to an offer of employment, it will provide you with invaluable experience and professional connections. In addition, you may obtain letters of reference that enhance your postgraduate job prospects.

When choosing an internship opportunity, consider your career interests. For instance, any of the following organizations may offer internship opportunities:

  • Museums and archives
  • Publishing companies
  • Documentary/filmmaking companies
  • Public history organizations
  • Community organizations

Pursuing Your Graduate-Level History Degree

There are many entry-level job opportunities for graduates with a bachelor’s degree. However, if you want to become a historian or pursue a higher-level career, you will need to earn at least a master’s degree. To become a history professor, you should plan on earning a doctoral degree in history. Certain other positions may also require a doctoral degree, such as high-level academic research positions.

At the graduate level, you will have the opportunity to conduct in-depth explorations into historical periods, themes and topics using primary source material. It is customary for a master’s degree program to require students to complete an ambitious project that reflects the skills they have learned. Similarly, at the doctoral level, students are expected to conduct original research that makes a positive academic contribution to the field.

Exploring Job Opportunities in History

A history degree is a highly versatile credential that can power careers across a variety of fields and industries. History majors can work in publishing or in the classroom. Some decide to become public servants. Another common path is to go on to law school and become an attorney. Alternatively, graduates may opt to become paralegals. Additional possibilities include marketing, copywriting, public relations, editing and social services.

Other careers that are more closely focused on the field of history include the following:

  • Archivist
  • Public historian
  • Museum curator
  • Middle or high school history teacher
  • History tutor
  • History textbook writer
  • Author
  • Documentary film writer or producer

Pursue your passion for history and prepare for a successful career by earning your degree at Grand Canyon University. We offer several degree programs for students who love history, including the Bachelor of Arts in History, Bachelor of Arts in History for Secondary Education (leads to initial teacher licensure) and the Master of Arts in History with an Emphasis in Education. Click on Request Info above to explore our dynamic learning community.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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