How to Become a Historian

Historian Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $67,060
Avg. Pay / hour $32.24
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 6.1%

They say that history is written by the winners, but for the most part it’s actually written by historians.

When you become a historian your work is to research, document, and interpret events of the past.

History is viewed as a branch of social science.

Most historians will specialize in a certain period of history.

For instance, it could be Tudor England, Ancient Egypt, or Revolutionary Russia.

They may also specialize in a particular aspect of a field.

For instance, a historian could be particularly interested in the culture of the era, the use of language, or the politics of the time.

Many historians work in educational settings, such as a professor in a college.

They also work in museums, as writers, or for state or local governments.

Education Requirements to Become a Historian

The education you require to become a historian will depend on the type of historian you want to be.

You will need at a minimum a four year bachelors degree with a major in history.

This could allow you to teach history in a high school.

It could also help you to get a job in a visitors center, library, or museum where you could work to on educational programs, or as a research assistant.

The best opportunities will go to those with a postgraduate qualification such as a masters or PhD.

A masters degree in history will allow you work on research projects or head your own research.

A PhD will allow you access to teaching positions within a college setting.

While at college, it’s a good idea to gain some experience as a historian.

Local libraries and museums offer numerous volunteer positions where you could start to gain some experience.

You could also offer to help your professors with their own research, or take on a position a graduate teacher.

Historian Job Description

When you become a historian, your role is to research the past.

To do this, you will use a range of sources.

It could be official documents from the past, artifacts discovered on archeological digs, or ancient texts.

Often, as advances are made in science, politics, as well as changes within society, periods of history are reinterpreted.

For instance, carbon dating has made it possible to verify many theories put forward by historians.

Movements like feminism have also changed the way we view the past.

Historians working in an educational setting, such as a college, will spend a good amount of time teaching.

They will also publish their own papers and research.

Those working in museums may spend some time archiving and researching, and also spend time with guests and visitors, using their skills to bring light to the past for others.

Here are some of the tasks of a historian:

  • Reviewing documents and artifacts from the past
  • Conducting research
  • Preserving artifacts
  • Teaching
  • Researching and writing papers
  • Writing books

Historian Salary and Career Path

There are many different paths you could take when you become a historian.

If you were employed as a college professor, you would start out as a graduate teacher, then as an assistant instructor.

You would climb the ranks of academia to become a professor once you gained tenure.

Working in a visitors center or museum, you could start out as an assistant.

You could be giving out tickets, keeping accurate records, or simply handing visitor inquiries.

After a while, you may give talks or presentations to visitors.

You could go on to coordinate exhibitions, manage departments and facilities, or other administrative duties.

Many historians work as researchers.

They could be assistant a college professor on a project, or working for a state or local government.

Some historians go on to write books about particular periods of history.

Some work as researchers for documentaries, films, movies, or TV shows.

The median wage for a historian is $54,000 a year.

The middle 50% earn between $35,000 and $77,000.

The highest incomes will be earned by those who work within education.

Some similar roles to that of a historian include:

You can find out some more information about historians and a career in this field at the American Historical Association website.

If you would like to become a historian, you’ll need to be prepared to complete a lot of education and hard work to gain a role in this competitive field.

While this area is experiencing growth, there are always more applicants than jobs.

If you are truly passionate about history, then you will find this career rewarding.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$103,370
New Jersey$71,400
New York$50,710
North Carolina$73,790
South Carolina$51,770

The top earning state in the field is Connecticut, where the average salary is $120,980.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Connecticut - $120,980
District of Columbia - $103,370
Hawaii - $89,040
Maryland - $86,300
Colorado - $86,020
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Historians, OCC Code 19-3093, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a historian do?

In a nutshell, a historian is a specialist who studies and interprets the past.

There is a wide range of different types of historians; for example, some professionals might specialize in a specific era, while others study a certain region, and so on.

Historians can also specialize in history type (history of science, women, etc.) or even a specific decade and event.

Of course, even though the majority of historians specialize in a certain topic, they should still all have a general knowledge of the history of mankind.

The typical responsibilities of a historian usually include studying all sorts of historic sources and piecing together the information that they have accumulated; teaching in colleges and universities; conducting research; writing books and articles, and so on.

How much do historians make?

On average, a historian can make a little more than $61.000 per year in the United States.

In case you decide to choose this career path, you can expect to earn anywhere between $29.000 and $110.500 annually.

The salary would certainly depend on a variety of factors – your education and experience level, the facility you work in, the location and so on.

Historians that work in the District of Columbia, California, and Colorado, for example, have the highest average salaries, for example.

An entry-level historian can earn around $14.00 per hour, while a top-level specialist with plenty of experience can make $53.00 and more per hour.

How much does it cost to become a historian?

You would certainly need a bachelor’s degree in history, education or a related area, in order to become a historian.

A year in a university can cost you anywhere between $8.000 and $45.000 (and more); the cost depends on a variety of factors (the books, supplies, and accommodation expenses are not included).

To improve job perspectives, you can decide to go for a master’s degree in history that can cost $6.000-$70.000 per year.

If you want to go for a position in a university or a research institution, you might be required to possess a Ph.D. (around $11.000-$26.000 per year).

What is the demand for historians?

Between 2016 and 2026, the historian job market is expected to grow by 6.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That is slower than the average for all occupations in the United States.

The industry is mainly concentrated in the District of Columbia, New York, and Utah.

How long does it take to become a historian?

It will take you 4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree and 1-2 years to earn a master’s degree.

A Ph.D. can take you anywhere between 3 and 8 years (required for most teaching positions).

You can consider seeking an internship during your last years in university to get that on-job experience as the majority of employers prefer the candidates to have at least a few years of experience.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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