14 Pros and Cons of Being a Historian

Historian

Are you drawn to period pieces?

Do you find yourself curious about origin stories?

Are you fascinated by a particular location that you’ve never been to?

If you can relate to any of these, you might find working as a historian your calling.

The great thing about being an expert on the past is that there will always be someone ready to learn all about it.

Passion is hard to come by.

If history is yours, stay tuned.

We’re going to cover the ins and outs of making history your profession. 

Pros of Being a Historian

1. Employment Options

The variety of things you can do with a degree in history is quite exciting.

Depending on your interests, there’s a world of opportunity.

Historians can find work in museums, historical locations, landmarks, universities, publications, entertainment, and so much more.

There are so many times when historical accuracy is important for businesses and beyond, so there’s always going to be a need for an expert.

2. First to Know

If you’re even considering a life in the past, you probably are obsessed with knowledge.

When you work in the field, you will get to be the first to know about any new discoveries found by research teams.

Specialties such as archeology and Egyptology, for example, are a part historian and part adventurer.

It doesn’t seem to matter how much of the past we know about today, there are always finds that help to deepen our knowledge.

If you’re not finding them, you’re finding them out before the public. 

3. Low Stress

Generally speaking, being a historian is a chill job.

Gets the blood pumping out of excitement, not a Karen.

At least, that’s how it should be.

Of course, if you’re public-facing, there will always be someone who claims to know more about a specific subject than you do.

That happens even though you’re literally getting paid to know what you know.

For the most part, people who come to a place are interested in the subject.

If you aren’t working with the public, you often work with like-minded professionals who don’t have a whole lot to argue about. 

4. Work-Life Balance

Whatever happens at work, stays at work.

There are no taking-home documents to go over.

Most things like that are handled delicately and can’t be transported.

If you work as a guide or in a museum, the workday is over when you leave the building.

Also, schedules can be quite flexible, depending on the means of employment. 

5. Additional Sources of Revenue

Being able to speak as an expert on a field that many people have questions about can really work out to your benefit.

It’s easier to create revenue based on niche knowledge.

For example, you could build a social media channel where you talk exclusively about a particular time in history.

It would be easy to gain a following from fellow history lovers.

Even in your own town, you could become a tour guide and give groups a deeper look at the places they’re walking past. 

6. Learn a Language

Depending on where your focus is, you might need to learn at least one language.

In fact, there are many doctoral programs where language at a certain proficiency is required in order to graduate.

Even if your concentration is on Early Modern Europe, there’s still a whole other way of speaking in English that you’ll have to get used to. 

7. Travel

Starting out, you might not get a position in the field that requires travel.

This is more in regard to moving up the ranks.

It’s not unlikely that you’ll need to travel for one reason or another.

One reason is for research.

Even if your expert knowledge is about the place you live, there’s always a reason to go elsewhere for research.

That can be about a person or even an object.

Some positions would have you travel more frequently to connect the dots.

There’s also always book writing. 

Cons of Being a Historian

1. Competition

The more education you get, the more specialized you are in a field.

When you go out into the workforce, you might think that opens you up to select jobs that you would be a shoo-in for.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of others who were thinking the same thing.

At that level of expertise, you are a hot commodity.

The downside is that there aren’t that many jobs willing to pay hot commodity salaries.

Be patient, though.

It may take a minute to work your way up, but focusing on getting published will help you get noticed. 

2. Low Activity

The life of a historian can be a reserved one.

There’s no heavy lifting and no hospital-like drama.

If you need a bit more action to keep you invested in your work, being a historian might not be the career for you.

That’s not to say there are no major events and escapades ahead.

But for most in the field, it’s a lot of quiet work full of research and sharing ideas.

It can also be solitary.

If you need people and stuff going on, try shadowing a historian to see how you feel. 

3. No Time Travel

This may sound silly, but it’s the most frustrating part of being a historian.

Mathematics can be proven in an equation.

Sports are happening now.

Medicine is constantly advancing.

When it comes to history, we kind of just have to take people’s word for it.

Primary sources are tough to confirm, and likenesses are sometimes guesses.

Without the ability to document a scene, we’re living off of evidence left behind.

Sometimes there is tons of evidence and other times there’s barely a scrap.

Luckily, future historians examining this time period will have plenty of video evidence.

If time travel was a thing though, imagine how different history books would be.

4. Funding

Whether the location is government or privately owned, it takes money to keep a place of importance up.

That can be tough on historians, especially if it’s not a place of tourism.

Raising money is often on the minds of historians who work in places that need financial backing.

It can be a pain to have to make those connections knowing you might need to ask for money.

Then, there’s asking for grants.

That’s a whole other job description. 

5. City Living

If you’re from a small town and want to stay that way, being a historian might get in the way of that.

At least for the time being.

The reason is that the highest quantity of jobs dealing with history is in the city.

Smaller towns either don’t have the budget or have interesting enough locations to need someone there who can tell people about it.

That means there will be more competition, higher living expenses, and traffic.

Who knows, perhaps after an illustrious career in the city, you can move back to your hometown and bring about some updates. 

6. Advanced Degrees

This wouldn’t be such a con for most historians if it weren’t for the cost.

Historians are likely not to make the big bucks for a long time.

So, asking them to bear the burden of having to get a master’s and a doctorate seems unfair.

However, getting the opportunity to soak up an academic environment with the abundance of resources a school has comes with its own set of joys.

But still, not only is it financially draining, but time-consuming as well. 

7. Loneliness

This might not be a con for some.

We would be remiss if we didn’t at least let you know that it’s not uncommon for historians to be alone a lot.

Whether it has to do with research, travel, administrative tasks, or so on, this tends to be a field where you are the historian of a place and not one of many.

So, there might not be anyone there to cheer you on, but there will always be someone happy to hear about discoveries. 

Pros and Cons of Being a Historian – Summary Table

Pros of Being a HistorianCons of Being a Historian
1. Employment Options1. Competition
2. First to Know2. Low Activity
3. Low Stress3. No Time Travel
4. Work-Life Balance4. Funding
5. Additional Sources of Revenue5. City Living
6. Learn a Language6. Advanced Degrees
7. Travel7. Loneliness

Should You Become a Historian?

When it all comes down to it, a historian should only be the career choice of someone who has a passion for the subject.

Without that itching desire to dig deeper and learn more, being a historian might be quite boring.

So, before you invest time in advanced degrees and work to become published, really analyze your priorities. 

Also, it would help the decision by deciding what direction you want to go, as a historian.

Look into pay scales, availability, and schedules. 

Jamie Willis
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