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What Can You Do with a History Degree?

Updated on August 19, 2014

So You Want to Study History?

Every year, hundreds of thousands of American youths begin the rite of passage known as college. Many of them know exactly what they want to do with their lives--some of them are mistaken. Others have absolutely no clue as to what type of career they desire. For many, college looks like the logical next step as the continuation of high school. It seems as though its what these youngsters are supposed to do.

One of the most popular majors that students fall into is the history major. According to a Wall Street Journal article on the "Best College Majors for a Career," history is the 18th most popular major in American colleges. Most historians are not exactly getting rich, with the median income at $50,000. While the money may not be up there with some scientific and medical fields, the unemployment rate for history majors is 6.5%, which is well below the national average

A general history or teacher education degree in history or social sciences seems to be the route to go in terms of getting employed. Those who focus more narrowly in fields such as art history or United States history fare more poorly with unemployment rates of 6.9% and 15.1%, respectively.

Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson--Historian/Political Scientist before Becoming Governor and President
Woodrow Wilson--Historian/Political Scientist before Becoming Governor and President | Source

What Do Historians Do?

When I decided to study history, which was actually an interest of mine from my earliest memories, I often got questioned on my choice. "Why would you want to do that?" or "What can you do with a history degree?" were frequent inquiries I received. The goal was originally to teach at the college level. I did not achieve that goal, nor can anyone with a Bachelor's degree in history.

Some people wonder what historians do. Historians interpret past events. They do not, as some people think, merely accumulate a series of random facts and put them together. History, if done well, tells a story about the past. The story that historians tell can serve both positive and negative purposes.

Negative examples would be American slavery and the Holocaust. There are some people out there who want to ignore these events as if they never happened. There are also some people who are really "out there" who would like to say they were positive events. Remembering the stories of those who lived through these events provides a cautionary tale that will hopefully help humans avoid doing the same awful things in the future. In a very brief nutshell, this is the work of historians.

But That Isn't Very Useful in the Real World Is It?

So, historians interpret the past to make a useful narrative that shows human activity. Some might argue that this doesn't seem to be very useful in the real world. Actually, historians learn skills that many employers find useful.

The major skill that many people find useful from those trained as historians is the ability to research and interpret information. A degree in history can instill critical thinking skills into students. Those who study history are forced to look into competing arguments and analyze the evidence used to understand what is more plausible or correct.

In addition to critical thought in relation to available sources, historians are often creative. The goal of the historian is to think through problems and questions in creative ways to come up with explanations that make sense based upon the evidence available--the "facts" of history. At times, this involves thinking outside the box, which is something that some employers find useful.

What Can You Do with a History Degree?

The types of jobs available to those trained as historians are quite broad, especially if the history major is willing to work on additional studies. Here is a list of some of the jobs in which historians may find themselves:

Primary or Secondary School Teacher (generally needs teacher education classes and certification for public schools)

College Professor (requires a graduate degree in history)

Online Instructor (nice side income that usually requires at least a masters degree with 18 hours in history)

Historian (many state agencies and businesses, as well as historical societies have need of historians)

Living History and Public History (historic sites often employ reenactors or historical interpreters to bring the past to life to the general public)

Retail Management (some companies that students work for during college merely require a degree)

Writer/Editor (historians are required to write extensively, and many have a solid grasp of the English language)

Government (this is a broad category, but a history degree can open many doors in this sector, especially for students with some business or political science electives)

Law (a history degree is a frequent stepping stone to law school)

Ministry (a degree in history can provide a good foundation for religious studies necessary for ministers)

Finally, you can even become president with a history degree--George W. Bush did. Also, Woodrow Wilson was a professor of political science and history before become president.

There you have it. For those of you who may be history majors and are asked what jobs are out there for history majors, you have a list. Some of the jobs are better gigs than others, but none of them are going to be a job few people want to do.


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    • cprice75 profile image

      cprice75 4 years ago from USA

      Teaching history is pretty fun. I've done it a a few levels--middle school to undergrad. I also started out working in government for a few years, so there are opportunities for those who are able to handle the degree program.

    • rondmrn profile image

      Ron Mariano 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I chose to be a History major because I would really like to teach history in the high school level and if all goes well, hopefully teach it in college. I love studying history, reviewing documents, interpreting the past, and so on.

      Great article. Thanks for listing all the other possible career paths for students majoring in History. Voting up!

    • cprice75 profile image

      cprice75 5 years ago from USA

      I totally agree. Some powerful people would prefer having mindless drones, rather than people that think for themselves. Thanks for commenting.

    • yoginijoy profile image

      yoginijoy 5 years ago from Mid-Atlantic, USA

      History, like other humanities such as Literature, Art,and Music are so important to study because as you so clearly say it tells us who we are! If we only study to make money we will forget who we are and become less able to think for ourselves, something that is very necessary in a democracy!

    • cprice75 profile image

      cprice75 5 years ago from USA

      I have some friends who have done this kind of work. One of my friends said that it definitely makes you be interesting to a wide variety of people since 8-year-olds and 80-year-olds may be in the same group. In a way, it's related to the field of public history. It is a field that I find kind of interesting, but my thought is that all of the time off from academic history (for writing books and articles and such) makes this part of the field the ideal.

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 5 years ago from Hawaii

      You can work at a park, like me! I'm part of a state historic site education and interpretation team. It's kind of like teaching, only your 'students' can just wander away if you're not interesting.

    • cprice75 profile image

      cprice75 5 years ago from USA

      Thanks for the comments, folks. I'm glad that at least a few people out there agree with my assessment. A broad education can open doors that other people may not be able to get into. Sometimes, a foot in the door is all that is required to achieve big things in life.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      As you say, without an advanced degree, you probably won't land a huge salary, but I wish I would have gone for a history degree-- doing what you love is indeed better than being a corporate drone. The mystery of history is a challenge to find the TRUTH of of what happened. The truth is out there. Nice hub. Voted up and interesting.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      This is great information, and would be helpful for college students trying to choose a major. I went with the social sciences, because I thought it was interesting, and even though I don't use it at work much, the critical thinking skills I learned are helpful everyday.

      Almost all of the jobs I have held require at least a bachelor's degree, but they do not specify which field.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      diminish - spelling should be appreciated too!

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      There are many subjects we study in the process of becoming educated that don't translate well into the professional world. That fact shouldn't diminish their value, just put it in perspective. I loved my music appreciation course. But there aren't many jobs for music appreciators. Still it opened a world to me that I still get a great deal of pleasure from in my life.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      This was a hub that needed to be written. You covered the topic well and perhaps have given some students and some parents good food for thought. Good Hub. Sharing

    • cprice75 profile image

      cprice75 5 years ago from USA

      One of the things that the expansion of college programs after WWII led to was a look at history from different people. Social history became a big deal, and challenged the view of history from above that was only concerned with powerful dead white males. I think a full picture of the past requires a look at both and teach accordingly.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      I am with you on this and I think we are finding out many things in history that was never before brought out, if they are indeed true (such as our past presidents being as scandalist as some present ones). One thing that surprised me in a study I did on the Moravians of North Carolina was a record left by Anna Catharina that seems to imply they celebrated the first Independence Day instead of what our history books show.

      Great hub, voted up.