What Is a Historian? Definition and How To Become One

By Indeed Editorial Team

September 9, 2021

Researching different job opportunities can lead you to find a career path that aligns with your interests. By taking the time to research different job possibilities, you are increasing your job prospects. In this article, we will discuss what a historian does, what kinds of degrees are offered to those interested in history, necessary skills for historians to have and five jobs that those with a history degree can obtain.

What is a historian?

A historian is someone with expert knowledge of past events. They can have specialized areas of interest within their profession. A historian is important in the analysis, discovery and preservation of history. They are also employed by organizations to use their in-depth knowledge of past events and apply them to current situations to weigh outcomes.

Degrees for historians

You can become a historian with a minimum education level of a bachelor's degree, however, because the profession of a historian resides in the intellectual field, it is recommended that you obtain further education with a master's degree or Ph.D. in a specialized area.


A history degree is usually offered at the bachelor's level. In these generalized programs, students learn how to examine historic events and artifacts to create compelling arguments. They might take courses pertaining to specific historical time periods to gain a broad perspective of historic events and find their niche area.

Public history

Public history is the process and means by which historians make historical events and artifacts accessible to the public. Obtaining a degree in public history is a good option for those who want to work in museums and exhibit settings, tailored to harboring the public's understanding of historical events.

Historical preservation

A degree in historical preservation is beneficial for those who want to participate in conservation projects and the handling of historic artifacts. This degree teaches aspiring historians about laws and regulations that affect historical structures, conservation methods and artifact preservation techniques.

Museum studies

A museum studies degree, sometimes called a "museology degree," is offered at the master and doctorate levels. It focuses on the importance of museums in society, the history of museums and museum practices that preserve historical artifacts for the public to view.

Archival management

An archival management degree teaches participants how to properly organize and handle delicate documents and artifacts. This degree program might also instruct students on how to create and utilize online archives.

Related: 10 Popular History Degree Jobs

Skills for historians

Historians need a variety of skills to perform the diverse job responsibilities that can be required of their profession. Here is a list of skills that are important to historians and that can be implemented on a historian's resume:

Historical Interpretation

This is an industry-specific skill that requires someone to be able to review a past event, historical document or artifact and draw conclusions about it in relation to the historical time period. This skill can also be used in linking historical methods to the modern world and its events or practices.

Analytical thinking

A historian's ability to review records and analyze data can be an important component of their job duties.

Written and oral communication

Being able to speak and write effectively can help a historian present their ideas and translate complex concepts into terminology that can be understood by the public.

Fact recollection

A historian who works in a setting such as a museum or lecture hall should be able to use their expert knowledge and memory of events to answer historical questions.

Computer software proficiency

Being able to operate computer software programs could be a major part of a historian's job. This is an important skill for modern-day historians as many historical documents, artifacts and studies are uploaded to online archives.


A historian should be able to collaborate with colleagues when completing research and relevant tasks that require teamwork. This skill demonstrates a historian's ability to work well with others, and in doing so, make educated assumptions about history.

Foreign language

It might be beneficial to know a second language depending on a historian's area of specialty. A historian's job might require them to travel to foreign countries or analyze documents and translate them from another language to their own before further analysis can be made.

Report writing

A historian might be required to write reports on their findings as they are considered to be a part of the intellectual profession. Being able to organize and write about a particular topic can be beneficial to other intellectuals when they review the report.

Public speaking

A historian should be skilled in public speaking, especially if they are employed as a professor, lecturer or museum curator. Having the capabilities to discuss historical events and their importance to an audience can have a significant impact on how much an audience learns.

Related: Analytical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Jobs for historians

Historians can work in a variety of different positions pertaining to the history profession. The following list will review five job positions for historians, as well as the salary expectations and job responsibilities for each.

1. Lecturer

National average salary: $48,454 per year

Primary duties: A lecturer can be employed by a college or university to give detailed lectures in an area of their expertise. They can also travel among institutions to present on a topic or speak at industry events. For these reasons, a lecturer is required to have good public speaking skills.

2. Archivist

National average salary: $51,324 per year

Primary duties: An archivist is responsible for maintaining and organizing artifacts and historical documentation in facilities and online archives. They can also be employed to take and upload images of physical artifacts to online archives. Archivists aid in the preparation of exhibitions that feature historical items and assist professionals in navigating both online and physical archive facilities.

3. Archeologist

National average salary: $63,223 per year

Primary duties: An archeologist aids in the discovery, excavation and maintenance of historical sites. They unearth artifacts, human remains and structures before analyzing them to determine the time period they were from. Archeologists must also use their findings to conclude what life was like at that time.

4. Professor

National average salary: $67,646 per year

Primary duties: A professor of history teaches students in a college or university setting. They usually specialize in a particular time period or course of historical events and teach specifically in those areas of expertise. They give lectures, create tests and other educational documents to aid and asses student learning. They can also conduct independent research projects in a university setting.

5. Historian

National average salary: $82,144 per year

Primary duties: A historian is responsible for compiling historical data and using it in the completion of scholarly articles. This profession is also responsible for researching unexplored areas of history and searching for information about past events, persons and locations to aid in a modern understanding of the past and how it relates to the future.

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