Historian Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

A Historian is someone who professionally researches, teaches and writes about past events to contribute to a shared understanding of how mankind has developed. Their duties include seeking out primary resources, interpreting documents and sharing hypotheses about the past.

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Historian Duties and Responsibilities

The duties and responsibilities of a Historian can vary widely, but some examples include:

  • Research: Most Historians spend their careers performing research. The research compiles information from the past, supporting the Historian’s role in their place of employment.  They create their own papers, books and write for historical journals. The Historian may also be contracted to conduct research for private individuals or businesses.
  • Preserve artifacts and archive information: Historians may be involved with archiving documents and finds for access to those performing research. They can also work in a capacity where they could be preserving these artifacts for museums and private collections. 
  • Educate the public: While many Historians are employed with colleges and universities throughout the world, some are contracted with museums and historical sites. In each capacity, the Historian relays the significance of the document or artifact to the class or to the visitors, igniting an interest in the past and pieces associated with it. 

What Does a Historian Do?

Historians typically work for academic or government institutions to teach or provide scholarly context for current events. They source documents related to past events, conduct interviews with eyewitnesses of key occurrences and research related publications by other academics to build a narrative about history. Historians often specialize in a particular subject and become experts in all of the political, economic, social and cultural aspects of that event or time period. Their job is to convey insights about the past and relate them to the development of society and modern ways of life.

Historian Skills and Qualifications

With a variety of locations and types of employment available, the Historian can have a range of skills that can be helpful depending on the position they have contracted. Some skills will carry across many possible roles.

  • Attention to detail: The Historian should have a strong attention to detail in almost every capacity. Whether researching written documents or combing a private collection, the ability to note the slightest detail will enhance their research and uncover a more well-rounded story of the past.
  • Determination: The dedication to the role and determination to see it through is important as a Historian. Many answers are difficult to find and can be buried in the past. Sticking to the goal and the determination to find the answers benefits the Historian and will help them to become a better researcher.
  • Advanced communication skills: Whether teaching or presenting to museum-goers, the Historian should have strong communication skills. The ability to relay a thought and tell a story is integral in this role in both verbal and written capacities.

Historian Salary Expectations

Historians have a have an average annual salary of $75,762 per year. The lower end of the range can be found when a Historian is employed with a private collector or a small locale. As a Historian for the federal government or the U.S. military, you will find the higher range of pay associated with available positions.

Historian Education and Training Requirements

A bachelor’s degree is the minimum level of education required for many Historian positions. However, almost all Historians have a master’s or doctorate degree in history. It is even encouraged to get more than one post-graduate degree as the bachelor’s degree alone will rarely allow you to teach. With the limited number of jobs available to this specialty, more education will only benefit potential employees. 

Historian Experience Requirements

Previous work in the field of history is expected to become a Historian. Internships, volunteer experience and previous employment at a museum are examples of quality experience that can be achieved while still in school. Assisting with historical research or graduate-level research is also considered an acceptable example of previous experience.

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Frequently asked questions about Historians

 

What is the difference between a Historian and an Archivist?

Historians and Archivists both work with preserving historical documents and narratives, and there is often overlap between the two roles. Historians write and compile original insights about history, while Archivists organize, catalog and maintain records from the past. Historians rely on Archivists to store historical documents that they can use in their research and learn about possible resources related to a new project. Historians focus more on the intellectual aspects of history, while Archivists also incorporate technology and science to preserve primary sources and confirm their authenticity. Archival work also involves data-entry and clerical duties.

 

What are the daily duties of a Historian?

Historians may perform a range of activities on a typical day depending on where they are in the research process. They spend their time in libraries and archives looking for books, articles, journals and other sources that could have information on their area of interest. They carefully read academic texts and outline their thoughts to brainstorm new research topics. Some Historians have Research Assistants who find sources for them and help prepare a bibliography of sources for a new topic. Historians may also teach classes, peer review academic drafts, consult on museum exhibits and give presentations.

 

What are the characteristics of a good Historian?

Good Historians need to be avid readers who are passionate about learning more about past events and how they influenced one another. They should be focused and meticulous so that they can identify key details in their research. Historians must also have excellent critical thinking and analytical thinking so they can generate useful hypotheses and make logical deductions about how past events occurred based on context. They are also serious about upholding academic integrity and only publishing truthful information with reliable evidence to support their narrative.

 

Do Historians have different responsibilities in different industries?

The actual tasks of a Historian can vary depending on where they work. For example, Historians working at a natural history museum may spend their time researching scientific topics, fact-checking educational information and working with curators to come up with exhibit ideas. A Historian who works at a textbook publishing company might mainly write and annotate in-depth lessons on niche topics.

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