Working as a Historian

Interesting and well paid job?

  1. A Historian is someone who researches, studies, analyses, and interprets historical events and people in both a historical and contemporary context.
  2. They will undertake historical research and publish various books and papers on their specialist areas.
  3. They will also often work in universities teaching students and delivering lectures.
  4. Part of the job will require the ability to source funding for their work from a variety of different places.
  5. Salaries are usually good, with entry level figures of up to £30,000, and top professors earning £100,000 a year or more. However academic roles are hotly contested, and many historians will work in other related jobs as well.
  6. Historians are expected to have at least a Master’s degree in a related subject, and to be successful in academia, they will also need a PhD.
  7. Other job opportunities include museums and archives, heritage bodies, historical travel companies, and genealogy.

What is a Historian?

A Historian is an academic who studies events and figures from the past, often relating what happened to the present day, as well as seeking to better understand why past events happened the way they did.

It is an extremely broad field, covering the earliest history of mankind right up to the more recent events, and therefore all historians tend to have specialist areas of knowledge alongside a more general understanding. This can be subject specific such as Art History, country specific, such as the history of Spain or Greece, or period specific, such as being a medievalist or a classicist.

Historians will gather as much primary information as they can from documents and artefacts that date from the period they are looking at, and marry this with the arguments made by other historians and writers, before reaching their own conclusions.

Most historians work in academia and split their time between academic research, publishing papers and books, and teaching and mentoring students in their specialist fields.

What Skills and Responsibilities are there?

To be a successful historian you need to be passionate about history first and foremost, with a particular love for the specialism you have chosen to pursue. You must be an excellent researcher with the ability and patience to source and analyse both primary and secondary materials, and understand the historical context and importance of them.

This requires a great deal of patience, organised thinking, and a systematic approach as you gather information from a large number of sources. You will then also need excellent writing skills, as you take the information you have gathered and turn it into new written work, be that a book, paper, conference submission, or lecture materials. Your writing style needs to be both engaging and informative, but also persuasive as you seek to convince your audience of the arguments you are making.

You must be able to approach both historical and contemporary events with an objective mind, and be able to avoid the preconceptions held by many other people as you seek to develop new ways of thinking about issues.

As well as writing your own materials, you will also need to be comfortable editing and critiquing other historians work, be that fellow academics, or the students you are teaching.

You will need to be a confident and engaging public speaker, both to attend and present at historical conferences which take place all over the world, and for the teaching aspect of the job which will involve giving lectures and hosting seminars to small and large groups of students on a regular basis.

Whilst you will need to work as part of an academic team, you will also need to be comfortable working alone, as many aspects of the job will require you to work without direct supervision and long hours of research can require a lot of self-motivation.

Finally, an often overlook aspect of academic work is raising funding. All academics have to raise funding to support their own work and that of their department. You will therefore also have to be able to identify, prepare, and submit funding applications from various sources.

Pay and Benefits

The starting salary for a newly graduated historian after completing their thesis is not hugely high. But they can expect to be earning something between £20,000 and £30,000 a year. This is for a teaching position, but once they progress to being a fully-fledged lecturer, salaries are usually higher, with something between £30,000 and £40,000 a year not unusual.

This is a good salary, and indicates both the experience of the academic and their qualifications as a doctor of their subject. However, the next step up the ladder, to being a Professor, tends to come with a significant wage hike. This reflective the level of experience, expertise, and reputation they will be bringing with them to the institution in which they work, and they can expect to earn salaries between £80,000 and £100,000 a year. In some exception circumstances it might even be higher.

Qualifications

Needless to say, for a job I academic, academic qualifications are of great importance. To become a Historian, you will need to have a Batchelor’s and Master’s degree in History, or a relate subject, and to achieve this good grades at GCSE and A Level are vital. The better the grades, the better your university, and this can be hugely beneficial later on in your career.

With a Master’s degree, there are a number of jobs which open up to historians, but to move into a proper academic role, you will need to also complete a PhD. This involves an additional three years of study and the production of a thesis which contains original research and thinking.

The top Universities to study are:

  • Durham
  • Cambridge
  • the London School of Economics
  • Oxford
  • University College of London 

All of the above are ranked by The Complete University Guide as the best five.

Finding Jobs

Academic work is the pinnacle of a career for any historian and positions at university are hotly contested. To work at even an average university you will need strong academic grades, and a body of research and teaching experience being you.

Academic jobs are advertised on the university website, in specialist academic and historical publications, and sometimes in the national media as well.

But there are also a range of other jobs open to qualified historians, albeit many of them on lower salaries than the academic route.

School teaching is always an option, if you are willing to complete the relevant teaching qualifications. There are also various jobs in museums and public archives up and down the country. Public bodies and local authorities will also hire historians for their own record keeping jobs as well.

There is an increasing demand these days for family historians to help with researching genealogical subjects, and this can provide a lucrative side-line for historians on a freelance basis.

Some historians can also work on historical re-enactment and historical travel projects, with an expertise needed to guide tourists around historical sites.

There are also opportunities for historians with heritage organisations such as the National Trust and English Heritage.

Further Reading

For our guides to other education professions, visit the UK Jobs Guide Education Careers Guide.  


 
 
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