WKU History Department - What to do with a History degree?
What can you do with a degree in history?
This question is one that students often ask (or are asked) – what can you do with a degree in history? There are many career opportunities available for people with liberal arts degrees. People with majors and minors in history fill positions in many professions, businesses, and industries, both private and public. The variety and number of career options may very well surprise you. For a visual guide, see W.W. Norton's overview of popular careers for history majors.
How do I go about ensuring that I will get a job?
Experience is gained by starting at the entry level and then learning the skills and demonstrating the ability to handle more responsibility and more complex work. The job market is highly competitive, and it would be unrealistic to expect that you will be selected for a top-level job right out of college.
There are a number of things that you can do to position yourself in the job market. Being geographically flexible is a plus. The competition for jobs is higher in university communities than elsewhere. The narrower your geographic options, the less likely you are to get the job you want.
All jobs require some communication skills, and employers avoid applicants who cannot communicate effectively. Therefore, it is important to have a good command of the English language, both oral and written. You need to develop the ability to analyze, summarize, and articulate ideas. History classes provide the opportunities to acquire these skills.
Finally, remember that employers do not just look at an academic record when hiring an employee. Personality, appearance, and a positive attitude are all attributes that will help you land a job. It also helps to put together a solid portfolio that emphasizes both academic achievements and extracurricular activities. The Career Services Office, located in the Downing Student Union, can assist you in preparing your resumé and compiling letters of recommendation. They also have information on job fairs both at Western and in the surrounding area.
Career opportunities outside of federal and state government
Archivist. Colleges and universities, industry, private groups and many governmental agencies maintain archives. Archives are depositories of public records of all kinds; the archivist’s job is to collect, arrange, and preserve historic material.
Cultural Historian. A broad field, which requires knowledge of cultural development, family and institutional growth, and social organization and development. Courses in art, folklore, social and cultural history, and sociology are helpful. Museums and historic preservation sites (such as Shakertown or Colonial Williamsburg) offer employment opportunities.
Decorative Arts and Design. Museums, trade associations, manufacturers, fashion magazines, media and commercial art firms utilize historians. The history major interested in these fields should consider courses in textiles, home furnishings, arts, crafts, industrial arts, decoration and design. Specialization in this area can be either geographic or era-specific.
Editing and Publishing. All university presses and most commercial publishers have a history division. In addition, scholarly journals and some archivists and government agencies use the skills of historians. In addition to a strong history major, one should have substantial preparation in writing and editing, usually achieved through English or journalism classes.
Education. Whether as a K-12 teacher, a professor at the college level, or in an administrative position, a history or social studies major offers a solid foundation for a career in education. Particularly for K-12 teaching, you should also plan on taking education classes; for more information, talk to the history advisor.
Historian Association Staff. There are dozens of historical associations in the United States; all except the smallest have some paid staff. Generally, employees work on a variety of tasks – repairing and restoring, filing and typing, research and writing, mounting displays, lecturing, and serving as guides. Obtain more information from a local historical association or write to the American Association for State and Local History, 1315 Eighth Avenue South, Nashville, TN 37203
Informatics. Informatics is a new and cutting-edge field that combines information technology and computer skills with specific academic disciplines. Informatics uses technology and the internet to digitize archives and bring historical information to the computer-literate public. A number of master’s programs have begun opening up in the field of informatics. For more information, contact the history advisor.
Journalism. Various media – newspaper, radio, and televisions – offer career opportunities to people with sound historical knowledge. In all media, “behind the scenes” workers provide the background for each broadcast or telecast. In addition to history, students interested in journalism should complete course work in English, journalism, and political science.
Law. Law schools do not require a degree in a specific discipline; traditionally, however, many law students have opted for history as an undergraduate major. Law is rooted in history and law school courses assume a certain knowledge of the past. A good attorney should understand the historical context of the law.
Law Enforcement. Law enforcement personnel are in daily contact with all types of people and with a wide range of social problems. Personnel in this field need a background in the social and behavioral sciences. A history major with either an additional major or minor in law enforcement, political science, sociology, or psychology is desirable for careers with municipal and state police, and in some governmental agencies such as Treasury, Customs, Immigration, and the FBI. Check with these agencies for specific requirements.
Librarian. Libraries are maintained in elementary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities, professional schools (such as schools of law and medicine), newspapers, some businesses and industries, and city, county, state, and federal government agencies. In some instances, these positions require specialized knowledge and training, usually a master’s in library science. A history major provides good foundation for specialization in this area.
Ministry. Many students major in history as a preparation for professional training in the ministry or other church-related vocations. Seminaries will provide the professional and doctrinal training, but a knowledge of history will enable one to develop a clear understanding of the church as it has evolved from its beginnings to the present day.
Public Historian (Museum Curator, Historian, Administrator). There are many museums in the United States maintained by public and private associations and by some industries. As well as a knowledge of history, areas such as design, repair and restoration techniques, art history, folk culture, and cultural history should be included. Visit a museum and talk with staff members for more specific information.
Some job opportunities in the federal government
The Federal Career Directory, published by the United States Civil Service Commission, lists three major employment categories for history majors: archivist, historian, and sociologist. In addition to these classifications, however, there are several general areas for which history majors would be qualified. These include public information specialist, writer-editor, park ranger and historian. Remember, also, that new positions are added from time to time.
The first step in applying for federal employment is to qualify in a competitive civil service examination. Students should apply for the examination during their senior year of college. The Civil Service Commission advises students to contact the campus placement office and watch for campus visits by federal agency recruiters. Information about specific job announcements and other literature issued by the Civil Service Commission and by individual federal agencies can be obtained from Federal Job Information Centers operated by the Civil Service Commission. These centers may be contacted by calling the toll-free number, 1-800-292-4585. You will obtain information more quickly by contacting the closest Federal Job Information Center.
Job descriptions for these federal positions mentioned are listed below.
Archivist and Archival Specialist. Archivists in the General Services Administration maintain historical federal records in the National Archives and personal papers in presidential libraries. They safeguard, preserve, arrange, and publish descriptions of holdings so that scholars and researchers may know what is available and how best to make use of it. Research in archives covers an unlimited number of topics – foreign relations, military affairs, social and economic history – and includes non-textual materials such as motion pictures, and cartographic materials.
Qualifications. For archival specialist, applicants may qualify with four years of college study, with at least 18 hours in history; for archivist positions, applicants must have at least 30 hours of graduate work in history.
Historian. The Federal Government currently employs hundreds of people to research many areas of history: national defense, diplomacy, military affairs, agriculture, or the history of foreign countries, just to name a few. Historians collect, evaluate, and synthesize historical information and present complete, organized, and documented narrative reports. Positions for historians are located principally in the departments of the Army, Air Force, State, and Interior.
Qualifications. Four years of college study, which must include 24 hours of history. Graduate study in history, political science, international law, international relations, economics, or literature may qualify applicants for higher ranks when such study has included training in historical research methodology.
Sociologist. Sociologists in the Federal service cooperate with social workers, economists, psychologists, anthologists, and other social scientists as an interdisciplinary team doing research in such subjects as poverty, population problems, social rehabilitation, and evaluation and identification of welfare services and needs.
Qualifications. While some openings exist for college graduates with a major in history, an additional major, or a strong minor in sociology, is desirable. Graduate study is required for advanced positions.
Public Information Specialist. Public information specialists collect and disseminate information about Government programs – using public channels such as newspapers, radio, television, and magazines; they help inform the various organized groups affected by Government programs; and they conduct studies to determine the degree of public understanding of their agency’s work.
Qualifications. Four years of college study in any major field.
Writer-Editors. Federal agencies employ writer and editors to produce articles, press releases, periodicals, pamphlets, and brochures; and to write speeches, and radio, television, and motion picture scripts. There are thousands of such positions in the government.
Qualifications. Four years of college study. Techniques of research and writing and a good knowledge of English grammar and usage are essential.
Park Rangers and Park Historians. The National Park Service and the Department of the Interior employ a number of park rangers and park historians. They perform a wide variety of duties related to the development and management of parks, historical sites, and recreation areas. Park rangers work in urban, suburban, and rural areas throughout the United States. Much of the activity occurs outdoors, but more office work is involved, particularly as one advances to managerial positions. Park historians develop materials on historic sites, houses, parks, and battlefields and present their information in lectures, films, displays, and other media forms. The National Park Service offers excellent on-the-job and formal training programs.
Qualifications. Twenty-four semester hours in history and additional work in one or more of the following: park and recreation management, field-oriented natural science, archeology, police science, business administration, social and behavioral sciences.