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What Can I Do As A History Major?

Only a small percentage of history majors go on to be professional historians. Instead most go on to become lawyers, librarians, businesspersons, writers, archivists, researchers, teachers, politicians, and even entertainers. Leaders in every industry, from business to the arts, can point to their training as history majors as the starting point for their success. Indeed, historical study plays an important part in fostering well-rounded intellectual development as well as developing valuable career skills in research, writing, argumentation, and documentation.

What skills does one learn as a history major?

One of the key ways of thinking about what a history major prepares you to pursue after graduation is to focus on the skills one acquires as a history student. These include:

  • Effective Writing skills: The ability to successfully and precisely communicate one's ideas in text is vital to any job for which a college degree is a necessity.
  • Critical Analysis skills: A key part to the decision-making process for any job, critical analysis means the ability to analyze a situation and come up with creative and practical solutions.
  • Research skills: Vital to any job, research skills mean the ability to understand past practices and policies and to trace the roots of any issue, to find new information which bears on that issue, and to incorporate that information into one's analysis of an issue.
  • Interdisciplinary Thinking and Training: Interdisciplinary thinking and training means the ability to think about a problem in a multitude of ways, to analyze it using multiple tools, and to provide solutions which draw from different traditions of thought.
  • Curiosity and Inquisitiveness: The desire to learn more, to examine reasons beneath issues, and to come to understand them as part of a continual, life-long, education process is an important skill both professionally and personally.

What are some common career paths for history majors?

We believe that an undergraduate History degree has many advantages that will help prepare students in a variety of different career areas. The market for teachers in primary and secondary schools remains good in many locations, and students with a solid background in history will be well-suited to get teaching credentials in subjects such as history, social studies, government, political science, humanities, and general studies.

The rigorous research and writing requirements asked of history majors also offer excellent preparation for careers in law, journalism, public relations, technical writing, fund-raising, administration, domestic and foreign government service, to name the more obvious. Interestingly (and luckily for History majors) recent trends in medical and business school admissions suggest that these professional schools are looking for students who possess training in humanities and social sciences. Obviously students wishing to attend medical schools still need to take the necessary science prerequisites, but in an increasingly competitive market with growing competition, students who stand out with something unique such as a History honors thesis or a background in the history of medicine might call positive attention to themselves.

In short, history majors have many options if they put their minds to it because a History degree provides essential training in basic research and communication skills that are central to so many careers today. On the other hand, the academic job market in most areas of history is very tight. Students considering graduate work should discuss career prospects with faculty in the area of history they wish to pursue.

Historians as Educators

Many history majors go on to become educators, focusing on the communication of their ideas. Educators include teachers in Elementary and Secondary education. They also include Higher Education on many levels, including teaching at community and junior Colleges, undergraduate colleges, and universities. But educators are also important members of other educational institutions that you may not think of as immediately as schools. These include historic sites and museums, where history majors can become docents, education directors, curators, guides, and interpreters. In addition, there are other forms of teaching than standing up in front of a classroom. These include work as historical consultants, contract archivists, public historians, writers, and even filmmakers.

Historians as Researchers

Many history majors go on to careers as researchers, emphasizing their skills in evaluating and analyzing documentary evidence. Historians as researchers include public historians as well as policy advisors, who serve as planners, evaluators, and policy analysts, often for state, local, and federal governments. In addition, historians often find employment as researchers for museums and historical organizations, or pursue additional specialized training to become professionals in cultural resources management and historic preservation.

Historians as Writers and Editors

Because success as a history major depends upon learning to write effectively, many historians become writers and editors. They make their living as authors of historical books, or more commonly, they work as editors at a publishing house. Many historians become print and broadcast journalists, and others become documentary editors who oversee the publication of documents such as those produced by government agencies.

Historians as Information Managers

Because history majors must learn to deal with documents, many pursue a one- or two-year graduate program in library studies (commonly, a Master of Library Science, or MLS, degree) or archival management and enter careers as information managers. With this additional training, they enter the fields of archives management, information management, records management, and librarianship.

Historians as Advocates

Many history majors find that historical training makes a perfect preparation for Law School, as historians and lawyers often do roughly the same thing--they argue persuasively using historical data to support their arguments. Many history majors become lawyers; others undertake careers in litigation support as paralegals. Others enter public service and become policymakers, serve as legislative staff at all levels of government, and become officers of granting agencies and foundations.

Historians as Businesspeople

Most people overlook the value of a history major in preparing an intelligent person for a career in business. Yet, historians track historic trends, an important skill for those developing products to market or engaged in corporate or financial planning. Many history majors enter banking, insurance, and stock analysis. Historians also learn how to write persuasively, and this training gives them an edge in advertising, communications media, and marketing. Finally, many industries depend on an intimate knowledge of government policies and historical trends; thus, history majors have found their skills useful in extractive industries and in public utilities.

Professor Catherine Lavender, Department of History, The College of Staten Island, The City University of New York. (http://www.library.csi.cuny.edu/dept/history/major.html)

Famous History Majors

Politics & Law

  • John F. Kennedy: President of the United States
  • Richard Nixon: President of the United States
  • Joe Biden: Vice President of the United States
  • Anthony M. Kennedy: Supreme Court Justice
  • Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court justice
  • Newt Gingrich: Former Speaker of the House
  • Bill Bradley: Former U.S. Senator and NBA Player
  • George Mitchell: Special envoy to the Middle East
  • Eric Holder: Attorney General of the United States

Business

  • Robert Johnson: Founder of Black Entertainment Television (BET)
  • Lee Iococca: Former CEO of the Chrysler Corporation
  • Carly Fiorina: Former president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard
Ben Silverman: Co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and NBC Universal

Entertainment

  • Larry David: Actor; writer; comedian; producer; film director
  • Conan O’Brien: Comedian; former host of “The Tonight Show”
Steve Carell: Comedian; star of “The Office”
  • Jimmy Buffett: Songwriter; singer; restaurant-chain owner; businessman

Journalism

  • Wolf Blitzer: Journalist
David Brancaccio: Host of PBS’s “Now”
Ray Suarez: Senior correspondent for the “PBS NewsHour”
  • Charlie Rose: Host of “Charlie Rose”
  • Chris Berman: Anchor of “SportsCenter”