The History Profession
Professional organizations such as the American Historical Association (AHA) or the Organization of American Historians (OAH) are good places to start when considering careers that use the skills learned in history programs. Most professional organizations publish highly-respected academic journals that showcase the work of skilled historians, but they also often publish less formal newsletters that comment on the state of the field, the job market, teaching tips, and other information of interest to historians. Many organizations also maintain lists of relevant job openings and funding opportunities. Most organizations charge memberships fees, but those fees are usually reduced for student members.
The AHA is one of the most revered organizations of historians in the world. It has a global perspective (“American” is in the name only because it is based in the United States). It publishes the American Historical Review, one of the premier academic journals devoted to world history. The AHA also publishes Perspectives on History, a magazine about the discipline of history.
The OAH focuses on the study of the history of the United States. It publishes the Journal of American History, one of the premier academic journals devoted to American history. The OAH also publishes The OAH Magazine of History, which focuses on specific themes in American history, provides historiographical analysis, and provides teaching tips.
The NCPH focuses on non-academic careers that employ historical skills, such as in archives, libraries, local historical societies, and museums. It publishes The Public Historian, one of the premier journals devoted to public history. The NCPH also publishes Public History News, which discusses developments in the field, upcoming conferences, and job opportunities.
There are countless other organizations dedicated to the study of history. An organization exists for almost every field of historical study, and many of those publish their own academic journals and newsletters. See, for example, the American Society for Environmental History, the Business History Conference, the Society for Military History, the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations, the Conference on Latin American History, and the History of Science Society, among dozens of others. The AHA maintains a comprehensive list of such organizations here.
Every state has public and private historical associations, with their own publications, funding opportunities, meetings, and job listings. Many, but not all, of these state and local organizations have listings at preservationdirectory.com.
Professional organizations often hold regular conferences, where members come together to present their work, to reunite with far-flung colleagues, and to network. Many potential employers, especially universities, hold interviews for potential employees at these conferences. These conferences usually allow history students to present their work next to seasoned professionals, and provide great opportunities to network with colleagues. Students often pay lower admission fees to most professional conferences also.
History students and professionals can also join discussion boards about various historical topics on sites like H-Net, where membership is free, but enrolling in some discussion boards will require approval from existing members.
News and Blogs
There are countless personal, professional, and institutional blogs and news feeds dedicated to various aspects of history. The links below serve as useful starting points, but an internet search will reveal many more.
A lot of history-related news spreads through social networks like Twitter or Facebook. Check out our Twitter feed to see who we follow.
Careers for Historians
“Professor” is not the only career track available to history majors and graduate students. While this may be the goal for many historians-in-training, relatively few go into academia as full-time, tenure-track professors. The majority of history students follow different career paths toward other institutions, such as archives, historical societies, museums, and elsewhere. The major historical associations have published numerous reports on possible career paths for students. Some of these are linked below.
Job Listings for Historians
Like in any field, there is no single list of job openings for historians. Below are links to some of the most popular job search sites. Not all jobs in academia, especially adjunct instructor positions or jobs at local historical associations, are listed on the major national search sites. Most of the listings on national sites are for teaching positions. Generally, a Master’s degree is required to teach at community colleges and a doctoral degree is required to teach at four-year universities, though this is not always the case. Check the websites of local historical associations, archives, libraries, and colleges for more positions.
Historical research can be expensive. Historians cannot rely only on primary and secondary sources that are available online. Countless sources have never been digitized, and it is irresponsible for historians to ignore relevant sources that exist only in physical museums, libraries, or archives. Thankfully, many institutions offer funding for researchers in the form of grants and fellowships, which can help defray the costs of travel to the institution, lodging, and equipment. Some grants can be used for any purpose; others have specific requirements. There is no central repository of listings for funding opportunities. The links below are for some of the largest existing collections of grants and fellowships, but even these list only a fraction of available opportunities. Many archives and historical societies offer their own grants and fellowships for researchers.
Letters of Recommendation
Many potential employers and graduate school admission committees often request letters of recommendation from professors or others who know the applicant, the applicant’s work, and the applicant’s potential for success in a history-related career. The applicant is responsible for identifying and reaching out to potential letter writers. Instructors are not required to write letters for applicants, but most are happy to do so, though they may ask for additional information such as:
- Applicant’s resume/curriculum vita
- Transcripts (unofficial is usually fine)
- Writing sample, usually a capstone paper/project, thesis, or dissertation
- Final project from the instructor’s course
- Any other information that could help the writer