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Historian


Description

History is always evolving. Every few decades, our stories are rewritten, the accepted facts re-examined and new facts presented as truth. This is the role of the historian. Historians study particular regions, groups of people, individuals, periods of time, politics, architecture or social life. They take what information we have been previously presented with, and they try an re-interpret it, to come up with other possible ideas and information. They use primary (original from the time period) documents, like letters, diaries, newspaper clippings, photographs, and artifacts, as well as interviewing people who lived through the time period they are studying, or knew the individual they are tracking.

Today's historians are attempting to show history as truthfully and as honestly as they can. They try to immerse themselves in the past, to look through the eyes of those who lived the events and show us an accurate picture of what went on. They also try and follow paths that led to major events and societal changes, in order to monitor present-day events and conditions. They write up their research in books, articles, and for museum exhibits, lectures and public talks. Their research can be used in the development and conservation of national parks and historic sites, and in legal cases, for film and television, and for encyclopedias, CD-ROMs, and Internet sites. If they work in universities, their research focuses on why and how history happened. Historians in museums concentrate on presenting the information to audiences of all ages.

Usually, historians focus on a few areas, and become experts. Some are traditional historians, and focus on things like the history of American politics, or the Civil War. Others choose to study the history of childhood or the history of film and pop culture, areas which have been overlooked until the past few years.

Once their information has been compiled and presented in a neat, comprehensive bundle of facts, theory, and conclusions, it may be accepted as the truth. The historian's findings can have a major influence on modern and future societies. Until another historian comes along, picks out the stitches, and starts all over again.
 
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
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Median Salary:
$42,030
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
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  Interests and Skills  
Interested in a career in history? The main criteria is a thirst for knowledge and love of the past. Historians should enjoy research, and look forward to tracking historical events, poring through old books and documents, trying to piece together events and time periods. They need to be thorough in their research and have good memorization skills for names, dates and places. They should be able to think creatively, work well alone, as well as accept ideas and criticism from others graciously. It is essential that historians are comfortable with libraries, as well as computers. They need to be good writers, and able to produce comprehensive papers and reports. Historians require respect for other cultures, and the ability to discuss other people in unbiased, culturally sensitive ways.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Decide on a topic to research or receive a topic from a client
  • Analyze and interpret primary sources: correspondence, diaries, photographs, and artifacts
  • Prepare manuscripts documenting findings and conclusions
  • Research specific topics for conservation authorities and historical societies
  • Teach and conduct research in colleges, universities and museums
  • Present research as witness in legal cases
  • Research for film and television
  • Conduct interviews when studying recent events
  • The typical day for a historian will involve a lot of research. Historians immerse themselves in one subject for weeks or months at a time, trying to come up with a clear picture of the event and its resulting impact on society. When they are not reading books, documents in archives, or visiting historical sites, they can be found in lecture halls, meeting rooms with other historians, or in government offices, presenting their findings. They spend much of the day taking notes, reviewing notes, and rewriting the notes into comprehensive reports. Depending on their area of expertise, historians usually get to travel.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Historians can be found in universities and colleges, government offices, museums and historical sites, archives, and libraries. They may work in television studios. Unless they work for universities, historians are usually hired on a contract-by-contract basis. Historians usually work alone, but may work with a team of historians at museums or historical sites. They work behind desks and at the front of lecture halls. They generally work regular workweeks, with weekends and evenings off. They may work overtime if the topic they are studying is exciting, if the information is needed right away, or there are papers and exams to mark. They do travel, to conferences and to relevant historical sites.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Historians generally start work at universities. However, they can move on to find work outside of teaching. They can work with museums as interpreters, exhibit consultants, or researchers. They can find work with various governmental departments, including the ministry of culture and the ministry of Native affairs. They can become freelance researchers, and find out about various historical events for lobby groups, Native leaders, and writers of historical novels, television, and film scripts.
 

  Educational Paths  
Those wishing to become historians have to spend a lot of time in school. They will need at least a bachelor's degree and a master's degree to work in most research jobs, but all historians who want to have important positions with museums and historical societies, as well as those who want to work in universities, usually need to have a PhD in a specialized area of history, on top of the first two degrees.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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