Employment as a Historian
For a thorough discussion of all the careers that are open to history majors, see Careers for Students of History, written by Constance Schulz, Page Putnam Miller, Aaron Marrs, and Kevin Allen, and published by the American Historical Association, The National Council for Public History, and the Public History Program, University of South Carolina.
The American Historical Association also has an article on Careers for History Majors. It has recently begun a project on Career Diversity for Historians which seeks to “expand the occupational presence of humanists beyond the academy by broadening the professional options that students commonly imagine for themselves and aspire to.”
Until a few years ago historians do not receive much attention from the Occupational Outlook Handbook prepared by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Historians were included in the section on “Social Scientists, Other” and were discussed rather briefly. Now the Bureau has a separate listing for historians (it still regards historians as social scientists — the words “humanists” or “humanities” do not appear in its A-Z index). You might find it amusing, sobering, or frightening to read how the Bureau regards historians.
The blog “In the Service of Clio: Essays on Career Management in the Historical Profession” by Nicholas Evan Sarantakes often has essays about careers in historical endeavors, intended especially for persons in the early phases of their careers.
Alexandra Lord and Julie Taddeo, both of whom have a Ph.D. in history and left academe after a few years of employment, said when they started Beyond Academe in 2003: “We have both come to love life ‘outside the box’ and we heartily recommend it to others!” They created the site to give advice and encouragement to those who either choose or are forced by necessity to find employment outside the classroom.
“What Doors Does a PhD in History Open?” by L. Maren Wood, a PhD in history, describes and tabulates the career outcomes of PhD graduates in history between 1990 and 2010 from history departments at Duke University, Ohio State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of California at Santa Barbara. She has another article, “The Ph.D.’s Guide to a Nonfaculty Job Search,” that offers advice that emerged from her “Boot Camp for the Postacademic Job Seeker.”
The Columbia Center for Career Education has an extensive listing of Non-Academic Career Options for PhDs in the Humanities and Social Sciences.
The American Historical Association has an article on Careers in Public History.
“No More Plan B: A Very Modest Proposal for Graduate Programs in History,” an article by Anthony T. Grafton and James Grossman, advocates that history departments actively prepare their students for non-teaching employment as part of the regular curriculum.
Advice for job-seekers
There are many good sites for advice on the art of seeking an academic position. Among them are:
- Preparing for the Job Market (American Historical Association)
- A Guide to the Academic Job Search (UMASS Amherst)
- Academic Job Search (Career Services, University of California-Berkeley)
- Preparing for the Academic Job Market (Tufts University Career Center)
- Guide to Public History (Yvonne Tu)
- Job Interviewing Handout (Michael Gamer and Anne K. Krook)
- Going on the Job Market, ABD and Going on the Job Market, ABD -- II (Gerry Canavan)
Searching for a position
You will find many online resources for available positions in the field of history. Of them, the following are free services to job-seekers:
- H-Net Job Guide
- Job Search page of the Organization of American Historians
- Chronicle Careers page of the Chronicle of Higher Education (the Chronicle lists positions in all disciplines, so you will need to search on the keyword history)
- Inside Higher Ed Job Seekers (this site also lists positions in all disciplines; searching on the keyword history alone results in many extraneous “hits” — you will need to combine it with other terms, such as the state in which you are seeking a position or an institution’s name)
- JBHE Employment Zone of the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (this site also lists positions in all disciplines, but its search feature searches the entire site, not just job listings, so you will need to scan the listings by eye)
- Jobs Search page of the American Association for State and Local History
- Careers and Training page of the National Council on Public History
Another resource, the Online Job Ads section of the American Historical Association, was restricted to members of the AHA before September 2011. Non-members will need first to create a free user account. Once that account is created, non-members will see only the job ads, not links to other online member benefits, such as access to the American Historical Review and discounts on publications and the annual meeting.
Interviewing at conventions
Many history departments conduct interviews with applicants during the annual conventions of historical associations. Some will interview “drop-ins”; others will interview only those candidates who have already applied for positions and have been selected for personal interviews. Among the leading conventions are those of the
- American Historical Association, usually held in early January
- Organization of American Historians, usually held in early April
- Southern Historical Association, usually held in early November.
Departments that are searching for a candidate in a specific field will often interview at the convention of the professional organization for that field. Examples of such organizations include:
- American Studies Association
- The Association for Asian Studies
- Latin American Studies Association
- Middle East Studies Association
Your major advisor will be aware of conventions and meetings within his or her discipline and may know of positions that are not advertised widely.