What to Do with a History Degree

The following is just a sampling, but, hopefully, three things will be clear at the end:

#1 . . . History majors do not have to become teachers or professors in order to have a career (although there's nothing wrong with that).

#2 . . . The research and writing skills at the core of a history degree are in demand in a lot of ways from a lot of people in corporate America, government, and all the areas of public history, and that means . . .

#3 . . . The idea that “there are no jobs for history majors” is the biggest load of bunk, largely spouted by people who have no idea what they are talking about . . . or have their own agenda to snare you into a major you ultimately won’t like.

Business Paths

There are a slew of jobs in business that require excellent research and writing skills, which is what history majors bring to the table.  The research skills especially are what sets history majors apart from most other humanities/lib arts majors, and makes them ideal for a lot of business jobs, many of which VSU grads have secured...

1) Content management / web content management...graphic designers create the art and the flashy stuff, but you need a researcher/writer to actually create the content, and then, even more importantly, to monitor, edit, update, and manage that content as it changes.  That kind of close reading, writing, research is perfect for history majors.

2) Market research / “growth hacking”... business majors focus largely on marketing, sales, and accounting.  But where does one find the markets in which to do all that?  In turns out that history majors are better at “finding markets” than business majors because of the research skills they have mastered.  This observation was confirmed by a chief executive at Dominion Virginia Power.

3) Public Relations/Customer management...history majors with excellent oral and written skills are perfect for PR (which is external communications), as well as dealing with customers.  And while this could mean the person on the other end of the phone when you call a company, it really means a company's liaison with a client.  Again, business majors market, sell, and account.  History majors are the continuing face of the company who manage and oversee and problem solve for the business relationship.

4) Advertising...research and writing skills are once again in demand for ad people.  Graphic designers create the art, and business majors sell it, but history majors create the concepts, develop the ideas, and write the text.

5) Tourism bureau management...this combines market research with PR, and a huge percentage of tourism sites are about the history of the place.

6) Editing/publishing ... books about history as well as biography (which is a subset of history) are still a huge part of the market, whether it is print or e-books.  There is a continuing need for people with history degrees to keep giving the public what it wants.

Government Paths

While the official word is that government is getting smaller, there are still tons of positions available to history majors, who are in demand for their research and writing skills.

1) Intelligence services and state department...language skills are a major plus here.  But these services want people who know about the culture and the history of the people they are gathering information about.  History majors can bring that to the table.

2) National Park Service...major outlet for history majors as most of the national parks are geared towards the history of American places.

3) Congressional/Senate intern...it doesn't pay, but the contacts are invaluable.  History majors are just as likely to get these positions as poli sci majors.  VSU grads have worked for members of Congress and Sen. Mark Warner.

4) Government historian...will require at least an M.A., but most government agencies employ historians.  The military alone has hundreds of historians who document what happened on battlefields, on military bases, etc.  The official historian for the FBI makes $100k+

Academic Paths

These are the paths that most people imagine when they think about a B.A. in history, and they are good jobs.  Many require additional degree work or certification, so you should discuss these possibilities with a member of the department to get a handle on what is required.

1) Historian...this will require a Ph.D., and your most likely job will be as a college professor.  However, I have lots of friends from grad school who are active historians, writing and publishing outside formal academia.

2) Lawyer...this will require a law degree.  History is about research and making arguments, which is what lawyers do.  Indeed, law school is essentially three years about the history of the law.  While poli sci programs usually tout pre-law programs, learning about comparative gov does nothing for you in law school.  What will better prep you is a history major linked to a philosophy minor with courses in critical thinking and logic.

3) Paralegals and Litigation Support...lawyers, and esp. big law firms, often outsource their research internally (paralegal) or externally (litigation support).  History majors have good research and writing skills and are perfect for this.  Additional credentialing is likely required.

4) Teacher...this will require additional certification to meet state guidelines if you plan to teach in a public school.  To teach at the community college or two-year college level you will need an M.A. in history.

Public History

The idea of "public" history is just a way to differentiate between "history in the classroom" and "history outside the classroom."  So it covers a wide range of areas, only a couple of which are mentioned here...

1) Historic Sites, historical societies, libraries, museums...the most traditional of public history jobs.  These institutions have a continuous demand for people with history degrees, and many VSU grads have gone on to careers in this field.

2) Historic Preservation...want to build something?  You'll need a "site history" to determine that there is nothing hiding underground or in the area that will require historic preservation.  This will be done by a firm staffed with historians who do this work.  If they find something, then they coordinate with government, corporations, museums, etc. to insure that historic preservation is carried out.

3) Exhibit designers or coordinators...museums and companies will often outsource this to independent firms or contractors to create their exhibits.  While these firms obviously need to employ graphic designers, they also need people with excellent research and writing skills to create their products.  History majors (unlike a lot of other humanities majors) are trained to do research and are in demand for these positions.

4) Archivist...whether it's being done electronically or the old fashioned way, archives (including academic, government, corporate, etc.) need people with superlative research and organizational skills to catalog everything for immediate access.  "Digital Humanities" is a booming industry in the 21st century.