What Can You Do With a History Degree?
Although sometimes dismissed as a bunch of stuff that has already happened, the study of history is extremely important in contemporary society, not only to remember the past but also to shape the future by learning from it.
Everything that has been done is “history”, meaning that history directly affects us every day, with today’s society shaped by historic periods of industrialization, colonialism, disease epidemics and so on. History spans all cultures, eras, seasons and environments and is an immovable factor that can be called upon for knowledge and insight into how the world got to the point it’s at now and how it will continue to develop in future.
So, what can you do with a history degree? The broad answer to this question shouldn’t surprise you when you realize the ubiquity of history in society. Those who study a history degree should be practised in applying lessons of the past to help resolve problems of the present, and have the ability to apply an analytical mind set to all kinds of situations and challenges. These problem-solving and analytical skills are relevant in just about any industry which has a focus on current societies and future developments, particularly in the fields of business, politics and academia.
Typical careers with a history degree
Careers in teaching and research
Many history degree graduates go on to share their interest in the subject by becoming teachers, at secondary level or within universities. The first of these options usually requires completion of a professional teaching qualification, while the second route often requires completion of studies up to PhD level.
Many history careers within universities combine both teaching and research, with faculty members serving as lecturers and tutors while also conducting original research in their area of expertise.
Academic history careers can also lead on to writing or broadcasting careers, providing outlets for historians to share their expertise with public audiences and/or readerships. The main character traits you should have for careers in academia are a deep curiosity about the world, a desire for facts and a belief that history can inform the present and shape the future.
Careers in archiving and heritage
Museums, galleries, libraries and other historical archives all offer opportunities to pursue history careers in archiving and heritage. Unlike academic research, careers in archiving and heritage focus on the upkeep and organization of historical artifacts. These artifacts can range from taxidermy animals to famous paintings and everything in between.
History degree graduates have the potential to excel in these roles due to their knowledge of the importance of history and a desire to preserve it for the benefit of mankind, today and in the future.
Roles in these areas can also be incredibly diverse. Some roles will be administrative and curatorial and others will be in research, focused on digging deeper into historical knowledge (sometimes literally digging, on archaeological trips) in order to add to the body of knowledge about human heritage and history.
Other related roles include museum curation, genealogy, museum education and archeology (conversion courses for history graduates are available).
Less typical careers in history
Careers in politics
Within the UK one of the most prominent history graduates is former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Regardless of your views of Brown’s politics, this should prove that history careers can be as high-profile as they come.
History and politics are very tightly interwoven and although a ‘less typical’ career path for history graduates, politics careers are very well-suited to history scholars, especially those who’ve chosen to focus on analysing key political events, the historical development of governmental systems, and the complex set of factors involved in political leadership and opposition. Unlike many research and heritage roles, careers in politics will allow you to use your knowledge for political development and change.
Careers in media
Careers in media can include journalism, writing, editing, broadcasting and all things media-related, with jobs as wide-ranging as TV scheduling or radio DJing. Media roles are surprisingly popular careers for history graduates and this is often due to the role that media plays in disseminating information and news to large audiences. Knowledge of history in these roles will give you cultural understanding and sensitivity and will also inform your knowledge of current political and social issues.
Careers in business and commerce
Although open to all graduates, careers in business and commerce would suit history graduates with a particular interest and knowledge of how business and capitalism has grown and adapted throughout history, and with ideas about how these markets and systems will continue to grow. For some specialized roles, and to improve your career prospects in this area, you may consider a postgraduate degree in a related subject (browse some options here).
Careers in marketing, advertising and public relations
History graduates are well-known as having strong analytical and communication skills, making them a good match for communications-based roles. Careers in marketing, advertising and public relations (PR) are suited to history graduates who have specialized in understanding how past events and trends have shaped modern society and culture, preparing them to analyse and predict the behaviour of markets and target audiences in current times. Read more about careers in marketing here.
Careers in law
History graduates are highly valued within the legal profession due to strong skills in analytical and critical reasoning. Many roles will require further qualifications but history graduates may be suitable for administration and office roles in the legal sector. Find out more about careers in law here.
‘What Can You Do With a History Degree?’ is part of our ‘What Can You Do With…’ series. We have also covered art, biology, business, communications, computer science, English, engineering, fashion, geography, law, marketing, mathematics, performing arts, philosophy, politics, psychology, sociology, chemistry, economics and physics.
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This article was originally published in July 2014 . It was last updated in January 2020