Expand your career possibilities with these master's in history jobs

April 27, 2020 · 9 min read · By ASU Online
When exploring their career possibilities, graduate history students ask a simple question: “What can I do with a master’s in history?" Learn more about the careers you can obtain with a master's in history.

Obtaining a master’s in history online can prepare you to pursue a range of competitive occupations. Master’s in history jobs include historian, curator or archivist. Other job options for graduates wondering what they can do with a history degree include working at federal and state agencies, nonprofit organizations, consulting firms, historical societies and more.

“Companies want humanities majors. They want people with critical thinking skills, with logical comprehension, people who are able to translate really difficult ideas into clear and concise information,” says Dr. Peter Van Cleave, clinical assistant professor of history and director of online programs at the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. “Silicon Valley has a demand for humanities and history majors because of the skills that history offers that aren’t necessarily translatable to a specific job.”

Top skills you earn in your master’s in history online

One of the advantages of graduating with a master’s degree in history is that most history programs are not tied to any single career path. Instead, a history degree can help you to hone the skills and abilities that employers in many fields are looking for. These skills include:

  • Effective oral and written communication.
  • The ability to conduct a critical analysis.
  • Understanding cultural frameworks.
  • Connecting the past to better understand current events.
  • Research and investigation techniques.

Effective oral and written communication are essential for many jobs. While earning a master’s degree in history online, students discuss complex and sensitive topics. For example, students in the ASU online master’s degree in history may be asked to write or speak about global literacy, or comparative colonialism. These master’s level courses and assignments build up your ability to communicate in order to present your research and theories.

Nearly all history master’s programs involve examining the past through different critical frameworks. That's why history graduates earn experience with advanced research and investigation techniques, skills employers look for. History students also learn to challenge their own assumptions about accepted historical and cultural narratives. As a master’s student in history, you have the chance to study different time periods, geographical regions and historical events. This means your understanding of cultures and places of today may deepen as you look at the changes that have happened over time in global communities. Using this knowledge, you can expand your understanding of what to do with a history degree that will make a real impact on societies around the world.

“History is not static. It isn’t something that you’re just reading back and recreating the past as it exactly was,” says Van Cleave. “History is dynamic; interpretations change. They’re constantly changing, being reevaluated, challenged, revised. And so history thrives as a result of that.”

How much can I earn with a master’s in history?

Graduates with a master’s degree in history can earn a widely ranging salary because the positions they can seek vary greatly. The four jobs we delve into below range in salary between $43,000 to $72,000 a year (according to O*Net). The overall range for graduates is even broader since master’s of history graduates can enter fields as wide-ranging as public service, teaching and executive management. According to Payscale, graduates with a master of arts degree in history earn a median of $57,000 a year.

With a rich understanding of the past and a diverse set of skills from your master-level classes, new career opportunities may unfold. For graduates with a master’s in history, jobs and careers such as the ones below can be explored.

Delve into the past as a historian

Historians research, analyze and interpret past events by closely studying documents and artifacts. They often use the information they collect to create academic reports, journal articles, nonfiction books and documentaries. These documents engage and inform the public about important topics in world history. Some historians choose to focus on a single period, geographical region or historical figure. Yet, others prefer studying the evolution of human civilizations and cultures from their earliest roots.

Historians typically work for government agencies, businesses, nonprofit organizations and historical associations. However, there are opportunities for consulting roles. Television and movie studios may hire historians to ensure costumes and dialogue are historically accurate. Many historians also partner with museums, visitor centers and landmarks. There, they develop educational programs, presentations and public lectures on relevant subjects. For example, surging interest in black history has had a positive effect on museum attendance, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. This may provide employment opportunities for those with a master’s in history online.

How much do historians earn?

The median salary for this occupation was $61,140 in 2018, per data from O*Net OnLine. However, popular history writers and public speakers may secure higher incomes. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the employment of historians to grow by 6% from 2016 to 2026. This is on par with the national average for all occupations.

Museum curators plan a new exhibit.
Two professional museum curators plan an upcoming exhibit. 

Become a curator to oversee artwork and historic items

Curators manage collections of artwork and historic items on behalf of public and private institutions. These collections may include ancient tools, coins, statues, paintings and more. They are also responsible for acquiring and storing objects for use in public exhibitions. This often requires them to negotiate with other museums and private collectors.

Curators also create new exhibits, organize promotional events and design workshops. Curators may serve as administrators for their organization. In this role, they plan special research projects and direct curatorial and technical staff members. Larger historical institutions sometimes hire several curators with different specializations. These curators oversee particular collections, attend conventions and speak at professional conferences.

Most curators work for cultural heritage institutions in a public-facing capacity. These include museums, art galleries, libraries and archives. They leverage their subject matter expertise to develop educational programs, guided tours and online resources. Through these efforts, they are able to engage, inform and attract a diverse range of audiences. Success in this role typically requires above-average communication and interpersonal skills. It also requires close attention to detail and a passion for history and culture. That's why a master’s in history online program is so valuable for those interested in this profession.

How much do curators earn?

Job growth for this occupation is considered faster than average by O*Net Online, with over 1,500 new positions projected between 2016 and 2026. In 2018, the average salary for curators was $53,780. However, larger organizations often have more opportunities for increased compensation.

Organize valuable documents as an archivist

Archivists play a crucial role in the preservation of historically valuable information. They do this by appraising and cataloging a wide range of physical and digital documents. They also use classification systems to ensure researchers and the public have access to documents. This may include rare manuscripts, photographs, organizational records, analog film and more.

Archivists provide hands-on reference services, create document descriptions and maintain computer databases. Professionals in this field also verify the authenticity of historical documents. Finally, they are responsible for safeguarding records by creating film or digital copies.

This career path involves the use of electronic information storage technologies. However, most archivists have a background in historical studies. Pursuing a history degree, in person or online may offer you more opportunities to explore digital databases and archives. This can help you develop a familiarity with current best practices. Archivists typically work for museums, libraries and universities. However, there are also opportunities with large corporations, government institutions and historical societies.

How much do archivists earn?

The median salary for this occupation was $52,240 in 2018, per data from O*Net OnLine. Archivist job opportunities are projected to grow by 10% to 14% between 2016 and 2026. This is significantly faster than the national average.

Safeguard artifacts as a historic preservationist

Historic preservationists are responsible for the long-term care of documents and artifacts in collections and exhibitions. They are also known as museum technicians or conservators. They maintain detailed records of each item to track its condition and location. This may include whether it’s on display, in storage or in transit. This occupation is unique among history careers because of its diverse specialized subfields. For example, some historic preservationists directly handle, treat and restore objects to minimize deterioration. Yet, others focus on external research and communications. There are also opportunities for administrative roles. These positions oversee acquisitions, manage insurance policies and develop risk management procedures.

Some of the technical positions filled by historic preservationists may require a background in science or fine arts. However, many may be secured with an online master’s in history degree. Professionals in the field often work for museums, national parks and government agencies. Historical societies also offer employment possibilities. There, professionals are typically involved in maintaining old buildings and national landmarks.

What do historic preservationists earn?

Around 1,400 openings are projected for this profession between 2016 and 2026, according to O*Net OnLine. This is a faster than average rate of job growth. In 2018, the median historic preservationist salary was $43,020.

Learn how a master’s in history can advance your career

For professionals with a master’s in history, jobs and opportunities are available. Demand for passionate historians continues to grow at a consistent pace. This provides students and mid-career professionals with a variety of occupational opportunities. Cultural heritage institutions and preservation-focused organizations seek qualified people with the right balance of education, experience and technical proficiencies. That's why a master’s in history online program can be such a valuable resource.

Pursuing a graduate degree in history from ASU Online can help you gain the knowledge and skills needed for these roles. You'll also gain a strong foundation in communication and research. The Master of Arts in history offers in-depth instruction on a range of historical topics. The program focuses on preparing students for the competitive workforce. Through a combination of core courses and specialized electives, you can develop critical thinking competencies. You can also hone your organizational techniques and subject matter expertise in order to advance your career.


ASU Online – Online Master of Arts in history

Payscale - Master of Arts (MA) History Salary

Historians by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Historians by O*Net OnLine

Surging Interest in Black History Gives a Lift to Museums, Tourism by Pew Charitable Trusts

Archivists, Curators, and Museum Workers by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Curators by O*Net OnLine

Archivists by O*Net OnLine

So You Want to Be an Archivist by Society of American Archivists

Learn How to be a Preservationist by National Park Service

Historians in Historic Preservation by American Historical Association

Museum Technicians and Conservators by O*Net Online

A historic preservationist restores a statue.
A historic preservationist restores a statue.


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