Tips to getting a historic preservation job

May 05, 2020 · 6 min read · By ASU Online
Historic preservationists ensure the long-term care of artwork, documents, objects and buildings. Also called museum technicians or conservators, historic preservation jobs are different from other history careers. This is due to the wide range of available subfields.

Are you passionate about safeguarding cultural sites and artifacts?

For example, if you have a background in fine arts, you may restore damaged paintings, sculptures and textiles. Other preservationists serve in an administrative role. Some preservationists develop public awareness campaigns to educate visitors about protected items. The diversity of the field attracts people with diverse interests and specializations.

“[Preservationists] help us understand who we are, that without a past we have no grounding in terms of the decisions that we make now and in the future,” 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. “There’s a sense of why we need history, why we need to preserve documents, to understand how things were, why they changed and how they can be changed for the better.”

Preservationists usually find jobs at cultural heritage institutions and nonprofit organizations. These employers need people who know how to interact with historically valuable objects. What may be a surprise is that many in this line of work don’t directly handle these items on a daily basis. Instead, historic preservationists often create and maintain detailed records. They also oversee the logistics of acquiring and storing new artifacts. Additionally, they contract insurance policies and create risk management procedures. Most administration-based historic preservation jobs require close attention to detail. Preservationists also need significant subject matter expertise and an aptitude for organizational thinking. Above-average reading and writing proficiencies are also desirable.

This occupation requires technical experience. An online Master of Arts in history can help you gain this experience and be competitive in the job market. A graduate degree in history can prepare you with research techniques, and functional and practical skills. Most graduate programs offer classes in historical methods, global history and cultural studies. They also offer a wide selection of electives that touch on particular time periods. Electives can help you identify career options in the field of history. They may even teach you how to get a job in historic preservation!

An artwork conservator restores a painting.
An artwork conservator restores a painting.

A typical day in the life of a historic preservationist

Historic preservationists often have daily tasks that support ongoing restoration and conservation projects. Additionally, the duties they perform are usually related to their area of expertise. People working in a hands-on role spend their time cleaning, repairing and reassembling damaged objects. Professionals in administrative roles often split their focus. One day they may be cataloging artifacts and supporting outreach campaigns. The next day, they may direct tours or assemble exhibits for public display. Many in this field also engage in research activities to improve existing collections. They also classify and organize all items. Some historic preservation jobs include the following duties:

  • Determining if items need to be repaired.
  • Organizing fundraisers and special events.
  • Evaluating the characteristics of archival and historical objects.
  • Preparing artifacts for exhibition and ensuring their safety.
  • Tracking the status and condition of institutional collections.
  • Writing press releases.

Careers in historic preservation and restoration are often collaborative. That's because projects usually depend on input from historians, archivists and logistics experts. The ability to communicate with internal and external parties is essential. Good communication skills allow you to educate the public and secure stable funding.

Historic preservationist jobs salary trends and career outlook

Preservationists often work for museums, historical societies, government institutions and nonprofit organizations. There may be consulting opportunities with economic development agencies and architectural firms. Many in the field tend to focus on the conservation of artwork, documents and artifacts. Other historic preservation careers focus on national parks and culturally significant buildings. Researchers at O*Net Online project a 10% to 14% job growth for this occupation between 2016 and 2026. Analysts expect around 1,400 openings are expected during this period. This is faster than the average for all occupations by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many employers seek someone with a background in science or fine arts. Some employers seek recruits with a master’s degree in history. Historic preservationist salaries vary between subfields. The median pay rate in 2018 stood at $43,020, per data from O*Net Online. People with restoration experience can secure higher salary from large or federal agencies.

How to get a job in historic preservation

Historic preservationists perform a variety of tasks beyond safeguarding documents, artifacts and buildings. To succeed, you need subject expertise and the ability to communicate the value of conservation. It’s also important to consider personal characteristics that may help you excel, such as:

  • Dependability: Museums and nonprofit organizations place a lot of trust in historic preservationists. These professionals need to act with purpose and integrity if issues arise. Technical staff are accountable for the quality of their restoration work. Administrative professionals need to make the right decisions when directing conservation projects.
  • Logistics & analytical thinking: Working in this field requires individuals to analyze information. They also identify effective solutions for preserving at-risk artwork, documents and historic sites. Coordinating the exhibit, storing and transporting fragile objects entails logistics and risk management.
  • Cooperation: Historic preservationists working with professionals with different perspectives and abilities. The ability to work well with others can create an environment where everyone has a shared goal.
  • Attention to detail: Subfields in this line of work use observation skills. These help identify risks to historic items and locate opportunities for process improvement. Detail-oriented thinking is also essential.

Learn more about your potential historic preservation career

In ASU Online Master of Arts in history, you can earn the historic preservation and restoration knowledge need for this field. Keep in mind that some roles may need specialized training in natural science or fine arts. A graduate degree can help you better understand the value of cultural artifacts. Want to know how to get a job in historic preservation? In this program, you can learn about global studies, historical methods and public history. This degree includes elective classes so you can focus on events, locations and periods you’re passionate about. Students can also earn three credit hours for work they do in historic preservation.Today’s job market relies on professionals from every field. That's why a graduate degree can be a valuable resource for your career and long-term success.

ASU Online – Online Master of Arts in History
Learn How to be a Preservationist by National Park Service
Historians in Historic Preservation by American Historical Association
Environmental and Historic Preservation by Internal Revenue Service
Museums, Historical Sites, and Similar Institutions by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Museum Technicians and Conservators by O*Net Online

Students learn about a historic preservation career.
Students learn about a historic preservation career.


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