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What can you do with a History Degree?

History majors from the College of New Jersey have gone on to pursue a variety of careers, including law, business, web design, applied history, elementary/secondary education, and work with the US Foreign Service, and much more. Some career paths will require addition education beyond the undergraduate level. For more information about graduate school, click here.

Use the links below to explore some of the most popular career choices for History majors!

Careers in Law

  • Lawyer and Paralegals
    In addition to providing experience in logical argumentation, history courses offer research, writing, and analytical skills necessary both for law school and the practice of law. Students of history wishing to become lawyers must, of course, be graduated from law school, but it is possible to become professional paralegal assistants with some training in this field.
  • Litigation support
    Historians who are not lawyers can also play an important part in the legal process by providing litigation support research and serving as expert witnesses. This may require work on relatively simple issues, such as documenting a property line or providing genealogical research for a contested will, confirming the significance of a historic building in a case that determines the owner’s right to tax credits, or researching cases with far reaching consequences, such as a major civil rights case.
  • Legislative staff work
    Historians can be important staff members for government officials who are responsible for making laws. Ability to conduct primary source research is invaluable when seeking to determine the original intent of a law or regulation under scrutiny. Historians, of course are also valuable as advocates for the history profession. Research and writing skills, contacts with the history profession, and knowledge of government serve historians well in these capacities. These staff members may be responsible for drafting legislation, researching options for legislative action, interpreting the position of the history profession on an impending decision, and generally working toward a government that, at whatever level, best serves the public needs. Legislative staff at the Congressional level may be hired by Congress to work on personal or committee staffs. State legislatures and state agencies also employ historians as legislative staff.
  • Foundations
    Private foundations and granting agencies such as state humanities councils or the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) sometimes have openings for various administrative and support positions in which the skills of the history degree holder can be useful. At higher levels, staff members of granting agencies can help the decision-making boards or panels understand the discipline of history, assist applicants in developing grants, arrange for peer review of grants, critique grant applications, and monitor the work of grant recipients.
Law Job Resources
Law School Admission Council
LSAT Test Prep
Occupational Outlook Handbook – Paralegals
Paralegal vs. Lawyer

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Careers in Education

  • Elementary school
    Apart from having a strong motivation to teach very young children, students of history interested in teaching in elementary schools (grades K-6) must take a wide range of courses, including anthropology, economics, geography, history, political science, and sociology in preparation for certification by the state to teach social studies. They also must take a general studies curriculum required of all teachers of grades K-6; this includes introductory courses in English, music and art, science, history, and geography, as well as specialized courses in math, physical education, and teaching techniques.
  • Secondary school
    There are more opportunities to teach history as a separate subject (rather than being a part of social studies) at the junior high and high school levels. Thus more history courses are required of a student majoring in secondary education. A broad background would be required to teach topics like world history, or Western Civilization.
  • Post-secondary Education
    This includes community and junior colleges, four-year colleges, and universities. Full-time, tenured college professors must hold doctoral degrees – Ph.D.s. They supervise graduate students, conduct research, write textbooks, give lectures and teach from 3 to 16 hours per week. This is a great job for an individual who loves communicating knowledge and conducting research in a chosen field. However, competition in this field is particularly fierce due to dwindling numbers of positions.
  • Historic Sites and Museums
    The United States has numerous historic sites and museums ranging from large national museums to the small, local historical society collections. Educators are needed at such sites to interpret the past to visitors with a wide range of education and experience. Those who teach at museums and historic sites may need more than traditional history courses to qualify for their positions. Courses in art history, folklore, and archeology may prove useful training for work at a museum or historic site. In a small museum, the education specialist may also have some responsibilities for exhibit preparation and collections management. In this case, specialized museum courses are invaluable.
Education Job Resources
Nation Job Education Jobs
Occupational Outlook Handbook: Education
Education at the Museum of Natural History
Education Jobs

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Careers in Communications

  • Writers
    Historians do a great deal of writing, but for some, writing is the primary responsibility. Historians often write for a variety of publications, including scholarly monographs; scripts for slide shows, films, and television shows; brochures for historic sites; captions for exhibits; reports for government agencies; testimony for legislative hearings; articles for mass-market magazines; textbooks; historical novels; and screenplays for television series and movies. The training a history major receives during the undergraduate program should be good preparation for most of these tasks.
  • Editors
    Historians can become editors rather than writers. Editors work for scholarly publishers, historical societies, journals, magazines, and trade publishers. A number of book editors were history majors in college; many have graduate degrees in the field. Editors must have very strong verbal and organizational skills, be able to pay attention to detail, and must be able to deal tactfully and persuasively with authors. Entry-level jobs are open to college graduates without special training in publishing, but those with coursework in editing and publishing are more likely to be hired. Those who wish to edit elementary or secondary school textbooks generally need to have had some experience teaching at the relevant level.
  • Journalists
    Research skills gained through training in history also provide a useful background for print, broadcast, or Internet journalism. Although historical subjects are not always the primary topics of research for journalists, the ability to use a variety of sources, to understand the necessity of verification, to think analytically, and to write clearly, is as important in journalism as in history. As with many other occupations, however, a history background is usually not enough. Anyone with an interest in journalism should gain experience by working for the student newspaper or radio or television station while in college. This can be supplemented by additional course work in print or broadcast journalism.
  • Documentary Editors
    Documentary editors locate documents related to a particular individual, agency, or movement; determine which documents are legitimate through the use of internal and external criticism and date them if needed; organize the documents in a logical order; transcribe them; and prepare appropriate annotations.
  • Producers of Multimedia Material
    Although careers for historians in the field of television and cinema production may be limited–despite the emergence of new cable television channels such as the History Channel and the proliferation of historical films–more opportunities are becoming available in the rapidly burgeoning field of history-related web site creation and production of CD-ROMS. Here, a combination of historical training and knowledge of new technologies for dissemination of information will be especially valuable.
Job Resources
Association for Documentary Editing
History Channel Jobs

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Careers in Museums

  • Curator
    The curatorial department is the area of the museum most closely associated with historians. The curator’s major duties normally revolve around the museum collection, whether acquiring new objects, writing exhibit scripts, or preparing grant applications. Normally the plum position of curator requires a doctoral degree and a number of years of related professional experience. Other positions, however, like that of assistant curator, writer, or research assistant, offer entry-level opportunities for gaining curatorial experience. Curators are often a museum’s sole link to the academic community, and therefore may be expected to attend conferences, contribute to scholarly publications, and make public presentations.
  • Registrar/Collections Manager
    While the curator presumably has an intimate knowledge of the objects in the collection, it is the collections management staff that actually knows how to find them. The registrar is responsible not only for making sure that the collection is fully documented and accounted for, but also for making the museum’s cultural resources available to researchers. Duties may include dealing with research requests, cataloguing objects, or creating finding aids. An academic background in history, in addition to the technical skills needed for the position, will equip the registrar with the research abilities needed to properly identify and classify collection objects.
  • Museum Education
    The bridge between the public and the museum’s exhibits and collections is the education staff. The education officer is responsible for designing programs that target the museum’s resources toward a number of different categories of visitor. This may include creating several types of tours, creating interactive education programs (often in an education center), as well as planning special events in conjunction with recent exhibits. An education office will also usually be responsible for training and scheduling those most valuable of resources, docents and volunteers. An education officer at a history museum ideally has a background in education as well as history, but most importantly must possess the twin virtues of patience and creativity.
  • Conservator
    Most of those drawn to the field of conservation are interested in studying history through the physical record of material culture. Conservators differ from restorers and renovators in that most current conservation theory looks to maintain the integrity of the object as much as possible through the use of reversible repairs and support. The ideal conservator has proficiency and skill in three different fields—history (or art history), chemistry, and studio arts. Because of the rigorous training involved (usually three to four years of graduate work in addition to a period of apprenticeship) and the small number of universities that offer degree programs, conservation is a highly competitive field. Conservators normally concentrate in a specific type of artifact.
Museum Job Resources
American Association of Museums Job Search
Occupational Outlook Handbook – Museums
Jobs at the Museum of Natural History

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Careers in Archives and Preservation

  • Acquisitions
    Acquisitions archivists are responsible for bringing material into the collection. In an institution where state law or corporate policy decrees that material must be sent to the archives, this archivist insures that the appropriate material is actually received. In a manuscript collection or archives where material does not arrive automatically, archivists must identify existing collections that fit the collecting policy of their institution and work with donors to secure them for the institution. A knowledge of history helps these archivists understand what material will help augment and improve the holdings of their institution.
  • Processing
    Processing archivists prepare collections for use by researchers and create the tools that help those researchers find information within them. They “arrange” a collection by determining the best order for documents within a collection, and they “appraise” a collection by assessing the historical significance of materials in the collections and deciding whether the documents will be retained. Because this job entails discarding parts of the collection (due to constraints of space and the historical insignificance of the discarded items), a keen eye and understanding of history are vital for this work.
  • Reference
    Reference archivists serve as a liaison between the researching public and the institution. As the public face of the archives, they must have good interpersonal skills and understand how to help a diverse body of researchers, from experienced scholars to amateur genealogists. They must be expertly familiar with the holdings of the institution and able to recommend new avenues of exploration to researchers. In addition, they must have the ability to make connections between users’ requests and recent secondary literature, as well as a knowledge of the related holdings in other repositories.
  • Preservation Administration and Conservation
    In general, preservation administrators are responsible for broad policies and practices that affect the holdings of an archives, insuring that the building’s temperature and humidity are adequate for the objects, and educating users and co-workers about the importance of preservation activities. The work of conservators may include physical repair of damaged objects and the creation of special storage or housing appropriate for unusual or fragile objects. Most conservators today undergo a period of apprenticeship with an established conservator.
  • Records Management
    Records managers are responsible for a systematic approach to the creation, use, and eventual permanent retention or disposal of the voluminous paper and electronic documentation generated by businesses, educational, charitable, government, and other organizations. They may help to set up an office file system, assist in the design of the databases to collect information and generate reports, or devise retention schedules for the records that an institution generates, based on the value of the information or legal requirements. The Institute for Certified Records Managers handles certification.
  • Historic Site Preservation
    The goal of historic preservation at any level is the identification, evaluation, physical preservation, and interpretation of historically and culturally significant sites. Properties and districts must be thoroughly researched and documented in written, photographic, and often oral forms to be eligible for a listing in the National Register of Historic Places. A thorough knowledge of practical building skills and architectural history is crucial to the physical “bricks and mortar” side of preservation. Interpreting historic structures for the public can take the form of exhibit design, pamphlet publication, or documentary film production.
Archival Job Resources
National Park Services Jobs
Occupational Outlook Handbook – Archivists, Curators
Society of American Archivists
Opportunities at Libraries
Historical Associates Job Listings
National Center for Preservation Technology and Training

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Careers in Business

According to the Wall Street Journal, a History liberal arts degree can make you very marketable in the job market:

Wealth or Waste? Rethinking the Value of a Business Major


  • Historians in Corporations
    Within a particular company, those with a background in history may find careers in the areas of external relations, marketing, information resource management, legal affairs, finance and control, administration, human resources, and operations. In almost every type of business, archivists and records managers are employed to oversee current and archival records, using them to provide information and archival services. In the area of human resources, historians with a knowledge of foreign languages and foreign cultures, working in an international company, can help employees and customers communicate effectively. Some opportunities may be unique to a particular kind of business. Historians in communications may routinely research and write historical documentaries and narratives, while those in other fields may produce these only for anniversary celebrations.
  • Contract Historians
    Contract historians work in almost every area of history. Museums, nonprofit organizations, federal agencies, businesses, and individuals all may hire consultants who contract for particular projects. Contract historians can own or work for history businesses–firms that specialize in providing history services for a variety of clients, from preparing brochures for a historical society to planning a company’s anniversary celebration, providing litigation support, preparing text for a museum exhibit, researching a historic site for a cultural resources management project, and declassifying documents for a government agency. An entrepreneurial spirit is critical to success in this endeavor, as contract historians have to convince people there is a need for their services.
Business Job Resources
Historical Associates Job Listings
The History Factory
Historical Research Associates

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Source: American Historical Association