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Careers in History

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Careers in History

Henry Martin

Meet Henry Martin, a proofreader and copy coordinator at Ackerman McQueen.
And 2010 OU History Grad!

Studying history helps create good professionals in both the public and private sectors. Employers and businesses often look for history graduates who, by studying different periods and societies, have a broad perspective that gives them the range and flexibility required in many work situations. History graduates develop research skills, the ability to find, evaluate, and analyze information. Studying history also improves basic writing and speaking skills, which are directly relevant to many careers and professions. In sum, the skills you will gain studying history will prepare you for the long haul, helping you to advance entry-level employment. In fact; when PayScale conducted a survey of starting and mid-career salaries for college grads in dozens of college majors in 2011, history surpassed majors like business in terms of starting salary and career advancement.

So history majors are well prepared for the job market, as well as for graduate programs like law school, library science, and masters and doctoral programs in history. And CAS students can use the University of Oklahoma's Career Services for free. By all means, major in history because you enjoy studying history. But remember that your career options after graduation will be varied and excellent. If you want confirmation, check out our Alumniage. And be sure to consult these brief descriptions of common post-graduation career paths for history majors (including, but not limited to, law school, research, and teaching—keep scrolling down!) as well as the links to useful career resources.

Law School

Generations of history majors have gone on to study law. Lawyers must be proficient in research, writing, and the ability to make an argument—all skills you will learn as a history major. The history department has a pre-law advisor, Dr. James S. Hart, Jr., who can help you structure your major to prepare for law school. The University of Oklahoma also has a pre-law advisor, Angela Gauthier; she has a Desire2Learn page that addresses the application process, advising information, and important links. You can email Ms. Gauthier at to be added to the D2L page course roster for more information.

Professor of History

Professors of history (yes, like us) research history and publish books, articles, and essays, in addition to teaching at the university or college level. Professors commonly travel to the areas of the world they study to perform research in archives; that research then becomes the foundation of their publications and also turns up in the courses they teach. This does mean that professors get to travel to some pretty interesting places in the world, but it also means that professors have to learn the relevant languages to perform that research (for example, if you specialize in the medieval Catholic Church, you have to learn Latin, the language in which the documents were written, and Italian, which is spoken at the Vatican archives). And, in order to be admitted to a quality graduate program, you need at least a 3.5, bare minimum, in terms of a cumulative GPA. So anyone interested in pursuing an MA and/or PhD in history should talk to a history department advisor, study hard, and begin working on those language skills! The American Historical Association's webpage also has good advice concerning preparation and the current academic job market.

Secondary Education

Many history majors begin to consider secondary teaching as a career in their last year or two before graduation. It is possible to receive certification as a secondary school social studies teacher even if you didn't major in education. Here's a link to the State of Oklahoma's certification webpage:

Teach for America is another great way to break into secondary teaching after majoring in history.  The Rainbolt College of Education has established a scholarship fund to pay the student loan debt of students who enter the teaching field.  For more information, see Debt-Free Teachers.

Public History

Some graduates go on to work in a variety of public history environments, including museums, national parks, and other organizations that seek to present history to a public audience through exhibits, guided tours, film and other media, and the like. The National Council on Public History has a great website that can give you an idea of the full range of careers, good graduate programs, and current trends in the job market. USAJOBS also has a search engine that can show you what kind of jobs are available in government organizations and national parks.

Libraries and Archives

Having learned how to do research extremely well, helping others do their own research may appeal to you. If so, you could pursue a MLIS (Master's degree in Library and Information Sciences). The MLIS prepares students to combine traditional research skills with advanced computer programming skills, including digital imaging and web publishing as well as rare document conservation and designing library collections. The American Library Association can give you more information as to careers in Library and Information Science, and tips on how to apply to top MLIS programs.

Foreign and Domestic Service

History majors learn a great deal about other cultures, peoples, and languages across the world; this is great preparation for a job in the foreign service, state department, and even domestic service-oriented jobs. The US Department of State's website is a great place to start looking at those career possibilities (and USAJOBS too). And, of course, if you're really looking to live amongst different peoples and cultures, there is always the Peace Corps.

Editing and Publishing

History majors can find employment in a wide variety of publishing areas, including university presses, textbook and trade houses, magazines and journals, professional organizations, and institutional publication offices (including corporations). Presses that publish history and related fields need employees with familiarity of the subject matter as well as English grammar and writing skills (both of which you should have when you finish your capstone paper!).

Corporate careers

In the past several decades, businesses have found graduates with liberal arts backgrounds to be prime candidates for executive training programs and, as a result, many History majors have developed rewarding business careers. And for that, Career Services is great.

Which brings us back to Henry Martin; he graduated with a degree in history from OU in 2010, and got a job as a Proofreader/Copy Coordinator in advertising with Ackerman McQueen in Tulsa. Here's what Henry has to say about the usefulness of his history education:

How History Helps: "The critical thinking, writing and research skills I developed as a History major are useful in every aspect of my job. I was chosen over many Advertising majors, despite this being an ad agency, because those abilities are valued above all else here."

Don't hesitate to ask any history professor about future careers!