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History Major Overview

Ever wondered how coffee accelerated the Age of Enlightenment? What about the impact of World War II on modern America? If you’re intrigued by these kinds of questions, then a history major could be right for you. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about majoring in history. We’ll discuss what it is, common coursework, career possibilities, and more. 

What is a history major?

History majors learn how to critically examine the past. They study how the various economic, social, political, and religious forces have transformed the world over time. They explore topics ranging from art and architecture to war and political tactics, asking questions like “why did this happen, how did it affect the world, and what can we learn from it?” 

Through historical investigation, history majors learn how to connect the dots between the past, present, and future. They gain valuable skills that extend beyond the field of history, including analytical writing, problem solving, foreign language, and research. Ultimately, history majors gain a nuanced understanding of societies and cultures. 

Also read: What are the humanities?

Coursework to expect

History majors take courses covering a variety of time periods and regions. Topics range from modern-day America to ancient Europe. Because history is such a vast field, degree requirements are flexible and allow students to learn about time periods that interest them. At a minimum, though, students are usually required to take courses related to the United States and Europe. From there, students can choose to explore the history of other places such as Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Most students also have to take a research methods class to learn how to interact with primary sources and analyze historical writings.

Below are some potential courses you may encounter as a history major:

  • The World in the 20th Century
  • Modern Africa
  • China: Empire and Revolution, 1800-Present
  • History of Ancient Greece
  • Fascism and Propaganda
  • Millennial Generation in the U.S.
  • Themes in Caribbean History
  • LGBTQ History in the United States
  • U.S. Foreign Policy Since 1865
  • Colonial Latin America 

Also see: How to pick a major

Opportunities after graduation

Unlike some other majors, there’s no clear and obvious career track for graduating history majors. But that’s just because there’s so many paths you can take with a history degree. For now, here’s just a few career options related to the field of history:

  • Librarian
  • Museum curator 
  • Archivist
  • Journalist
  • Lawyer
  • Teacher or professor
  • Historian

Jobs you can get with a history degree

Just because you major in history doesn’t mean you have to become a historian. While that’s certainly an option, there’s a range of other career options that extend beyond the field of history. Below are some popular career choices for history majors, along with median annual salaries according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

1. Librarian

Librarians help patrons find books and other resources, conduct research, and set up systems for cataloging and shelving books. They’re typically employed by local governments, universities, and K-12 schools. 

2020 Median Pay: $60,820 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 5% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Archivists and Curators

Archivists catalog and preserve historically valuable documents, while curators oversee collections of historical items. They typically work for institutions such as museums, governments, and colleges. Job responsibilities include setting up exhibits and providing educational services to the public. 

2020 Median Pay: $52,140 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 11% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Journalist 

Journalists research and write news stories for television, newspapers, radio, and websites. They keep the public informed on important local, national, and international stories. Reporters often have certain beats such as local news, sports, business, or pop culture. 

2020 Median Pay: $49,300 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): -11% (Decline)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Also see: Top journalism scholarships

4. Lawyer

Lawyers advise and represent individuals, businesses, and government agencies on legal issues and disputes. Most lawyers work in private and corporate legal offices, while some work for federal, state, and local governments. 

2020 Median Pay: $126,930 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 4% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Also read: Top law school scholarships

5. History Professor

Professors teach history at the college/university level. In addition to their teaching responsibilities, many professors conduct research on the side. It’s common for history professors to specialize in a particular era or region. 

2020 Median Pay: $80,790 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 9% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

6. Historian

Historians research and write about the past by analyzing historical documents. They may engage the public through educational programs, write reports or books, archive materials for museums, or provide advice on preservation issues. They typically work for governments, museums, historical societies, research organizations, and nonprofits. 

2020 Median Pay: $63,100 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 3% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Also read: What is the starting salary out of college?

How do I know if this major is right for me? 

If you’re considering a major in history, ask yourself the following questions: 

  1. Are you curious about the past and how it influences the present?
  2. Do you enjoy learning about different cultures and societies?
  3. Do you value research and investigation? 
  4. Are you passionate about crafting arguments and defending your point of view?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then a history major could be right for you!

See also: Top Scholarships for History Majors