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Why study American History? As Socrates said, "Know thyself." In knowing your past and those who came before you, you gain the ability to interpret what’s happening in your present. And why is that important? Today, most Americans have access to information available at a keystroke. Up-to-the-minute news, human-rights issues, health information, trends, economic issues, and other news are transmitted as it happens. With all this information, it helps to have a context. Knowing your own context – or, if American History is not your history, the context of world power – helps you to understand some of the whys of today.

In studying history, you might break up learning objectives in two ways: strategies in dealing with information and acquisition of knowledge in the content area (such as Reinterpreting Colonial Virginia or Readings in American Thought). While studying history, you’ll master the thinking verbs: interpret, critique, judge, compare, integrate, and analyze. Problem-solving skills, the ability to see patterns, and understanding meaning are essential skills that employers in any field look favorably upon.

Degree Information

A master’s degree in history can take anywhere from two to five years. Some programs emphasize research, while others simply require a certain amount of credit. Depending on the nature of the program, some kind of research project, dissertation, or extensive paper is typically required for graduation. A departmental exam may also be required. Many schools will require its graduate students to teach an undergraduate course or two before they graduate.

A Ph.D. is another option and is usually necessary if you plan to teach at the university level. Ph.D. programs typically require a written dissertation and oral defense though exact requirements will vary by school.

Joint degree programs, such as a J.D./M.A. (law degree and master’s degree), are yet another option, though they are not available at all schools.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • Does the program have career-placement statistics? Do they offer career counseling?
  • What kinds of research options are available?
  • What specialties do the faculty have?
  • Are there quality courses offered beyond American History to round out your program?

Career Overview

As with many degrees in the liberal arts, your expertise in analyzing data, problem-solving, and writing skills will be sought after in many fields. Many historians teach, but there are a plethora of places your degree can take you. How about historical archaeology or directing a center for genealogy? If you like the outdoors, lead historical tours for the National Park Service. There are obvious places of historical concentration, like the early settlements in Virginia or the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, but those are not the only places for historians. There is a history attached to every place. You may have to do some digging and treasure-hunting in your job search, but there are positions out there for just about every interest.

Career/Licensing Requirements

Teaching at a non-university level will require a state-certified licensure. Certain government jobs may require written tests or health exams. It all depends on where you end up.

Salary Information

Typical salaries start from $25,000 to $30,000. From there, it really depends on the job. Because the diversity of jobs a historian may have, the salary range is equally varied.

Related Links

American Association of Museums
Lists information relating to American museums. Current seminars, new books, and other resources.

American Historical Association
The AHA was founded in 1889 to "promote historical studies, collect and preserve historical documents and artifacts, and disseminate historical research." Provides job links, grant and fellowship information, as well as interesting essays on history as a profession.

Colonial Williamsburg
Learn what goes on at a typical large history museum. Great information on restoration, as well as plenty of job opportunities, especially entry-level, is listed here.

American Association for State and Local History
This is a great guide for anyone already working in the history field. Most information is accessible by members only.


  • Often A Program Will Divide American History Into Two Sections, Colonial America And Modern America (Usually Defined As 20Th Century To Present). Here Are Just A Few Samples: Colonial Virginia

  • African Diaspora In The Americas

  • American Sports History Historian’S Craft

  • Americans And Their Environment

  • Archaeology Of Colonial Williamsburg

  • Ethnographic History

  • Ethnographic History

  • France In North America

  • Oral History

  • Research Seminar: America To 1789 America And The Cold War

  • Seminar: Ronald Reagan

  • Technology And American Culture

  • Tourism In America: 1820 To 1940

  • U.S. Presidential Elections

  • Writing And Reading Culture