So, you re going to teach then?
40 Things to Do With a Degree in History
Taylor Webb 5/31/2011

I would like to eventually go into graduate studies after I get my history degree at the University of Lethbridge. Upon announcing this to anyone, from a close friend and confidant or a relative to a complete stranger the response is unanimous: So, you re going to teach then? What I am amazed to find is that I have to convince people, in fact I fail to convince them that there is more at the end of a scholastic career than more school from the other side of the desk. What follows is an interview set-up displaying the value of a history graduate followed by a non-exhaustive list of careers complete with examples and sarcasm. First off: Imagine the scene you are going to employ someone, or maybe you simply are spending a bunch of money interviewing people for a position that doesn t exist because you think it s funny. Either way in front of you sits Gerome, a history graduate. What possible skills could he have? What do you mean? He responds, completely calm. His demeanour reflects an almost endless pool of patience that he has developed over the years of doing nothing at all in a quite space filled with people trying not to do anything Well, what skills can you bring to this company? He reflects for a moment, bringing his hands up to somehow interact with his face, stroking his beard, biting his finger, or gently touching his face, a contagious habit picked up in academia. Well, I ll be honest with you. He s let so many professors down that breaking bad news to someone is like cracking an egg to him. I have no idea what you do or expect me to do. You stare on in disbelief, it s as though not knowing something is second nature to him. But, he continues, finding his thoughts and preparing for the pitch, I know I can do it, and I will make your company better, no matter what. That s a bold claim, especially if you have no idea what we do! You re ready to challenge him now, and that s just what he needed to turn him into a super-computer-robot intellectual ninja. He smiles, but only in the corners of his mouth. It doesn t matter what you do, because if I don t know more about it than you do already, I will tomorrow. How can I be so sure? Because I can have short book describing your company, its beginnings, its failings, criticisms, support, and the whole foundation of your industry on your desk in 16 hours. I once wrote a 100 page paper on the effects of bronze working on the Phoenician economy in a week-end, I could re-write that for you by tomorrow if you wanted. From memory. It s going to be at the very least you and me working here, so you need

teamwork. I do almost everything open-source, but when I need my competitive edge you don t even want to know what I ve done to keep my work mine and get through grad school, you d be liable. Well, that s all very impressive, but you do come off quite academic, there is a certain practicality to what we do. Don t even worry about that. It ll take me just as long as everyone else to master whatever it is you give me, but by master I mean something completely different. I mean I will know how every part of everything works, why and when it was made to work that way, and the impacts and reactions of the human and mechanical elements. I ll not only be able to hit the switches or do whatever physical skill it takes, but I ll be able to teach others too. That s a strong point for sure, we do need management skills. That s where I m at. I have hit rock bottom, and that s not something you usually look for, but it s something that you should be. I can manage myself because I know my limits so intimately we go for long walks and talk about our rough past. I know what it looks like when someone is seconds away from a stress-induced stroke, because that was the big shiny picture I had on the bathroom wall above the sink for a year. I know when someone says yea, I can do that for you and what they mean is I have no idea how I m going to do that and I know how to help them get through it. I know how to push people s buttons, I know the power of a group, I know how to lead. What about your ability to follow directions, and spatial sense? I can do stuff that I hate, and I can do it for a long time, and I can still hate it, and I ll still do it better than anyone else. My dissertation is 400 pages of stuff that I hate but did better than anyone else. The subtle differences in the rows of a library that are made to look the same are like black and white sign-posts to me. Once I know the lay of the land it s like a book; just a reference you keep going back to for stuff you already mostly know. Well I was sceptical, but it turns out you might be just the kind of guy we need. All right! When do I start? And what will I be doing when I do? Well, come in on Saturday. You could probably skip most of the training, just read up on the municipal sewage system. Congratulations, you re the city s newest Sanitation Engineer! On second thought, I m going to apply at another job. He says as he shakes your hand. As he leaves you don t know whether you ve been had, or simply didn t have what it takes, but you ll always remember Gerome, the one that got away.

So what other jobs could Gerome apply for? Well here comes the list: History Teacher: Just kidding, Gerome is way to cool for that. History Professor: He just doesn t want to be back into that environment again. Caretaker/Curator: Museums are not always magically not boring to historians. This one is obvious too, and extremely cut-throat, but for a select few it s heaven. Re-enactor or tour guide: Sometimes you just have to ask yourself Do I want to say I ve done this for 40 years? In this day and age people change jobs all the time, so eventually you may end up here, but hopefully it s just because you thought it sounded cool and it was only a phase. Author: This seems pretty straight-forward. Local Historian: Cute. But the thing about this is there can really be only one. Usually he s got a few side jobs too, especially in rural areas. Corporate Historian: People make money talking about successful people and organizations. These people are historians. TV Historian: The last typical history job. Only one in about a hundred million get it, and it might not be his thing if he does land the gig, I mean who wants to talk about the Romans on PBS for 40 years? Journalist: Most career resource places are smart enough to have this one on there too. Seriously imagine journalism without proper historical interpretation! (This may be easier for my American readers) Editor: Again, the mastery of a few languages puts you in a prime position to edit other people s inability to communicate properly. Historians are also frequently adept at cultural sensitivity and regional variation in spin (or counter-spin). Historians can be editors of newspapers, books, documentary films and more. Archivist: Got a lot of papers lying around? Imagine how many papers Wal-Mart has lying around. Someone has to put them somewhere. What about Congress? Courts? Even clubs will hire professional archivists. Archivists are also called Information Managers. Diplomat: Now we re getting into awesome territory. Hanging out with world powers, chatting about regional instability like it s a table with one short leg, walking around the UN like you own the place, most diplomatic corps are filled with historians. Spy: Yes, we have arrived. Once you realize that most spies are not 007, you soon think about what a spy actually does and realize he is gathering primary resources that need to be pieced together into a coherent interpretation of intents, actions, and relations yea that s pretty much exactly the definition of historical analysis. Don t forget that historians will often fit into just about every position in a spy network, all the way up to the secretive and reclusive kingpin. Consultant: Mostly just because this is a good cover for a spy, but also because historical consultants are needed for all sorts of things. Consulting is actually a huge field for historians, I ll try to leave as many examples of jobs as I can dig up. Historical consultants advise people on

interior decorating, artwork, investing, appraising, construction (on Indian burial grounds for example), architecture, war, politics, diplomacy, translation, entertainment (such as historical accuracy of props and language), activism, advertising, social phenomena (such as consumerism, and inter-cultural relations), ethics, law, and of course history. Translator: If you re a history grad and haven t mastered another language (or three), and probably a pretty obscure one, you ve done something wrong. Take advantage of your intimate knowledge of 13th century Persian in any way you can. You can also get famous by translating some long-forgotten work that turns out to be quite profound or relevant. Critic: By now you ve read a fair amount of academic name-calling and agreeing to disagree. This should equip you to be at least a moderately successful critic for a small publication. Blogger: Yes, you can do this with any degree (or none at all) but that doesn t mean it s not a legitimate career or income bonus for a history grad. Weaponsmith: Yea, like making swords for a living. Don t tell me you haven t considered it, and remember the market includes re-enactments, consumer sales, and the entertainment industry. Did you think sword-swallowers got them from Wal-Mart? Craftsman: This is more general, and includes all the weird crafts that only a historian would consider remotely doable such as leather working, carriage making, canon making and castle building. (At this point you probably call BS and google it, only to be awed into silence to discover that there is indeed a castle being constructed right now in France.) Church Historian: This is obviously a little bit of an inside job, but many denominations will even let you into the highest ranks with a history degree. Restorer: Could be art, could be architecture, could be museum pieces, could be heirlooms, could be anything as long as you re good at it. Military Officer: Do you know who Admiral Alfred Mahan is? [Wikipedia search] Right, that guy, the most important American strategist in the nineteenth century, who basically singlehandedly shaped the history of the US and coined the term Middle East. Yea, you guessed it, he was a historian. That whole we learn history so we don t repeat the mistakes of our past BS that you are spoon-fed in elementary school actually turns out to be useful in the context of strategic analysis. Go figure. Administrator: Less glorious than spy or military strategist, but still important. From secretary, to executive, to superintendent, you can type like a boss, get a lot of work done quickly and understand things before you ve even read them. You re like the Robo-cop of file cabinets and cubicles. Genealogist: This is an often over-looked career, but some have made a fortune planning genealogy tours for people, taking them on trips all around Europe to visit places they said were important. It s like tour guide, room-mate and grandma all wrapped in one package deal that costs more than an all-inclusive Caribbean cruise. Lawyer: Ok, this one does require more school, but many universities offer some sort of bridge

between law school and history, and a history undergrad can usually get into law school just fine. Judge: I promise I m not trying to extend the list by repeating myself; it s just a logical addition. President: Ok, I will only make this point once more. Any job that does not require specific credentials is not off-limits to historians! The fact is most people with history degrees will end up doing something completely outside their field, like be President of the United States. Statistician: Statisticians are usually from the field of sociology or mathematics, but I m pretty sure anyone who can spell that right in the first shot can join the club. Also, like a lawyer there is often a path you can take through grad studies that will make you eligible. Conspiracy Theorist: Maybe not glorious or practical, but it s a calling to some, and some even make a living off of it. Historians tend to be especially good at it because after you ve been writing about one thesis for months and then discover evidence that completely contradicts you, you can scurry around it and explain it away better than a lawyer another point toward becoming a lawyer. (Note: this is usually not an intentional career move). Stenographer: Want to learn a completely useless code-like language that allows you to access and interpret information no one else cares to? Want to become exceedingly proficient at it? Notice how stenography sounds a lot like history? Librarian: This one also requires a bit of fore-thought, but most universities allow you to get into it while still studying at the graduate level. I m not talking about elementary school library (unless that s what you re into), I mean the Library of Congress or some other place that holds more information than the internet. (Some of you non-academics might not believe there is such a place, but we have not been out-stripped yet.) Self-Employed: I thought this was cheating at first, but there is a lot more in here than I originally though. Here are some examples of self-employment in history (aside from the ones already listed like author and blogger): Pawn shop/antiques dealer, game designer, hippie (ecoliving consultant on the resume), rock band guru, tour owner/operator, and don t forget all those consulting gigs. Appraiser: Antiques Roadshow does pay those people, and they re not the only ones. Stay at Home Parent: I mean, come on, you re a history grad, you need to procreate, and a lot! Imagine if everyone was as smart as you! Propagandist: Obviously good if you have some sociology/psychology background along with this one, and it goes by the term advertising consultant in the corporate world. (This one scores points for journalism, consulting, and military officer) Criminal Mastermind: This is where I get into the less-than-typical or even less-than-acceptable career choices. Do you know the true value of something that is not well guarded because its value is not well known? Would it suddenly become more valuable if stolen and thus publicized? Would a hefty ransom be paid, insurance scam work, or other generally profitable situation arise if it disappeared? Just curious is all

Defector: You know the thing about being a military officer or spy there s always upward mobility; it s just sometimes up and to one side. Con Artist: See appraiser and then get creative. Corporate Lawyer: This is what you get when you combine the last three examples with lawyer. This is still a non-exhaustive list, and it doesn t include McDonalds and the like, which is always an option. Why is it so hard to find good resources about these jobs, and why are they so weird? The answer is pretty simple: being a history grad is weird. The Guardian says that about 41% of history grads end up employed in other, read: weird stuff and McDonalds. But on top of that most career resource centres for universities say stuff like foreign service when what they should say is politics, diplomacy, consulting and spying. A lot of the options given out to the general population are formatted for insiders, people who know what foreign service is and people who realize that there is more than one option under Curator. The problem this creates is a list of about 4 options for careers for history grads: Teaching, journalism, museums, and other. Some history students and graduates realize the list is more like 40-something relevant options, but almost no one else does, making them say So, you re going to teach then. Don t just sit back and take it. Even if you want to be a professor, start the education now and blow the next person who says that away. Telling people that there are options in history and dispelling the myth that your career path needs to be clear-cut and set in stone will help a lot of problems in the education system. High school kids should realize that they can even finish a degree in one thing (history) and still not know what they want to do with it, but that options are there, even really awesome options like being a spy. Plus as a little personal bonus you will probably get more support from those members of your family who are sceptical of academia. I can write another one of these for another area of study, just leave a comment about what you want to hear about. Lastly of course, some of my sources:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2010/jan/16/history-degree-careers http://www.historians.org/pubs/free/careers/Index.htm http://www.umanitoba.ca/student/counselling/WhatCanIDo/history.html http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10440300 <A castle being built in France http://system13.org/2007/06/20/a-history-degree-what-are-you-going-to-do-with-that/