The Occupational Outlook Handbook of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics offers this description of the historian:
Historians research, analyze, and interpret the past. They use many sources of information in their research, including government and institutional records, newspapers and other periodicals, photographs, interviews, films, and unpublished manuscripts such as personal diaries and letters. Historians usually specialize in a country or region, a particular period, or a particular field, such as social, intellectual, cultural, political, or diplomatic history. Other historians help study and preserve archival materials, artifacts, and historic buildings and sites...Some (including this writer) find it curious that the BLS chooses to group historians within a field it calls "Other Social Scientists", rather than among scholars of the humanities. But having done this, it writes:
Information on careers for historians is available from:
* American Historical Association, 400 A St. SE., Washington, DC 20003.
The educational attainment of social scientists is among the highest of all occupations, with most positions requiring a master's or Ph.D. degree... Bachelor's degree holders have limited opportunities and do not qualify for most of the occupations discussed... Training in statistics and mathematics is essential for many social scientists... Many social science students also benefit from internships or field experience. Numerous local museums, historical societies, government agencies, non-profit and other organizations offer internships or volunteer research opportunities... Social scientists need excellent written and oral communication skills to report research findings and to collaborate on research...This 8% growth is about 300 additional jobs in the next ten years.
The following tabulation shows employment, by social science specialty...
Overall employment of social scientists is expected to grow 10 percent from 2006 to 2016... The following tabulation shows projected percent change in employment, by social science specialty...
At this point it is critical to point out that the very unfortunate nomenclature of the BLS in the cited place categorically excludes historians who teach on the post-secondary level! Thus, as we shall shortly evidence below, the numbers above refer only to those one might most accurately term non-academic historians, a group which is very small compared to that of academic historians.
The BLS estimates the (seasonally adjusted) civillian labor force of the United States in June 2009 as 140,196,000 persons. Thus, from the information above, we surmise that less than one in 40,000 of them is a (professional non-academic) historian.
The BLS provides extensive information on the annual salaries of these non-academic historians, current as of May 2008, here. Listing total employment there at 3,700 (vs. 3,400), it estimates a median of $54,530, with 10% and 90% percentiles, respectively, of $25,670 and $96,530. The middle half of the distribution, i.e. that bounded by the 25% and 75% percentiles, shows a range between $33,570 and $77,290. A thankfully revealing aspect of the data above is the listing of an employment numbering a mere 100 persons in the "Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools" industry - an implausibly pawltry quantity were academic historians to be included within the group!
This would-be enigma is shattered when one refers to the additional data here on "History Teachers, Postsecondary", which explains that such people
Teach courses in human history and historiography. Include both teachers primarily engaged in teaching and those who do a combination of both teaching and research.Here the BLS says they number 21,020, while here it says 26,000. This ranges between about one in 7,000 and 5,000 employed US residents. It then is made plausible that the former group of 100 actually consists of a subset of non-academic historians who pursue the history of the tertiary educational instititions themselves. Note that by adding together both (the small minority of) non-academic and (the large majority of) academic professional historians, one arrives at a rough estimate of between 25 thousand and 30 thousand professional historians in the United States today. (N.B. We elect to exclude secondary school teachers of history, which number roughly 57,200, or about 5.0% of the 1,133,000 teachers at that level.) Thus, no more than one USA resident in 10,000 is a professional historian - they are rare creatures indeed!
The position of French academic historians was relatively stronger
than that of their German counterparts. In France one-third of the
arts faculty posts in 1910 were held by historians (120 out of a
total of 360 posts) ...In German universities historians had to
make due with a quarter of the total number of posts in comparable
departments during the first decade of the twentieth century.
- page 223 in History as a Profession: The Study of History in France, 1818-1914 (Princeton University Press. 1998)
US history textbook market
Let us now use the estimated USA textbook sales numbers (all disiplines) for 2007 provided in The Statistical Abstract of the United States. Total net publisher unit shipments (in millions) are 34 hardback + 44 paperback at the "college" level and 70 hardback + 108 paperback at the "elementary/high school" level. This comes to 78 million postsecondary and 178 million K-12 units. Applying the guesstimated history textbook fractions of 2% and 5%, respectively, we arrive at about 1.6 million college and 8.9 million K-12 history textbooks per year, a total volume (10.5 million books) substantially smaller than that for the (presumed extra-academic) "history book" sales in the aforementioned business plan. (Note that we are excluding sales in the "University press" and "Professional" book sectors, which include many titles which aspiring historians in school may purchase upon the recommendation of faculty or according to their own lights.)
If one makes the added assumption that textbooks in all disciplines cost the same on average, one can also use the retail dollar sales numbers from the cited source to guesstimate history textbook dollar sales, again using our "faculty-fraction hypothesis". The results for history textbooks are $6,751 million x 2% = $135 million at the college level and $5,713 million x 5% = $286 million at the K-12 level. In the case of dollar sales, the history textbook market (guesstimated at $421 million) might well be not all that much smaller than the extra-academic history book market, because of the high unit price of textbooks, especially for college.
An interesting critique of the typical disdain which American academic historians today seem to have for writing books intended for the general public is offered by William Craig Rice in the essay Who Killed History? An Academic Autopsy here. (Some asides: The article notes that in a typical month, the AHA will be sent 400 books to review, which comes to about 5,000 new titles annually - rare few of which appeal to laymen. It also writes about dozens of specialized journals... the hundreds of papers presented [each year] at academic conferences, and the annual harvest of 500 or more Ph. D. dissertations... in the historical field.)
One reaction has been the emergence of the distinct field of Public History: history that is seen, heard, read, and interpreted by a popular audience. Degree programs in this field are profiled at Where to Study Public History. See also History of Historical Societies in the U.S.
The AHA serves more than 14,000 history professionals, representing every historical period and geographical area. AHA members include K-12 teachers, academics at two- and four-year colleges and universities, graduate students, historians in museums, historical organizations, libraries and archives, government and business, as well as independent historians.
Prospective undergraduate history majors may want to purchase ($7) or otherwise review a copy of the AHA's 48-page report The History Major and Undergraduate Liberal Education: Report of the National History Center Working Group to the Teagle Foundation . Such a work might be available in the library of a local historical society.
What can you do with an undergraduate degree in history? ...Among the jobs you can consider are: advertising executive, analyst, archivist, broadcaster, campaign worker, consultant, congressional aide, editor, foreign service officer, foundation staffer, information specialist, intelligence agent, journalist, legal assistant, lobbyist, personnel manager, public relations staffer, researcher, teacher . . . the list can be almost endless. More specifically, though, with your degree in history you can be an educator, researcher, communicator or editor, information manager, advocate, or even a businessperson.The AHA also writes:
For those interested in continuing their studies further and entering the ranks of professional historians, we offer [the free online resource] Careers for Students of History.Note that since few secondary school teachers of history have graduate degrees in history, our choice to exclude secondary school teachers from the ranks of professional historians (cf. above) seems to be consonant with the way in which the AHA itself defines terms.
In this global age, when even transcontinental videoconferences can be held at close to zero incremental cost for those in wealthy nations, and free-use rudimentary written human language tranlslation engines decorate the World Wide Web, one might also inquire about other national (and even transnational) professional historical societies, particularly those using English for discourse. Among these we number the following:
The Royal Historical Society... has evolved from being a club for scholarly gentlemen to its current status as the foremost body for those engaged professionally in the study of the past. The membership of nearly 3000 Fellows and members draws together individuals from across the world, engaged professionally in researching and presenting public history, whether in archives, libraries, museums or the heritage industry... Throughout the year, formal meetings take place... across the country... at which scholarly papers are read and discussed... The Society is also alive to the wider needs of the academic community... the Royal Historical Society can claim to be the proudest, and certainly the oldest, guardian of historical scholarship in the country.
founded in Geneva on May 15, 1926. During the fifth International Congress of Historical Sciences in Brussels 1923, an idea emerged for a permanent organization that would unite and organize intellectuals in the historical sciences from around the world in order to promote contact and personal exchange... At its inception in 1926, the ICHS included only nineteen countries, all of which were either European or North American... Its influence now extends to Asia, Africa and South America. Today, the organization encompasses a total of fifty-three countries.Below are excerpts from
The ICHS's main raison d'etre - in my opinion, its only reason - is to support the international cooperation of historians. Its core mission is to foster on-going dialogue among historians in all countries and of all periods and fields...
Historians are also coming together in other ways than through the ICHS; for example, the completely independent World History Association was founded in 1982... The ICHS has therefore become one player among others in a major movement of worldwide exchanges that put scholars in touch with one another... Nevertheless, the ICHS has a specific function, its own niche: to operate as a generalist historians' association and to remain accessible to all historians and to all fields in the discipline...
In certain cases, National Committees reflect their government and espouse the ideological view of their nations. Recently, we saw that pressure could be exercised to silence historians who were critical toward their nation's governing party...
The ICHS has virtually no footing in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America, and the South Pacific. Even more worrisome is the absence of Muslim countries in the organization... European history continues to dominate at ICHS Congresses. The vast majority of communications are delivered by Europeanists, to Europeanists.
The WHA is the foremost organization for the promotion of world history through the encouragement of teaching, research, and publication. It was founded in 1982 by a group of teachers and academics determined to address the needs and interests of what was then a newly emerging historical sub-discipline and teaching field... At present, although its membership is still predominantly North American, the WHA is represented in over 35 countries and has an affiliate relationship with world history societies in Europe and Australia... Most important, the WHA brings together university professors, college and community college instructors, school teachers, graduate students, and independent scholars in a collegial camaraderie rarely found in more narrowly focused academic and professional societies. Still motivated by a larger sense of mission in preparing students and the public for an interdependent world, the WHA has been unique in bridging the gap between secondary and post-secondary educators.
The search engine here lists 1295 (university) history departments around the world, including 360 outside the USA, as of July 2009.
-RF (July 2009, minor edit April 2011)