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What Does a Historian Do?

Many historians work in libraries and universities.
Historians may visit historic places to gain insight.
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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 October 2014
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Someone who continually studies and writes about history is known as a historian. It is a professional occupation, and generally only those with graduate degrees are given the title. Historians spend their careers researching history and the significance of various events. Often, they aim to make a cohesive narrative of given parts of history. They usually specialize in a specific time period, but command widespread knowledge in all time periods.

A professional historian generally must have a doctorate (PhD) degree in his chosen field of study. To be successful, this person must regularly publish works based on his research, and a history student's doctoral thesis often develops into his first book. Many students get an undergraduate education in history as preparation for a different field, such as law or philosophy.

The job market for people in this field is relatively limited, as knowledge of history isn't seen as a great asset to most enterprises. An individual can usually find work at a library or university, where he can continue his work and research. Archival centers and government agencies also regularly employ historians. Many choose to teach so that they can be responsible for passing their views of history down to the rest of society, while others choose to work as freelance consultants and, for a set fee, conduct research for their clients as needed.

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Some historians are more active than others, and actually visit and explore the sites of historical events of interest in order to gain more information or insight. Others confine themselves to the depths of archives and libraries, searching for the elusive passages that will allow them to continue their work. Either way, their research into the past provides insight about how society advanced to its present state.

A person who works in history usually chooses to specialize in the field that most interests him. This can be as broad as “medieval history” or as specific as “Civil War history.” Sometimes, individuals even specialize in “pre-history,” the time before written history.

One issue of debate for historians is neutrality. Traditionally, these professionals are supposed to conduct their work as neutrally as possible to give an unbiased representation of historical events. Some choose to allow personal opinion to influence their choices in recording the past, however, and while many find this practice to be unacceptable, others have no issue with it.

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Discuss this Article

anon291476
Post 7

You can say that again. History has its own way of telling us, but no one wants to say that the other side of the story if it's bad.

surfNturf
Post 4

Suntan12- But some historians might view these events differently and credit the Soviet leader for the elimination of communism saying that his moderate stance brought about these changes.

This is why I agree with you that you really need to study people’s words and make your own assessments as to what happened because media coverage tends to be very biased as most historical accounts.

suntan12
Post 3

Comfyshoes- I think that when anyone studies history, they really should study the words of the individuals. When someone offers a speech, that is the most objective way to understand historical events.

The words that people utter really leave little interpretation if they are quoted exactly and not taken out of context.

For example, studying President Reagan’s famous words regarding tearing down the Berlin wall shows the determination that President Reagan had for stamping out Communism.

As a result of his determination, some credit him for the tear down of the Berlin wall as well as the fall of the Soviet government.

comfyshoes
Post 2

Crispety- I could not agree with you more.

The fact is that Castro killed many people and seized private property that did not belong to the government, so that he could have over 15 mansions while the Cuban population has to wait in rationing lines for the most basic food is really the true Cuban history.

Castro made everyone poor and took away the Cuban spirit along with their entrepreneurial tendencies. Havana was once considered the “Paris of the Americas” and now it looks like a part of an unrecognizable third world country that is a shell of its former self.

There is a reason why people will risk their lives on makeshift rafts to immigrate to the United States. Many feel that the risk of death is preferred to the daily misery that they experience. Castro failed to truly help the poor, he just helped himself. This is something you might not need in history books.

Crispety
Post 1

Many historians interpret historical events with their own bias. The danger in this is that the information is entirely subjective and does not allow the reader to learn how events occurred and make their own determinations.

For example, I had a professor in college who was a Marxist historian. He specialized in Marxist ideology and felt that it was the ideal economic system. He taught Latin American history with this perspective.

He talked about how Castro helped the poor people of Cuba. He explained that by nationalizing all industries, Castro was able to seize businesses and private property and minimize the debt that the average citizen had.

He explained that Castro had citizens paying a fraction of their bills which really helped ease the burden on the poor.

While this is true, there is a lot more to the story. By failing to tell the class the entire historical perspective of Cuba, the class did not get a full education with respect to Latin American history.

This is the danger with many historians because they also write from their perspective and do not remain neutral.

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