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What Historians Do

Historians research, analyze, interpret, and present the past by studying a variety of historical documents and sources.


Historians typically do the following:

Historians conduct research and analysis for governments, businesses, nonprofits, historical associations, and other organizations. They use a variety of sources in their work, including government and institutional records, newspapers, photographs, interviews, films, and unpublished manuscripts such as personal diaries and letters. They also may process, catalog, and archive these documents and artifacts.

Most historians present and interpret history for the public. They often trace and build a historical profile of a particular person, area, idea, organization, or event. Once their research is complete, they present their findings through articles, books, reports, exhibits, websites, and educational programs.

In government, some historians do research to provide historical context for current policy issues. For example, they may research the history of Social Security as background for a new bill or upcoming funding debate. Others write about the history of a particular government activity or program, such as a military operation or the space program.

In historical associations, historians preserve artifacts and explain the historical significance of a wide variety of subjects, such as historic buildings, religious groups, and battlegrounds.

Historians who work for businesses may examine historical evidence for legal cases and regulatory matters.

Many people with a background in history become professors and teachers. For more information on those who teach at colleges and universities, see the profile on postsecondary teachers. For more information on those who work as high school history teachers, see the profile on high school teachers.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition