History professors are responsible for distilling the past in order to help their students gain a better understanding of how history directly informs current day affairs. Engaging in a career as a history professor can be rewarding, as individuals working in this profession have the opportunity to continually pursue historical knowledge through research, while also disseminating this knowledge to others through insightful lectures and publications.

Education and Skills

There are many areas that a history professor can specialize in, such as ancient history, art history, regional history, military history, political history, or music history. Acquiring the position of history professor often requires a minimum of a master’s degree for most educational institutions, including high schools and community colleges. However, those looking for higher-level teaching positions, such as a full-time, four-year university professor on a tenure-track, often need a Ph. D. After obtaining a Ph. D, history professors can expect the task of pursuing full-tenured professorship to be a time-intensive but extremely rewarding one. This process may take as long as seven years from the date that a candidate started working as an assistant or associate professor at the school. Therefore, after receiving a master’s degree, it is up to the student to decide whether they would like to commit to a single university for a majority of their career as a candidate for tenure, or to delay the tenure route for broader career options such as lecturer, adjunct, or associate professorship positions.

Regardless of chosen career path, receiving an advanced degree allows individuals to sharpen their teaching skills, effectively increasing their chances of being selected for the most highly-sought after positions. This can further be enhanced by working as a teaching assistant, an opportunity that offers the first-hand experience teaching students at the college level. Once the foundation has been developed by earning a master’s degree, and acquiring relevant experience, history professors should continually hone their skill sets through the consistent practical application of the strategies and approaches they have learned during their time as a postgraduate student. These abilities include but are not limited to:

  • Analytical Skills – History professors will need to extrapolate actionable lessons from past events and historical knowledge.
  • Communication Skills – Professors rely on lectures, dialogues, and presentations to convey information to their students and colleagues. Therefore, developing the ability to effectively communicate can position history professors for success in their field.
  • Problem-Solving Skills – In the classroom, it is useful to be able to identify and reform the obstacles that students face when trying to comprehend the course curriculum.
  • Research Skills – To help avoid career stagnation, it is important for history professors to develop research skills that utilize the most effective research strategies and can serve them throughout their career, allowing them to continually expand their knowledge and stay competitive.
  • Writing Skills – History professors, especially those who are working towards tenure, are often required to publish well-researched documents that further academic perspectives of their respective field. Honing above-average writing skills is a necessity for history professors who aim to leverage publications to progress their careers.

Job Responsibilities

In a career as a history professor, the amount of education and related experience directly dictates their job responsibilities. As an expert of history at their respective institutions, history professors are given many responsibilities that focus on spreading historical knowledge to the student body and to other external groups that are engaged in a collaborative effort to refine and share historical knowledge throughout academia. Tenured or not, a large amount of a professor’s time is spent on preparing lessons, tending to student needs, and grading the student work.

Professors can expect to be responsible for varying numbers of students within their classes, ranging from 20 students to more than 300, depending on factors like the size of the institution or the complexity of the topic being studied. In the classroom, history professors often deliver course curriculum and administer lectures to help students sharpen their understanding of the subjects being studied and allow them to expand their ability to comprehend historical topics. Outside of the classroom, history teachers and professors at all academic levels must develop extensive notes, course schedules, and presentations that can effectively capture the attention of their students while comprehensively administering the lesson at hand. Additionally, history professors working at universities that emphasize research as one of their main priorities are often expected to do continuous research, which may also include producing lengthy scholarly and peer-reviewed articles.

If research is a component of the job, some professors have the opportunity to perform their research within the confines of a lab that may be owned and operated solely by them or with a group of associates working on the same campus. For history professors, these labs will often be more similar to libraries, featuring historical texts, artifacts, and other historical items that will be reviewed and studied by the faculty.

Compensation and Career Outlook

In the United States, there were approximately 21,800 post-secondary history teachers in 2016. Of this number, 5,390 were employed in junior colleges and 16,380 were employed at four-year colleges, universities and professional schools. While graduate students who are acquiring hands-on experience through work as teaching assistants are often unpaid workers, compensation is quite substantial for qualified history professors who are employed in capacities ranging from associate professorship to full-time tenured positions. The average salary for post-secondary history educators in May 2016 was $80,800. Top earners, generally those who have procured a high reputation in the field and a tenured teaching position at a highly regarded university, draw annual wages in the area of $130,000. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the availability of post-secondary history teaching positions to grow at a rate of 10% between 2014 and 2024. This means that the limited pool of available history professorships may increase, allowing future historians to have higher chances of securing a desirable on-campus teaching position. Professors looking to transition to new heights in their career through such positions will often need to relocate to fill these positions as there can be few and far between geographically.

Through their role as an educator, history professors purvey profound knowledge that is translated from historical events. They help catalog the specific aspects of history and share the most valuable components of these events with their students. Although historians who wish to pursue a career as a professor must make upfront investments, they can be rewarded with a fulfilling career that allows their passion for history to thrive.

Learn More

Norwich University is an important part of American history. Established in 1819, Norwich is a nationally recognized institution of higher education, the birthplace of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and the first private military college in the United States.

With Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in History program, you can enhance your awareness of differing historical viewpoints while developing the skills needed to refine your research, writing, analysis, and presentation skills. The program offers two tracks – American History and World History, allowing you to tailor your studies to your interests and goals.

Recommended Readings:
Top History Conferences for History Professionals
5 Notable Alumni of Norwich University
History of American Propaganda Posters: American Social Issues through Propaganda


Postsecondary Teachers, Bureau of Labor Statistics

“PROFESSORING” 101: A Day in the Life of a History Professor, Perspectives on History

Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2017, Bureau of Labor Statistics

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