There have been countless wars fought throughout history, and military historians are responsible for distilling actionable knowledge from these conflicts. With a master’s degree in military history, newly qualified military historians can transition their studies into an academic career, service in the government or potentially even advisory roles to those who produce military-inspired media. Pursuing a career as a military historian is an ideal option for those who find intellectual satisfaction in exploring the major conflicts that shaped world history.
Education and Skills
A career in military history often begins with a thorough education on a specific period of history or the overall history of a particular region of the world. While a bachelor’s degree in military history may allow for base-level work in the field, individuals often discover that an advanced degree is required to further their careers. Most professionals in the field recommend pursuing a master’s degree program that deeply explores the most practical methods of research, along with specific military theories and strategies—such as historically significant military tactics like the Greek phalanx or the British military’s creeping barrage method. Obtaining a master’s level degree can hone a military historian’s ability to analyze historical conflicts and expose them to many of the more complex confrontations that have occurred throughout history. This increased exposure via an advanced degree program can heighten their understanding of conflict resolution and military affairs. Earning a master’s degree can also open doors to satisfying positions within museums, nonprofit firms and historical societies in need of knowledgeable military historians. For military history professionals aiming for an extensive career in academia, a doctorate degree is often the requirement, as it is an essential part of becoming a candidate for research-based careers or tenured positions in postsecondary education.
In addition to enhancing their education, military historians need to display several qualities to effectively showcase their historical expertise. These qualities include, but are not limited to:
- Analysis: Analytical skills are a necessary aspect of properly examining information contained in historical texts and making educated observations based on the context.
- Communication: Proper communication is vitally important to historians, as they often give public presentations or collaborate with clients and colleagues on a particular subject matter.
- Problem-solving: As with all historians, military historians must develop extensive problem solving skills, as a large part of their duties include researching and formulating answers posed by past events.
- Research: Military historians must have knowledge of a diverse range of research practices, methods and techniques. All military history teachers, ranging from the high school level to the college-level, will also use their research skills to help build out their lesson plans, create specialized class projects, and also answer general questions from students.
- Writing: Military historians often publish their research as a means of disseminating information. Thus, writing for publications is an integral feature of a historian’s career, and developing this skill is of great importance for career progression.
- Research and Post-Secondary Teaching: Scholars who have graduated with a secondary education in military history often pursue a career in the ranks of academia. With a bachelor’s degree, the research and teaching positions commonly available mostly entail performing supportive duties for faculty personnel like professors and other teaching staff. However, competition for these roles can be stiff, especially when compared with other military history-based vocations. For those who wish to become a professor of military history, an advanced secondary degree, and doctorate are often required, in addition to work as a teaching assistant. With this accreditation, professors can work with a range of different academic institutions, including community colleges and four-year universities. Historians in academic roles can also conduct research and analysis of historical events, and they often disseminate their findings on past conflicts to the public through scholarly publications or academic presentations given at conferences and other academic gatherings.
- Military Adviser or Analyst: The United States currently employs military historians in a variety of different roles. The U.S. Army may commission historians who specialize in the study of U.S. military command, while the Central Intelligence Agency often seeks military historians to analyze current and former conflicts to help inform future U.S. military actions. The U.S. government holds the knowledge of these professionals as essential to help ensure that the actions undertaken by the military are well informed and properly organized. This is done through the consideration of the information shared by military historians on previous political activity and/or past military events.
- Museum Archivist: As a museum archivist, military historians are responsible for cultivating and organizing museum displays and war galleries. This involves the assembly of collections of military artifacts, coupled with intense research on the history of particular components of military history. In this position, military historians may also be responsible for searching for new items to add to the museum’s catalog. Museum archivists can lead an exciting career that potentially involves significant travel to research and document the history of military artifacts.
- Military History Writers: Some individuals who hold a military history degree choose to use their intellectual background to pursue a career in historical writing, whether in textbooks, biographies, nonfiction research texts or fictional stories that draw upon real-world historical events. Military history writers may also find themselves on the sets of films that are based on historical conflicts, writing for and advising the production team to create the most realistic reflection of particular events.
Compensation and Career Outlook
According to a 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics report for historians, the average military historian receives a median annual wage of $55,110. However, the salary range of people working in this field varies, with recorded earnings exceeding $102,000 annually at the higher end of the spectrum. Museum archivists fall near the middle of this spectrum, earning an average salary of $47,230 annually, while post-secondary history professors receive a median wage of $82,210 annually at four-year professional universities and $76,980 annually when teaching at community colleges.
The employment rate for military historians is currently stable, and even expected to grow slightly in many areas. Individuals with the highest levels of education, practical skills and hands-on experience may see more opportunity in this industry, which features a projected growth rate of two percent between 2014 and 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Opportunities for post-secondary history teachers are more available and expected to grow at a rate of 10 percent between 2014 and 2024; however, this growth is dependent on the availability of budgets for education spending. Career growth specifically for museum archivists and curators falls in line with the average growth rate for all jobs in the United States, approaching 7 percent.
There are many men and women who have gained notoriety in the field of American military history. One noteworthy example is Stephen Ambrose, who became a best-selling author on various military histories. Ambrose wrote and edited more than 35 books focused on a variety of military events including the American Indian Wars, the Civil War and World War II. Ambrose was the son of a Navy physician who served in World War II, jumpstarting his desire to pursue a career in history. After acquiring his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, Ambrose began a lifelong career of teaching history at numerous universities. Though he passed away in 2002, Ambrose is remembered for his large volume of work and for founding the D-Day Museum in England, a museum dedicated to the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II on June 6, 1944. Ambrose is a spectacular example of the heights that a military historian can reach.
Another acclaimed American historian is Christopher Robert Browning for his study of political and military conflicts of the World War II era. His most recognizable work surrounds his interpretation of the Holocaust, where Browning intricately examined the Third Reich and the actions of Adolf Hitler. Browning has also stood as a witness in court cases that aimed to disprove the reality of the Holocaust, using his vast knowledge of the topic to relay vital historical and statistical knowledge to officials overseeing the case. Though Browning spent much of his life teaching history at the postsecondary level, his deep knowledge concerning the intricacies of World War II culminated in his 1992 novel Ordinary Men, which depicts the story of a battalion tasked with committing massacres of Jewish people in German-occupied Poland in 1942.
The military history profession is comprised of educators and scholars who strive to accurately portray the events and outcomes of past military affairs. Military historians can serve in a variety of capacities, with each one involving the respectable work of passing knowledge on to others, and often with the goal of preventing or easing future conflicts. A fluent education in the field of military history can give way to many rewarding career options, making a post-secondary degree in the field inherently valuable.
Established in 1819, Norwich University 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. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allows its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and communities.
Norwich University’s Master of Arts in Military History program takes an unbiased and global approach toward exploring military thought, theory and engagement throughout recorded history. The unique curriculum of the online Master of Arts in Military History program was developed by the distinguished faculty of Norwich University and guided by the goals outlined by the American Historical Association. This highly regarded program is designed to help build your proficiency as a historian and places our world’s military achievements and conflicts in chronological, geographical, political and economic context.
Historians, Bureau of Labor Statistics
U.S. Army Command Historians: What We Are and What We Do, Perspectives on History