In May 2011, I graduated with a Master of Arts in History from the University of San Diego. During my final year in graduate school, I eagerly applied to as many history jobs as I could find. Contrary to the assumption that all History MAs go into teaching, I wanted to begin applying what I had learned in graduate school outside of the classroom. I hoped to find a job, particularly with a Park Service (e.g. National Park, State Park, Forest Service) where I could practice historical interpretation. Unable to find a local Park Service position, I broadened my scope to positions at museums, historical societies, historic preservation firms, auction houses, government agencies, and many others. To my dismay, I received very few interviews. Of those interviews, none translated into meaningful full-time employment. Reluctantly, I expanded my job search to include open positions at colleges and universities.
During my graduate program at University of San Diego, I worked in the Graduate Registrar Office. While this employment was convenient, I could easily head to class or the library to study before or after work, I never expected to make a career in higher education; I was studying history and planned go into that field upon graduation. However after graduation, with employment prospects dwindling, I decided to capitalize on my higher education administration knowledge in the hopes of gaining employment. Once I opened up to the thought of working outside of history, a whole world of possibilities revealed themselves. I quickly landed a position at a local university and was surprised by how relevant the skills I honed during my graduate education were when applied to my new employment in higher education.
Myself, like many other trained historians may not currently work within the field of history, but this does not mean our skills do not have a wide-range of application outside the world of academia. Academia is defined as “the teaching, studying, and scientific work that happens in colleges and universities.”1 In the article, The Many Careers of History PhDs: A Study of Job Outcomes, Spring 2013, authors Wood and Townsend research shows roughly 24% of individuals with a PhD in history work outside of professorships and academia.2 While this study only looked at PhDs, it is safe to assume the percentage of history BAs and MAs working outside of academia is even higher.
A Visualization of Job Titles for 2,500 History PhDs Who Graduated between 1998 and 2009 (From: “The Many Careers of History PhDs: A Study of Job Outcomes, Spring 2013.”)
According to the American Historical Association (AHA), some career opportunities for undergraduate history degrees include titles such as Elementary and Secondary School Teachers, Editor, Journalist, Legislative Support Worker, and Record Manager. Moreover, the AHA states that an education in history trains students in skills that can be applied across disciplines including research methodology, written and oral communication, and interpretation through information literacy.3 The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines a historian as individuals that conduct “…research, analyze, interpret, and present the past by studying historical documents and sources.”4 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, the job outlook for 2014-2024 has a growth of only 2% (slower than average).5 Unfortunately, due to less available positions and a slow job market, individuals with a history degree are forced to explore employment opportunities outside the field of history; as such apply their skills into varying fields and disciplines.
What does this mean for individuals that hold a MA in history? Well, I think those with an MA in history fall somewhere in between, straddling the line between the academic and non-academic. In my own experience, the skills I acquired during my graduate education have a practical application to my current role in higher education administration. While I may not be writing historical articles for publication or conducting scholarly research, it does not mean that those writing and research skills go to waste. I routinely write and conduct research in my position. Additionally, the problem solving and qualitative reasoning skills that I developed during my graduate education have aided me with career growth in a non-historical field and translated into a position at a university usually reserved for individuals with graduate degrees in education or science. In this position, I facilitate the the program review process at my university by assisting faculty with the documentation, interpretation, and direct and indirect assessment of their program of study. This position aligns directly to the skills I gained in my history education such as document analysis (both primary and secondary), development of an argument with supporting documentation, and original research and interpretation of indirect assessment measures (surveys, interviews, and focus groups).
My graduate degree has developed into a set of skills that are innately versatile across multiple disciplines. Little did I know when I graduated in 2011 how adaptable my newly gained skills would be in a world outside of history. I am grateful for the knowledge I obtained through my history education and for the opportunities that knowledge base has provided me through real-world application.
1. Cambridge Dictionary
2. The Many Careers of History PhDs: A Study of Job Outcomes, Spring 2013
3. Careers for Students of History: Introduction
4. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Historians