Power House Mechanic Working 
on Steam Pump, by Lewis Hine, Courtesy National Archives and Records
Administration, Special Media Services Division, Still Pictures; Control
Number: 69-RH-4L-2; Alternate Control Number: 33P Picturing the CenturyPublic History Employment

Public history can be practiced almost anywhere, from the largest public agency to the smallest private company. This page discusses many of the largest fields of public history employment.  It includes helpful links to representative employers, positions, and job search resources.

You may scroll down the page or use the following links:

History Consulting
By James Melzer
Written and Mounted April 27, 1999

History consulting firms remind the world that "history has a present value." The key word in the phrase is value - people will pay you to conduct historical research and analysis!

History consulting firms offer some of the most exciting and rewarding employment opportunities for historians. History consulting firms hire public historians, and technical and administrative staff with all levels of education and experience. Many firms offer temporary appointments, part-time positions, and internships, in addition to the standard full-time, permanent staff. As with any portion of the consulting industry, history consulting can be unpredictable and stressful. However, the intellectual and financial rewards of consulting can outweigh these drawbacks.

There are several basic concentrations within the history consulting industry. Most firms have one or two specialties and develop an expertise and reputation in those areas.

Examples of large historical consulting firms include:  History Associates, The History Factory, and Historical Research Associates.

By Richard Robertson
Written May 4, 2000
Mounted May 25, 2000

Genealogy and public history are intrinsically linked. Genealogy is the study of family history. It is often a personal study using public historical domains. Genealogy and public history also share a common background. Both are connected to the past, the present, and the future by their historical natures.

Professional genealogists are usually self-employed, assisting clients in researching their ancestors. They are also contracted by private law firms to help find missing heirs, by doctors to trace the medical histories of their patients, and by historians or writers to assist them with research for certain articles or publications. In addition, due to the highly competitive nature of the business, many of them work part-time in another closely related field - - as librarians, archivists, educators, and historians. Many genealogists supplement their income writing freelance articles for local newspapers, genealogical or historical society publications; going on the lecture circuit at national genealogical or historical society conventions or conducting college seminars for adult education.

In order to conduct their research, genealogists rely heavily on public history resources found in government and state libraries and archives; state genealogical and historical societies; and national patriotic societies, such as the Sons / Daughters of the American Revolution, the Society of the Cincinnati, and others.

The opportunities for genealogists and public historians abound. Both of these relatively new vocations have long and venerable traditions connected with a variety of other occupations. With the increasing availability of information via the Internet, and other electronic sources, the research opportunities will continue to grow throughout the next century and beyond.

By Jennifer Evans
Written and Mounted May 2, 1999

So what is an archives? Typically, they are perceived as dusty hoards of old papers completely irrelevant to modern life. Nothing could be more untrue. They are places where citizens, such as scientists, students, lawyers, writers, public officials, and many others, go to find records containing useful information. Traditionally, archivists worked with older hand-written documents, but today they assemble, organize, and make accessible records in a variety of formats: electronic, photographic, and audio, to name a few.

The work of an archivist is varied and provides an opportunity to utilize a number of skills. Assisting patrons, designing exhibits, managing projects and people, as well as working with records, writing articles, and mounting a website are only some of the opportunities an archivist may encounter. You will find archivists working for state, local, and federal governments; for historical societies, businesses, and churches; and for educational institutions, research facilities, and museums. This list of archival employers is not comprehensive but is intended to illustrate the variety of sizes, locations, activities, and collections among archives. Also included in this site are links to the Society of American Archivists' Student Chapters, selected professional organizations, and several metasites of interest to archivists.

Continue to Resources about Archives

By Emma Wilmer
Written and Mounted May 3, 1999

Museums are repositories for the physical remains of cultures, places where we can go to see the artifacts that help to explain the history of civilization. They transmit this history to visitors by using their resources in an artistic and informative way, a way that pleases the eye and stimulates the mind, and they are one of the few institutions that often hold the interest of all age groups.

One of the advantages of practicing public history in a museum environment is that museums exist for virtually every field of interest. No matter what one's historical specialty, chances are good that a museum exists to accommodate that specialty. On the other hand, if one wants employment in the United States and has a field of interest other than U.S. history, employment opportunities may be less plentiful. Nevertheless, if one seeks museum employment, there are many jobs to be had, ranging from becoming a curator to working in the preservation department. Employment in a museum provides the employee with an opportunity to use many and varied skills; there are opportunities to create exhibits, help researchers to find materials, work with children, preserve museum materials, manage collections, and organize cultural events, to name a few. 

Continue to Resources about Museums

Historical Societies
By Sara Lawrence
December 11, 2003

If the historical societies in the United States today were to be characterized in a single word, no doubt the word would be, “variety.” Some historical societies, like the Massachusetts Historical Society focus on national history, while others specialize in the history of a particular state or locality, such as the Oregon Historical Society, or the Chicago Historical Society. There are historical societies specific to particular ethnic and religious groups, such as the American Jewish Historical Society, or topics of historical interest, such as the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society. Also common are societies that specialize in pioneer history, genealogy, or preservation of antiques or historic buildings. Examples are The Pioneer Historical Society of Benford County, Inc , the Louisiana Genealogical and Historical Society, and the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, respectively. A good way to appreciate the breadth of variety among historical societies is to take a look at the list of repositories of primary sources put together by the University of Idaho. It contains links to over 5250 websites which describe the various holdings (manuscripts, archives, rare books, photographs, etc) of different repositories worldwide.

Historical societies also vary in size and in funding sources; some are almost entirely publicly funded and employ hundreds of people to oversee their various departments, which typically include libraries, archives, and museums, as well as historic preservation and educational outreach programs. Others are privately funded and small, but hold valuable collections. While the stated mission of most historical societies includes the intention to collect, preserve, and make available the documents and artifacts of history, societies prioritize these activities often quite differently, juggling competing demands, such as those put forth by community members and those expected by academia.

This variety makes historical societies difficult to summarize. A look at the historical evolution of historical societies, however, provides insight into the origins of this diversity and helps to make sense of the challenges faced by employees of historical societies today. Equipped with an understanding of the background of diverse types of historical societies, prospective historical society employees can choose the organization best suited for them.

Continue to History of Historical Societies...

Continue to Historical Society Resources

Media Jobs
By Debra DeRuyver
Written and Mounted May 8, 1999

There are many opportunities for public historians to work in the media.

  1. Public historians may work for consulting firms or as self-employed individuals, providing services and content to media presenters. (See above)
  2. Public historians may work as self-employed directors and authors, pitching projects to large media corporations that will then produce the project.
  3. Public historians can be employed by media firms as in-house historians and producers.

It is this final category that I will explore in more depth.

When considering employment opportunities in the media, the public historian must determine if she wants to work in "old" or "new" media. Dominated by television broadcasting, old media can also encompass radio, film, and various print mediums. New media can encompass Web-casting and other delivery methods of digital, electronic information. Most large companies maintain separate divisions of people involved in old media and new media. Depending on the individual company, these divisions may work together to produce joint projects that mirror one another, projects that complement one another, or, projects which are distinct from one another.

While public historians can find many niches in the media industry with a history background alone, collateral coursework in Communications, Journalism, and Radio/Television/Film departments, as well as coursework and experience in new media will help make the public historian more employable in this field.    


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